Go Cuckoo for Quinoa

Quinoa is a tasty way to add protein and whole grains to your diet.

When was the last time you ate according to the guidelines set forth in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid?

For me, I think never would be a fairly accurate response.

According to this bastion of nutritional knowledge, a woman between the ages of 31 and 50 should consume about 6 “ounce equivalents” of whole grains per day, 1.5 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 5-ounce equivalents of protein and 3 cups of dairy.

Yowza! That’s a lot of good-for-you stuff.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a guideline that recommends eating vast quantities of chocolate on a daily basis.

I’m pretty good at eating a decent amount of fruits and vegetables. It’s the whole grains and proteins that are a little trickier for me.

I was discussing nutrition and healthy eating with a friend recently when she asked me if I’d ever cooked anything with quinoa in it. She said that she’d heard quinoa was a really healthy grain and a good way to add some protein to your diet.

“Sure,” I replied, “I make muffins with quinoa in them all the time.”

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“I have no idea, but my bird sure does,” I told her.

Prior to that conversation, I hadn’t thought of quinoa as anything other than something to add to the special birdtastic muffins I make to supplement my pet’s diet.

It was bird food, in my opinion.

In case you’re not up on your quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) facts, it is a high-protein, gluten-free grain that has nine essential amino acids. Though technically quinoa is a seed, it usually is referred to as a grain and has all the benefits associated with whole grains. Visit whfoods.com for everything you ever wanted to know about quinoa.

I decided it was time to try some bird food.

Armed with a box of Ancient Harvest brand quinoa, I set to making a recipe that sounded delicious. Quinoa Corn and Black Bean Salad had all kinds of tasty ingredients, and I figured these would help disguise the taste of what I was still thinking of as bird seed.

To prepare quinoa, you combine one part quinoa with two parts water, bring it to a boil, then simmer it for 10 to 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. According to the package directions, you know it’s cooked properly when the grain appears transparent and the germ ring is visible along the outside edge of the grain.

Ewww. Germ ring.

I soldiered on.

While the quinoa is cooking you can assemble the rest of the ingredients for the salad and the dressing—cilantro, tomatoes, bell peppers, black beans, corn, jalapeno pepper, lime juice—and have everything ready and waiting for the addition of the grain of honor.

When thousands of little germ rings were visible throughout the pan and all the water had been absorbed, I knew I’d reached quinoa perfection. Before adding it to the rest of the salad, I decided I needed to try it on its own. I have to admit, I felt a little nervous. This must be what that guy on the Travel Channel feels like when he travels around the world trying all those exotic (i.e., gross) dishes. But, the descriptions I read online said it had a nutty flavor, so I closed my eyes and sampled a spoonful.


Very anticlimactic. There really wasn’t much flavor at all until I combined it with the rest of the salad.

The result?

Absolute perfection!

The quinoa acted as a sort of canvas on which all the other flavors were painted. It was like eating a renaissance masterpiece. Art appreciation took on a whole new meaning. Even my husband liked it.

I’ll definitely be cooking quinoa again. It’s good for you, tastes great when combined with other ingredients and is quite filling.

Plus, if you have any leftovers you need to get rid of, you can throw it outside for the birds.

Lori Silvester May 11, 2011 at 12:41 AM
I just made corn and black bean salad the other day. I didn't realize that I could add the quinoa to it. I will try it that way the next time.
Leslie Uriss Spehar May 11, 2011 at 03:10 PM
The quinoa makes the salad even more nutritious. Try the salad recipe in the article. It was really good!


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