Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a seed in the spinach, swiss chard and beet family. Its color can range from pink to red to brown, even occasionally black. When cooked, quinoa has a slightly crunchy texture on the outside, but can be fluffy and creamy on the inside. As it cooks, the outer shell twists around and ends up looking like little swirls. On its own, quinoa has a mild, delicate, nutty taste, but it will also absorb the flavor of whatever liquid you cook it in. It pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes.
Even though lots of people have never heard of it, quinoa’s been around a long time. It was eaten by the ancient Incan and Aztec armies as an energy source before they marched off into battle. If quinoa could power up warriors on the battlefield, just think what it might do for you in the bedroom!
Quinoa’s stamina boosting power and health benefits are due to several factors. The quinoa seed is high in protein, calcium and iron, and a good source of vitamin E and several of the B vitamins. It’s also said to be a complete protein, because it contains an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids needed for tissue development in humans. It is exceptionally high in lysine, cystine and methionine-amino acids typically low in other grains. If you don’t know your lysine from your cystine, don’t worry, just eat up. Quinoa’s good for you! As a bonus, it’s gluten-free. This is great if you or your date are allergic to gluten, a protein found in wheat.
Now that you know why you’d want to eat quinoa, you might be wondering how it’s served. There are tons of options. Cooked quinoa is excellent in casseroles, soups, stews, stir-fries, or cold in salads. Like rice and pasta, it expands to several times its size when cooked, so it’s often substituted for rice in rice dishes. If you dry roast quinoa in a pan or in the oven before cooking, it will impart a toasted flavor. You can also cook it in fruit juice before using it to create a hot breakfast cereal or even a dessert.
Here’s a very important quinoa tip: before cooking the seeds must always be rinsed thoroughly. This washing removes a bitter resin-like coating that protects the seed in the wild by repelling insects and birds. All you need to do is put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and run cool water over it for a minute or so while stirring gently with your hand.
Here are a few more interesting quinoa suggestions:
Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
For a twist on your favorite pasta recipe, use noodles made from quinoa.
Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
Add quinoa to your favorite vegetable soups.
Quinoa is great to use in tabouli, serving as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the couscous with which this Middle Eastern dish is usually made.
Where can you get it? Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. If you buy it from a bulk bin, make sure the bins are covered and that the store has a good product turnover. This way you’ll know the quinoa is fresh. No matter how you buy it, make sure there is no evidence of moisture. If you can’t find quinoa in your local supermarket, a good place to look is in natural foods stores. Once at home, you can store any unused, uncooked quinoa in an airtight container. If stored in the refrigerator, it will keep for approximately three to six months.