Okay, okay…lots of people talk about quinoa. And I know it’s all over the place…everywhere you turn, it seems, someone is selling a quinoa salad or talking about how great it is for you, blah blah blah. But what I’m going to do is tell you why you should care, because frankly, if you’re looking for quick food and/or don’t consider yourself a great cook, quinoa is one of those shortcuts that satisifes both rumbling belly and culinary shortcomings in one fell swoop. Imagine that.
First, the benefits: quinoa has the highest nutritional profile and cooks the fastest of all the grains. And because we’re looking for the most nutritional bang for your buck AND fast food, that’s two stars right out of the gate. This little gem has been fueling native populations in the Andes for the last 8,000 years…perhaps they knew something we are only just catching onto? Like, for instance, it has all eight amino acids, which makes it a complete protein (and, incidentally, has a protein content equal to milk). Or that it’s high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and vitamin E (all of which are super important for active women). Or maybe that it’s easy to digest because it is gluten-free (a nice perk for those of us that have trouble with conventional wheat products). Or possibly that it strengthens the heart, lungs and kidneys.
Okay, I’m pretty sure the Incans weren’t too concerned with B vitamins or gluten content. They just knew that quinoa was an ideal food for endurance. And so it is…one more reason why you should add it to your menu. But here’s the real clincher: where other grains can take anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour to cook, quinoa takes about 20 minutes from pouring water in a pan to grains on your plate. As someone who is constantly in a hurry and has to focus on making time to feed myself lest I forget, I personally find this rad. (Yes…I just described food using the word “rad”.) Add this to the fact that you can cook up a whole bunch and use it throughout the week, and you really have something awesome going on here. [I know that the idea of cooking a lot of something on the weekend and using it over the next few days might seem elementary to many, but I’d like to reiterate this because I think a lot of folks get overwhelmed by the thought of cooking, feeling like it doesn’t jive with the whole idea of “quick” snacks. The reality is, I find that with some extra hours devoted to preparation in my down time–which I have very little of, like most people–things go a lot smoother during the week when I need to grab food in a hurry. So I really advocate this idea of “cooking once, eating twice”…or more.]
So, how do you go about incorporating this into your diet? Quinoa is getting pretty common (even in the conventionally-stocked small grocery stores in the small mountain towns I usually find myself living in), but if you can, try to buy it from bulk bins, as it is usually less expensive. Kept in a cool, dry, dark place in an airtight container, it will keep for about a year. Before cooking, rinse quinoa in a strainer until the water runs clear; this removes the toxic (but naturally occurring) residue called saponin, which has a bitter flavor and will produce a somewhat soapy solution as you are rinsing it off.
Combine 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water in a covered saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes (check about halfway through cooking to make sure you aren’t scorching it because of too little water), or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 3-5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
At this point you can do what you will; if you are planning on using it in a salad or storing it for later use, let it cool off before you stuff it in the fridge. You can chop up whatever veggies you like and either saute them or use them raw, tossing them with the quinoa and mixing in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar; throw this in a tupperware for a tasty lunch. Or you can reheat a little quinoa with some rice or nut milk for a quick hot breakfast; throw in some dried fruit and a little agave nectar or coconut as sweetener. I have even seen a recipe for quinoa pizza dough, but I haven’t tried this yet.
There are a lot of options for portable quinoa snacks; you can use your imagination. I like to cook up a little extra for dinner one night and after enjoying it with chicken and veggies, bring it with me the next day to roll into a wrap with some leftover chicken, or toss some into my salad for either lunch or a quick post-practice protein boost, to keep me from munching on chips or something else I’ll regret.
Go ahead; go wild. No…seriously.