Newest Review: ... might look a bit like whole-grain rice, it doesn't taste like rice at all, nor does it have the same texture. Quinoa has a much more nutty... more
Eat it? Yes, even if you can't spell or pronounce it!
Member Name: TheChocolateLady
Date: 08/03/07, updated on 09/03/07 (16169 review reads)
Advantages: Very healthy, easy to make
Disadvantages: Sometimes has sour or bitter aftertaste
In my attempt to eat a more healthy diet, I recently discovered quinoa and thought that perhaps you too might be interested in this "new" food. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is actually the seed of the goosefoot plant, the leaves of which I have also eaten. Where I live, the goosefoot plant actually grows wild in some areas and a vegetarian friend of ours used to pick the leaves and make them into all sorts of things like cutlets and savoury pies. The leaves of the goosefoot plant have a less acidic flavour than spinach or rocket, but there is certainly a similarity between them. But it isn't the leaves I'm talking about here, but the seeds of this plant which I think might interest you.
Apparently harvesting the seeds of the goosefoot plant isn't all that easy to do, and so we must look for our quinoa in places like health-food shops and supermarkets. When you've found this product, what you'll see is what looks like surprise, surprise a bag of very small seeds. They are usually coloured between a pale cream and a light tan, and look unappetizing, actually. However, we all know not to judge a book by its cover, and in this case, that rule applies very aptly.
Making quinoa is actually very easy to do. Just like in preparing rice, you should cook one cup of dry quinoa in two cups of water. I've found that if you use a non-stick pan, heating the seeds at the bottom of the dry pan for a few moments helps a bit. I never add any oil or margarine to the pan, and only add a little bit of flavouring like salt, which I usually put in before I add the water. I've also found that if you add a soup cube (or an individual clear soup packet) to the liquid, this can help cut the slightly sour aftertaste that I've noticed. My preference with this is the onion flavoured ones, but your mileage may vary. The best results I've had with cooking quinoa is to bring the quantity of seeds and water to the boil, cover the pot and then put it in the smallest flame possible for about 20 minutes. Then I turn the heat off and let it sit for another 10-15 minutes, without removing the cover during the whole process. This makes the quinoa very light and fluffy as it absorbs all the liquid and then puffs up. What you'll find when you've finished cooking your quinoa is something that looks akin to whole-grain rice, or slightly brownish looking small couscous only with little swirls of what looks like tiny creamy coloured bones inside it. Those cream coloured bits are actually part of the sprout from the seeds that would grow into the plant itself.
While this might look a bit like whole-grain rice, it doesn't taste like rice at all, nor does it have the same texture. Quinoa has a much more nutty flavour to it than rice, and seems to take on other flavours much more quickly than rice does. It is also less sticky and crunchier than rice. This doesn't mean that this comes out hard and gets stuck in your teeth. On the contrary, as I said above, it is very light and fluffy in texture but there is a tiny bit of a crunch to it, as if you had tiny pillows in your mouth that slightly popped when you bit on them. This may not sound as pleasant as it really is, so I apologize for this description.
Now, here I am, comparing this to rice, which we all know is a starchy food that is very high in carbohydrates, which many diets recommend you don't eat much. But the truth is there are actually two types of carbohydrates the soluble kind and the insoluble kind. The bad kind is the soluble one which turns into sugar in your system quickly, gives you a fast glucose boost and becomes what most dieters call 'empty calories' which can make you gain weight (or at least prevent you from losing weight), especially because you can feel hungry again too soon after consuming them. In that group are things like rice, potatoes and bread.
On the other hand, insoluble carbohydrates break down in your system much slower. This means that you feel satiated for a longer time after eating them, you're blood sugar won't go up as quickly and will remain more stable, allowing your body an even amount of energy needed to burn off the calories more efficiently. In this group are things like oats and you guessed it quinoa! But the big difference is that quinoa is considered a protein while all the others are considered carbohydrates. For instance, Weight Watchers considers that a cup of cooked rice, cooked potatoes, cooked pasta and cooked quinoa are all worth three points. But the only one that isn't considered carbohydrate points is the quinoa, since that is counted as protein points. Quinoa has lots of good vitamins and minerals (like iron, potassium and zinc) and is an excellent source dietary fiber and the United Nations has decided it is a "super crop" because of its high protein levels, and I don't think you can argue with that. In addition, for those people who have a problem with gluten, they'll be happy to know that quinoa has none.
I did mention earlier that I had experienced a slightly sour or bitter taste to it. From my research, this bitter taste is caused by something called saponins, which is a slightly waxy coating that develops naturally on the outside of the quinoa seeds. In excess, saponins can be toxic, but taken in moderation, the thing that they are best for is lowering bad cholesterol levels, and so that's yet another benefit to this product. Most of the quinoa that you'll find in your shops today have had most of the saponins removed already, so you shouldn't worry about being poisoned by this. If you're worried about the leftover saponins making your dish taste sour, as I mentioned before, using a soup cube in the cooking water seems to help. You can also mix your cooked quinoa with steamed or sauted vegetables to help improve the flavour, and there are no end to the combinations of those that you can make to keep this from being boring. Our personal favourite is to cook the quinoa with an onion soup cube and then saut onions and garlic, while steaming baby carrots. We then cut up the cooked baby carrots into small pieces and mix all the ingredients together.
Finally, I should mention that while the health conscious world has just discovered this food product, you should know that this has been a staple in the diets of people living in South America for over 6000 years. This just goes to prove that the 'developed' world of today really doesn't know what the ancient world knew all along. So I say, why not try quinoa. You'll be getting back to basics, adding something new to your diet and you'll be guilt-free when you indulge in it because it is healthy. And you never know, you might actually love it, like I do!
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © March, 2007
In a non-stick pan, place two cups of quinoa, salt, pepper and garlic powder (or granulated garlic - optional) to taste. Heat for a few minutes before adding
4 cups of water mixed with with one soup cube (I prefer onion), and a dash of soy sause
Cover and bring to a full boil, then turn down to lowest heat on the lowest flame/hob and leave covered, untouched for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for at least 10 minutes or until you can see that all the liquid has been absorbed.
Separately, sautee one large onion, 2-3 chopped garlic cloves in a little olive oil until they are just starting to brown.
Separately, cook about 2 cups of baby carrots until very soft, drain the water and chop into small pieces.
Mix the onion, garlic and carrots into the cooked quinoa and serve. You can also put it all into a baking pan and place in the oven for 10 minutes to make sure everything is an even temperature.
You can also sautee with the onions some red and yellow peppers, and/or courgettes. Another idea is to wilt some spinach, chop that up and add to the mixture.
Note: When heating in the oven, you might want to cover the pan a bit so that the quinoa doesn't get too dried out.
I found this available on-line from http://www.herbsgardenshealth.com/ in a 500gr bag for £1.42, but I'm sure you can find it other places as well.
Take a look at www.quinoa.com and www.quinoa.net for more information about this product.
Summary: Quinoa - a very healthy "new" food!