All About Quinoa

Have you ever tried quinoa or wondered what it is? Since changing my diet to gluten-free, it has become a pantry staple used to create delicious, protein-packed dishes that my whole family loves. In this guide, discover what quinoa is, what it tastes like and easy tips for preparing it.

What is quinoa?
I first discovered quinoa two years ago when browsing Pinterest. At the same time, it quickly became one of the hottest foods to try, and everyone seemed to be creating her own unique recipes with the ingredient.

  • Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a gluten-free seed that originates from the Andean region of South America.
  • It’s a fantastic source of protein, fiber, vitamin B and iron and contains all eight amino acids.
  • Though smaller than rice, barley, farro and bulgur, quinoa looks like a grain thanks to its neutral coloring and hard exterior. In reality, it is a seed related to the spinach plant.
  • When cooked, it expands rapidly and significantly, becomes tender but chewy, and expels spirals that boast a slight crunch.

What does quinoa taste like?
After cooking quinoa in a liquid of your choice (water, chicken or vegetable broth), it becomes light, fluffy and nutty. I find the flavor similar to couscous and brown rice. It’s a taste difficult to describe, but worth trying simply for the nutritional benefits it offers.

How should I prepare quinoa?
Since I rely heavily upon prepping quinoa for weekly meals, I use a rice cooker because it’s reliable and hassle free. If you don’t have a rice cooker, it is a very inexpensive appliance that allows you to simply pour in ingredients and turn it on, freeing up time to create other dishes. I prefer using it because it allows me to easily double batch quinoa for the week and cooks it perfectly every time. (See how to use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa in the recipe below.)

Quinoa_in_the_Rice_Cooker_5-200x300Can I cook quinoa on the stovetop?
Yes! To cook it on the stove, measure two cups of liquid per cup of quinoa, and combine them in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil, and then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the quinoa is tender, but still chewy, and white spiral-like threads appear around each grain. This should take approximately 15 minutes.

Does plain quinoa taste good?
I don’t really love quinoa plain because it lacks a lot of flavor on its own, but I think it is a great building block for creating a variety of healthy, enjoyable dishes. For example, my favorite dish includes adding the zest of one lemon to the cooking liquid. Then place a few handfuls of chopped baby spinach and a pint of halved cherry tomatoes in a large serving bowl. Cook the quinoa as directed, pour it on top of the spinach and tomatoes, and allow its heat to wilt the spinach and cook the tomatoes for about five minutes. Toss it all with the juice from one lemon and a little drizzle of olive oil, and serve it warm or cold. I have found it to be a hit at every party!

Tip: Quinoa is a versatile ingredient. Try adding sautéed mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers or white beans for a double whammy of protein power. Be creative with what you have leftover in your fridge, and put together your own flavorful combinations. Learn how to make quinoa in the rice cooker–it’s simple!

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