While all grains are seeds, not all seeds are grains. Quinoa falls in the middle as a pseudocereal that was once the main staple of early Mesoamericans as far back as 4,000 years. But it wasn’t until 1993 that this obscure little seed drew attention from an unlikely observer, looking for an extraordinary food source with a unique amino acid composition. NASA tested several plant-types before choosing quinoa for its CELSS [Controlled Ecological Life Support System] program to meet the dietary needs of its astronauts during long-term missions, and for its sustainable yield in a controlled environment. Still, despite its illustrious pedigree, quinoa remained under the radar and didn’t gain popularity in the U.S. for another fifteen years. In no short order, its meteoric rise up the food chain can be attributed to its nutrient density of protein, vitamins, essential amino acids, and antioxidants. While no single food supplies all the essential life-sustaining nutrients, NASA concluded that “quinoa comes as close as any in the plant or animal kingdom.” Pretty heady stuff for such a tiny seed.
On its own, quinoa hasn’t much of a flavor profile, it’s a blank canvas waiting to come to life as a side dish or tossed in a salad. I prepare it using spices, herbs, dried fruit, and nuts for a slightly sweet and savory accompaniment to soups and stews or as a light lunch on the go that can be eaten warm or cold.
- 1 1/2-cup quinoa
- 3-cups water or vegetable stock
- 1/3-cup dried apricots, sliced
- 1/3-dried cranberries
- 2-Tbsp candied ginger sliced
- 1/4-cup sliced scallions
- 1/4-cup edamame
- 1/4-cup sliced almonds
- 2-tsp garlic powder
- 1-tsp onion powder
- 1/2-tsp sea salt
- 2-Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1-Tbsp chopped fresh mint
- In a strainer, rinse quinoa.
- Bring water or stock to a boil and add quinoa.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 munites or until 90% of the liquid has absorbed. If cooked too long, quinoa will turn mushy. The extra moisture will be absorbed by the dried ingredients.
- Remove from heat and add dried fruit, ginger, scallions, nuts, and spices. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir well and set aside.
- Stir in fresh herbs at the end and serve. Adding the herbs while the quinoa is still hot will turn them brown.
Yields (6) 1-cup servings. Nutrient values are based on one serving.