Peer closely at quinoa, and you may think you’re looking at something aliens would ingest. Tiny spheres with what appear to be pale tails, the granules of quinoa are mysterious. They’re also delicious.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is also an oddity when explaining what exactly it is. Though quinoa cooks in less than 20 minutes by simmering it in liquid like rice, it’s not a true cereal grain. The quinoa that you can find on grocery shelves near the rice section are actually the seeds of a crop plant that, believe it or not, are related to beets and tumbleweeds, of all things.
Humans have been eating the stuff for thousands of years, and more recently I’ve seen it landing on the menus of upscale restaurants. Quinoa is a nutrition powerhouse. Hailed by the Incas as the “mother grain,” it is low in fat and high in protein and fiber. It’s also gluten-free.
Quinoa is a snap to cook. If you can boil water, you can make it. Once cooked, it has a hearty, grain-like flavor. It’s also extremely versatile. Quinoa can be served warm or cold, and mixed with everything from peppers to pears. The recipe below brings cranberries, red onion, celery and pecans to the party for extra flavor and crunch. Oh, and those tails? They’re actually the seed’s germ. Once the disc-like granules are cooked, they expand and the germ separates from the seed. Looks odd, tastes great.
Let’s make a quinoa salad that acts as a super snack or side dish.
QUICK QUINOA SALAD
(Makes about 4 servings)
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, washed and finely chopped
- 1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
- 1tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Step 1: Put the quinoa, salt and water in a 2-quart or larger pot and bring to a boil.
Step 2: Stir in the cranberries, turn heat to low, cover pot and simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Step 3: While quinoa cooks, chop the vegetables and nuts, and set them in a large bowl.
Step 4: When quinoa is cooked, transfer to bowl and toss to combine.
Step 5: Pour in balsamic vinegar, toss again, and taste, adding extra ingredients as desired. Note that extra salt will really help bring out the flavors.
Congratulations: You’ve just made a quick, healthy, tasty side dish that pairs well with proteins such as chicken, beef and fish. Quinoa can be served warm or chilled. Try it both ways and even experiment with other ingredients to suit your taste.