Monday, March 7, 2011

Quin-what??? Oh, quinoa!

As you may or may not know, March is National Nutrition Month (NNM), and the theme is "Eat Right With Color." Two of my goals for NNM are: 1) For everyone to try to eat a healthy diet (full of naturally colored foods) for at least the month of March, and 2) Try a new (healthy) food each week. For this week, I encourage you to try Quinoa (If you read my post a few months ago on vegetarian sources of protein, I touched on quinoa).

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is an ancient grain that was once labeled the "Gold of the Incas" because of it's superfood qualities... it was one of three staple crops for the Incas (corn, potatoes, quinoa). Quinoa is actually a seed from a plant that is a relative of swiss chard and spinach. This super- seed contains carbohydrate and tastes a little like a couscous, but unlike other grains, it is also a source of complete protein. By complete protein I mean that it contains all essential amino acids... yes, the same quality as meat, imagine that! So for all of those people who worry about vegetarians not eating enough protein (or high-quality protein) because they don't eat slaughtered animals, be comforted by the fact that they can obtain the same quality of protein from meat-free sources (same is true for soy!). In addition to being a high quality protein, quinoa contains high levels of magnesium and manganese, and is a good source of iron, fiber, and contains 60 mg omega-3's (higher than other grains).

As far as taste goes, it is somewhat nutty, but like pasta and rice, it takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking it with. You can always roast the dry quinoa before cooking to bring out a more nutty flavor. Quinoa is somewhat chewy, yet soft, and crunchy at the same time. You'll just have to try it....

Nutritional Breakdown: 1/4 cup dry contains 160 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.25 g SFA, 0.65 MUFA, 1 g PUFA), 30 g carb (2.5 g fiber), 5.6 g protein, 10% DV Riboflavin, 10% DV Vit E, 22% DV Iron, 22% DV magnesium, 48% DV manganese, 9% DV potassium

Where to find: Most grocery stores have caught on that quinoa is a hot superfood and it is now stocked in most markets. The most popular brand is Ancient Harvest (see picture above) and you can find this in the natural foods section or with pastas and grains at Whole Foods.

How to Enjoy: Mix one part quinoa to two parts water, boil, and bring to a simmer until water is absorbed (around 15 minutes for 1 cup quinoa).
Breakfast: Cook as detailed above and then prepare like oatmeal (add cinnamon, sweetener, and fruit).
Lunch: Cook grain and use to add crunch to salads or sandwiches
Dinner: Use instead of rice, or make a pasta salad substituting quinoa for the pasta.
Dessert: Cook with coconut (or cow's) milk, add sugar, walnuts, and cooked fruit

Recipe: Quinoa and Black Beans
1 tsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed and chopped
1 block extra firm tofu
¾ cup uncooked quinoa
1 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp tumeric
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh, salt-free canned, or frozen corn kernels
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups mixed vegetables
½ cup fresh cilantro

Heat oil in medium saucepan and sauté onion and garlic until fragrant and light brown in color. Add tofu and some chicken broth until tofu begins to brown. Add quinoa, top with chicken broth and spices and bring to a boil and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Stir in corn, black beans, and cilantro and cook for a few minutes until heated through.

1. World's Healthiest Foods Website. "Quinoa" Available at:

2.  Recipe adapted from

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