By Cat, May 2010 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Once considered the “Gold of the Incas,” like its cousin amaranth, quinoa is not really a grain, but is often included in that category. It is actually a relative of green leafy veggies like spinach and chard, in the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae family. It has a fluffy, creamy and slightly crunch texture, and tastes a bit nutty when cooked.
Because it’s high in complete protein (about 30 grams per cup), it is valued by vegetarians and vegans, but it’s a tasty treat for anyone. It’s also an excellent source of magnesium, manganese and copper, but only if sprouted (germination releases minerals from the phytates that bind them in the seed).
To use: Rinse well by placing in a fine-mesh strainer, then rinsing with cold water, before cooking or sprouting, to remove saponins from processing.
If sprouted (see below), you can eat it raw in a salad, or cooked. If not sprouted, you should cook it.
Sprouting: Quinoa sprouts in 1-2 days. I use a wide-mouth quart or half-gallon jar (depending on quantity to sprout), fitted with a mesh screen in the lid.
Soak 1 cup quinoa in 2 or more cups water for 6 – 8 hours. Drain in fine mesh strainer, rinsing well. Set jar upside down (at a slant) in a bowl, and cover with a cloth, because sprouting happens in the dark. Rinse through the mesh screen 2 – 3 times a day, with cool water. Will sprout in 24 – 48 hours.
Dry-Roast: You can also dry roast/toast it before cooking, to bring out its nutty flavor. Place in a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until toasted, about 5 minutes.
To Cook: Steam, or cook in water, about 2 cups water for 1 cup quinoa. Bring water to a boil, add quinoa & cover. Reduce heat to simmer and cook desired time.
Unsprouted, it cooks in about 15 minutes; much less after sprouting, about 2 minutes. Rinse before serving.
To Store: Keep unsptrouted quinoa in an airtight container, in cool place for 2 – 3 months. Store sprouts in jar in fridge up to a week; rinse to freshen before serving.
Flour: Quinoa can be ground into flour, but must be mixed with wheat, kamut or spelt for use in baked goods. Or it may be combined with gums (xanthan, guar) for gluten-free flours, but I have no experience with this.
See the World’s Healthiest Foods: Quinoa (1) and the Cooking Detective (2) for more.