Over the summer my family and I were visiting my sister who happens to be a vegetarian. My sister is an exceptional cook and on this day she served the most delicious salad made with an unusual grain that I’ve seen used in a number of recipes in the past but for whatever reason I have never personally made it. That grain is quinoa – pronounced keen-wah. While the name might take you a couple of attempts to remember the flavor and remarkable health benefits of this under appreciated grain will be extremely difficult to forget.
While quinoa goes relatively unrecognized in this country it has actually been around for at least 6,000 years. Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually “a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard” – and a nutritional powerhouse much like these vegetables too.
Quinoa is extremely simple to prepare. It cooks very much like rice but in less time and looks a lot like couscous. When fully cooked quinoa is light and fluffy and has a pleasingly nutty texture, which gives it a much richer flavor profile compared to rice. It is delicious plain, but there are many recipes that cover everything from breakfast, lunch or dinner. While the pleasantly nutty flavor and ease of preparation should be all you need to know to give quinoa a try, the mind-blowing nutritional profile of quinoa will definitely send you running for the store.
It's A Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Supergrain! Quinoa is considered a “supergrain” in that it is highly nutritious and can supply the body with many of its important daily requirements, including: complex carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Quinoa is probably more commonly know and loved among vegetarians because of its high protein content. The protein content is an impressive 11 g for one-half cup of quinoa and unlike wheat and rice, quinoa offers a balanced set of all the essential amino acids needed by humans, making it a complete protein. It takes less quinoa protein to meet one’s protein needs than wheat protein. This is exciting news for anyone with kids that has a difficult time getting them to eat traditional proteins like chicken, beef or fish. I don’t know many kids that would turn down a bowl of rice, pasta or couscous. While quinoa is a bit different from these, it shares many of the same flavor characteristics. The pleasant taste and its versatility could be an awesome way of getting more protein into our kids without the battles.
Quinoa possesses larger quantities of calcium, fat, iron, phosphorus, folic acid and B vitamins than many other grains. One-half cup of dry quinoa contains 51 mg of calcium, compared to 28 mg in the same quantity of whole-wheat grains. One cup of cooked quinoa has the calcium content equal to that of a quart of milk, but because it is from a plant source it is more easily absorbed and believed to be better quality.
Quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus; this "grain" may be especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Magnesium, a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, which prevents constriction and rebound dilation, both characteristic of migraines. Increased intake of magnesium has been shown to be related to a reduced frequency of headache episodes reported by migraine sufferers. Furthermore, due its ability to relax blood vessels, magnesium can also help with heart disease and improve cardiovascular health.
Quinoa is high in minerals and B vitamins, especially vitamin B6. Two ounces of cooked quinoa offers 14% of the RDA for B6. Niacin, one of the B vitamins usually measured in trace quantities, totals 2.49 mg, a figure considered impressive when it comes to the B vitamins.
Because it is a good source of dietary fiber it is also believed to protect against certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. As far as fiber goes, quinoa averages 5 grams of fiber per one-half cup.
With several family members plagued with celiac disease I was thrilled to also learn that quinoa is gluten-free, giving me another tasty option to share at family gatherings. It is also considered extremely easy to digest.
I found this delicious recipe at one of my favorite blogs 101 Cookbooks. Not only is this recipe made with all the healthfulness of quinoa, it also includes other good-for-you ingredients like kale (you can also use spinach), tofu, and tomatoes -- yes, I promise you, my kids loved it! In fact, my husband and 10 year old son fought over the little that was left at the bottom of the bowl and after my son won my husband announced that next time I needed to "make a double recipe." Click on this link to find this recipe at 101 Cookbooks:Heather's Quinoa Recipe. While you are there check out her otherQuinoa recipesnot to mention her gorgeous site devoted to healthy, mouth-watering cooking.
Quinoa can easily be found in the grain section of your local supermarket. If you cannot locate it in the regular rice aisle go to the grain section in the health food section of the supermarket.