You already know that whole grains are an essential food on Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet and beyond. Oftentimes, though, eating the same common grains, such as brown rice, bulgur, and barley, may get, well, boring. One easy solution? Add a new and exciting grain like quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) to your repertoire. While quinoa has long been a staple in Peru and other South American countries, it’s only in the last few years that this versatile grain has become popular on North American dining tables.
More Than Just a Grain
Quinoa comes from the seeds of a leafy, spinach-like plant. It was called the mother grain by the Incas because of its high protein content. Indeed, it has the most protein of all grains and is also a great source of vitamins (particularly riboflavin and vitamin E) as well as the minerals iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Another plus, it’s gluten free.
Quick and Easy
Preparing quinoa is a great idea if you’re pressed for time: It’s as easy to make and serve as brown rice, but cooks in less than half the time. You’ll need to rinse some brands of quinoa before cooking to remove any residue of saponin, a bitter coating that protects the seeds from birds and insects (check the package, some brands come pre-washed.). Or you can purchase pre-rinsed quinoa for a little more money. When cooking, use one part quinoa to two parts water, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Serve quinoa as a side dish on its own or with added veggies, in a salad, or as an addition to soups or stews.
If you can't find quinoa in your supermarket, look for it in specialty-food stores. It can be pricier than rice or other grains, but keep in mind that besides its many nutritional benefits, it increases in volume by about three times after cooking, which allows you to enjoy the leftovers throughout the week, if desired. Stored in an airtight container, dry quinoa will keep for months. Quinoa also comes in other forms, such as flakes and flour. Quinoa flakes can be used as fillers in meatballs and as toppings for crumbles (instead of oats), for example. Quinoa flour, which is typically combined with other flours for baking, is great for adding moisture to baked goods and is ideal for those on a gluten-free diet. You can prepare your own quinoa flour by processing whole quinoa seeds in a blender or food processor.
Try this delicious Herbed Quinoa and Edamame recipe.