People ask me all the time for gluten-free recipes and I always point them to quinoa. It’s the ancient grain that has it all. Healthy, flavourful and so simple to cook, it deserves a place at your dinner table whether you’re going gluten-free or not.
Quinoa isn’t technically a grain. We call it that because you can use it like rice, barley, couscous and pasta. But quinoa is actually a seed from the quinoa plant and thousands of years ago, Inca warriors in South America relied on the nutrient-packed seed for power. We now know why. Unlike grains, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also an amazing source of antioxidants and heart-healthy fatty acids, which remain intact even after cooking.
But the best reason to start eating quinoa is the flavour. Cooked quinoa has a delicate, fluffy texture and a slightly nutty flavor. The most common variety is white and looks deceptively like couscous or millet. But red and black quinoa are popping up more often these days. As a rule, the darker the quinoa, the more crunchy in texture and nutty in flavor.
Cooking quinoa couldn’t be easier. Add one cup of quinoa and two cups of water or stock to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes. The white variety will become a translucent body with a little spiral tail and the seeds will stick together a bit. The red and black keep more of their seed shape when finished. Don’t panic and add more water to the pan, they’re supposed have a sturdier texture. Longer cooking won’t soften the seeds more.
You can use all three varieties of quinoa interchangeably in any recipe. As a guide, think of the white as a good substitute for rice. While lighter in texture, it has a similar creaminess that works in stir fries, soups, casseroles and warm side dishes. Some people even like it as a hot cereal, in place of cream of wheat or oatmeal. The texture of red and black quinoa makes them a beautiful addition to cold salads; they won’t go mushy when tossed with vinaigrette. These types also shine when paired with smooth, buttery foods like avocados, winter squash or creamy cheeses. Black quinoa has a slight fruity flavor that underlies the nuttiness, so try it with citrus fruits and pears.
Tips and Tricks
Store uncooked quinoa in the fridge in an airtight container. It should keep for 3 to 6 months.
Rinse quinoa before cooking, using a fine-mesh strainer. This removes any bitterness from the seed’s coating.
Grind quinoa seeds in a coffee grinder to make gluten-free flour.
Easy Quinoa Recipes
Toss into spinach or arugula salads with peaches and almonds.
Add eggs, breadcrumbs and grated cheese to cooked quinoa and form into patties. Sautee in a pan like a burger.
Top quinoa with a roasted vegetable hash and serve with a poached egg.
Serve quinoa under grilled asparagus or green beans. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.