Quinoa (keen-wah), while most often touted as a grain, is actually a seed. It is more closely related to sesame seeds and chia than it is to wheat or rice. However, it is very "grain-like" and makes a great substitute for any grains in almost any dish. Quinoa is gluten free, so it's a wonderful option for those of you who, like me, cannot or choose not to eat gluten. Quinoa is so much more than a gluten free option. Quinoa is one of the few foods that is considered to be a complete protein. This makes it also a great vegetarian protein source. In addition, it is high in fiber, iron and calcium.
Quinoa comes from high in the Andes mountains in Peru. It comes in three varieties; white, red and black. It can also be purchased as a combination of all three. I find it tends to be cheaper when purchasing it from the bulk bins at your local health food store rather than in packages at the supermarket. Quinoa has a natural coating of saponins, a soap-like substance that acts as a defense mechanism, so you must rinse your quinoa prior to cooking to avoid that bitter taste it can impart. You should cook it with a 2 to 1 ratio of water or broth to quinoa. Try mixing it with different grains such as brown rice or millet for a mixed grain pilaf. In addition to being delicious when served as a grain, quinoa can also be used as an ingredient in many different recipes such as to add crunch to a veggie burger or turned into porridge. Quinoa flakes can be found in stores, and these can be used as cereal, or used as a breading when coating foods or as an ingredient in homemade protein bars. Quinoa can be ground into flour and used as a substitute in baked goods. See my recipe for Quinoa Confetti Salad in the recipes section if you would like to try quinoa and add this nutrient packed and delicious seed to your diet!