It’s now well known that the ancient grain of the Incas – QUINOA – (pronounced Keen-Wah) is great for you. What we eat is actually the seeds of the goosefoot plant that are gluten free, high in protein and amino acids, and contain calcium, phosphorus and iron as well. For underdeveloped nations and the Andean people who ate it more than 5,000 years ago, its complete proteins and healthy calories have been important sources of nutrition. It’s perfect because it can grow in dry climates and it’s really easy to cook! Last, it comes in red, white and black, so you can make your dishes interesting by varying or combining the colors.
The fundamental recipe for cooking quinoa is right on the box or bag. Just use one part Quinoa to two parts water. (For example, for every cup of Quinoa, use 2 cups of water.) Bring the water to a boil. Drop in the quinoa. Give it a quick stir. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Set your timer for 15 minutes and it’s done. You know it’s done when you see that little curved threads have popped out of the seeds.
The only problem with this basic cooking method is that it’s pretty bland, but there are many ways to make your Quinoa irresistible. First, you can toast it. Put a cup of Quinoa in a 2-quart sauce pan. Turn the heat on high and stir it constantly (so it won’t burn) for a couple of minutes until it smells toasty and begins to pop – almost like popcorn. Immediately pour in two cups of water. (Remember, you are pouring water into a hot pan, so stand back and be careful not to splash yourself with what will quickly become hot liquid!) Then just turn the heat down to simmer, cover it and cook it for 15 minutes just like before.
You can enhance this toasty and much more flavorful Quinoa in many ways. You can simply add butter or oil with salt and pepper. You can combine the Quinoa with leftover gravy and chopped cooked chicken or meat. You can add pieces of fish with capers. You can add a can of diced tomatoes or several cups of chopped fresh ones. Stewed tomatoes are also wonderful. How about a can of beans, a can of salsa, your favorite dipping sauce or grated cheese? Chopped and sautéed vegetables are a real winner and onions top off most everything. Look in your fridge and use your imagination!
For those of you that want more exact amounts, here’s a recipe that I often make that serves 6 as a side:
1 cup Quinoa (White, red or black), 2 cups water
6 strips bacon, 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 bell pepper, any color, diced small
Salt, pepper and fresh, chopped chives
1. Place the Quinoa in a 4 quart sauce pan. Turn the heat on medium high and toast it – stirring constantly – Until you start to hear soft popping. Immediately and carefully (so it won’t splash on you) pour in 2 cups water. Stir. Cover. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. While the Quinoa is cooking, in a large frying pan, cook the bacon strips until they are slightly crispy. Cool on paper towels and then cut into small pieces. Set aside.
3. In the same pan where you fried the bacon, sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft. Stir to scrape up the tasty bacon bits! Pour off extra grease.
4. Add the cooked Quinoa and chopped bacon to the vegetables.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh, chopped chives.
1. You could add a piece of cooked chicken or fish on top of this Quinoa base to make it a very healthy entrée,
2. Make the bell pepper a contrasting color to the Quinoa for interest.
3. If you are serving vegetarians or gluten free guests, leave out the bacon and just add more bits of vegetables. They will love it!