Quinoa: Small seeds, rich history, powerful nutrition

Peru, 2005

Steeped in history, the plant-based and protein-packed food was domesticated in South America and eaten in the northern hemisphere long before the maize craze

With a history as rich as its nutritional value, Quinoa is high-protein rice-substitute that pairs terrifically with vegetable medleys and serves as a primary staple of many-a-vegans’ diets.

Yet you don’t have to shun milk and meat to enjoy the simple, satisfying and colorful product that human beings have ingested for about 4,000 years, and may be prepared in as little as 20 minutes.

Called kinwa by the Quechua, an Amerindian group indigenous to the Peruvian Andes, Quinoa was also domesticated in North America before maize agriculture took hold. Of course – continuing my rant and sourcing Wikipedia like a mad man – the Spanish apparently dismissed Quinoa as “food for Indians.” The Incas, on the other hand, sacredly hailed Quinoa as the “mother of all grains.”

In September, The Seattle Times said this “fuel of armies” only a few years ago was largely known only in the huddled masses of the gluten-intolerant. Note: That was before you could purchase fresh Ghost Chiles at Hy-Vee Food Stores, and supermarkets such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market were nothing more than a twinkle in the eyes of West Des Moines business leaders.

Soup House, 2011

I’ve been aware of Quinoa for about a year, but was only this summer turned on to the dish while continuing my exploration of healthy and alternative food choices, and the lifestyles of those whom embrace them.

Though I’m not a fan of tofu, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to offset my weekly intake of meats and cheeses with more green plants, whole grains and brown rice. I have no desire to go vegetarian or vegan – I love milk and don’t want to imagine a world without the occasional bacon cheeseburger – but it is hard to argue with the dietary benefits of consuming red, white, black or other hues of Quinoa, which some people like to mix with Tofurkey or other imitation meats.

Made up of approximately 16 percent protein, Quinoa is also high in iron, antioxidants, fiber and essential amino acids. It is from the spinach family. NASA looked into it. Need I say with more?

Here’s how I like to prepare it:

  • Cut and wash vegetables
  • Coat bottom of saucepan with olive oil
  • Add a 1 c. Quinoa
  • Add 2 to 2.5 c. water
  • In separate pan, heat olive oil and start vegetable sauté, stirring occasionally
  • Bring Quinoa to a boil and stir lightly
  • Reduce heat to medium
  • Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until seeds start to split open as liquid is absorbed
  •  Add cumin, garlic powder and salt to taste
  •  Pour vegetable sauté into saucepan
  •  Stir and serve

This is my new favorite and easy-to-prepare meal that may be served as an entrée or side dish. I use both red and yellow onions, fresh or canned mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and jalapeños. You may also enjoy a bit of broccoli, carrots and red or green peppers. If you’re not a sissy, you’ll top it off with a little ground cayenne pepper.

“The thing is, despite all the health claims, it really tastes incredible,” wrote Seattle Times freelance writer Catherine M. Allchin, who offers her own recipe.

Bottom line: Quinoa is a diverse and protein-packed food that offers a healthful, tasty alternative to rice and meats. I can’t wait to try it with Spanish smoked paprika.

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