Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a tiny grain native to the Andes Mountains of South America where it’s been a staple for more than 5,000 years. The Incas prized it as the ‘mother grain’ and used it to supplement their predominantly vegetarian diet of potatoes and corn.
Despite its size, quinoa is a nutrition powerhouse. It’s a complete source of protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids including lysine, which is essential for tissue repair and growth – 100g uncooked quinoa provides roughly the same amount of protein as 2 small eggs and more than a quarter of our daily needs!
It’s high in fibre, too, and has good amounts of vitamins and minerals. In particular, it’s rich in iron – 100g uncooked quinoa provides more than half our daily needs for this nutrient. Add this to its high protein content and quinoa is a great choice for people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plus, it’s gluten and wheat free, making it a good alternative to pasta and bread for people with coeliac disease.
Quinoa grains come in various colours, from white or pale yellow to red, purple brown and black. You can also buy it as flakes (a good alternative to breadcrumbs) and flour (good for making gluten-free pastry).
It’s easy to prepare. First, rinse the grains in water, then drain. Simmer in a pan of water, stock or milk (one part quinoa to three parts liquid) for 10–15 min. To really bring out the flavour, you can toast the quinoa before simmering. Or you can cook quinoa in the microwave: put the same ratio of quinoa to liquid in a large microwavable bowl, cover and cook on high for 7 min. Allow to stand for 7 min or until the liquid is absorbed.
The delicate texture of quinoa works in soups, stews, salads, breads and sweets. In fact, there’s no end to its versatility!
For a taste of the wonders of this nutritious ingredient, try HFG recipe consultant Phil Mundy’s festive recipe …
Quinoa, dried cranberry and pine nut stuffing
Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
Cooking oil spray
1½tsp gluten-free reduced-salt veg stock powder
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
50g dried cranberries, roughly chopped
35g pine nuts, lightly toasted
2tbsp chopped thyme
Juice of ½ orange
1 Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas 5 and lightly spray a
1 litre ovenproof dish with oil.
1 litre ovenproof dish with oil.
2 Put the quinoa in a medium pan with the stock powder and 500ml boiling water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15–18 min until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender.
3 Meanwhile, spray a non-stick frying pan with a little oil and put over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 min or until softened. Add the garlic and stir for 1 min more, then remove from the heat.
4 Transfer the quinoa and onion mixture to a large mixing bowl, then stir through the remaining ingredients and season with ground black pepper. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish, then bake for 20 min.
Per serving: 96kcal, 3.2g protein, 3.1g fat, 0.3g saturates, 14.7g carbs, 5.3g sugar, 0.7g fibre, 0.2g salt, 22mg calcium, 1.6mg iron
For more recipe ideas using quinoa, pick up a copy of the Winter 2013 issue of Healthy Food Guide, out on 19 November