I will admit, quinoa freaked me out a little when we were first introduced. I found it hard to pronounce and that put me off a little. Quinoa. Isn’t it supposed to be pronounced “kwin-oh-a” or something like that? Keen-waah just didn’t sound ‘right’. I adjusted, and decided to make some for dinner one evening. Having never tried it before, it seemed simple enough… one cup quinoa to two cups of water, add a little salt, bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes. Just like a pan of rice. Easy-peasy-one-two-threesy. I took it off of the stove, put some on a plate, took a bite, and I think if small children had seen my face at that moment they would have burst out crying. I spit it out in the garbage, it was that bad.
What went wrong? I looked back at the package and it clearly said to rinse the quinoa. I skipped this step because, after all, I never rinsed my rice when it said to and that worked out ok. The bite I had was very bitter and unpleasant, not something I would eat, and certainly would not feed my family. As I researched this strange grain, I found that quinoa has a built in defense system against little (and big in my case) pests. Each little grain produces a coating called saponin which tastes bad to animals or insects that want to eat it, and for those who persist, it gives them a terrible belly ache.
At that point, I was almost ready to cross quinoa off of my list for good, when I decided to try a sample of a quinoa salad at our local Whole Foods. I discovered that this strange little grain wasn’t as bad as I thought it was after all. First of all, Whole Foods or whoever made it, washed the quinoa. Second, there were things in the salad that flavored the quinoa making it sweet, salty, sour, and flavorful. A much nicer combination than just water and salt.
I went into the whole grain section of the store and found a wonderful product that goes into my *I ADORE* category. Pre-washed and sprouted Quinoa Trio by a company called Tru Roots.
Some people recommend that you still pre-wash the quinoa, but I have used several bags of this kind and haven’t found that I needed to. Of course, if you are skittish, please pre-wash this kind as well.
A good friend shared this recipe with me, and it has become my favorite way to serve quinoa. It makes a good vegetarian lunch, or a great side to go along with something on the plain side like baked chicken or ham. The colors are amazing in this dish, and it would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving or holiday table.
Sweet and Crunchy Quinoa Salad
1 Cup Quinoa (rinsed!)
1 medium Sweet Potato cut into 1/2″ chunks, all about the same size
3 1/2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (organic if possible), divided
1/3 Cup roughly chopped toasted Almonds
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Honey or Agave Nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/3 to 1/2 Cup dried Raisins or dried Cranberries
5 Green Onions (scallions), sliced
Preheat the oven to 400. Place the quinoa and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered for 1 to 3 hours.
Place the sweet potato cubes in a roasting pan and toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the cubes with a fork. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl combine the remaining olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Whisk well to combine.
When the quinoa is dry, break apart the grains with a spoon and place in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Stir in the Almonds, raisins or cranberries, and green onions. Fold in the sweet potato cubes gently so you don’t break them up.
Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 generous servings.
Quinoa is an excellent addition to a gluten free diet because it provides a complete protein and is also high in fiber, magnesium, manganese, and many other nutrients. People with celiac disease often have absorption problems, and eating foods high in nutrients is greatly beneficial to them. Vegetarian diets also benefit from quinoa because of its high protein content. The addition of nuts, sweet potatoes, and cranberries adds vitamin A, Vitamin C, and even more protein.
Give quinoa a try, it is a nice change from rice and potatoes, plus it is packed with nutrients. Just remember to rinse it first!