It’s always exciting to be introduced to new foods, especially when they’re super-healthy, versatile and taste great, too. A ‘new’ category of food that’s become very popular in the last year or so is actually quite ancient.
I’m talking about ‘supergrains’, also known as ancient grains. These are the next step on from ordinary old whole grains for health and well-being. They include amaranth, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, chia, millet and rye, as well as the more familiar oats and rice. You can see these grains popping up now as ingredients in breads, cereals, muffins, crackers and muesli bars, as well as in recipes and restaurants. I’ve recently been sent a couple of excellent recipe books that are specifically about these grains, celebrating their healthy properties and offering lots of inspiring ideas on what to do with them.
One of my favourites of the supergrain family is quinoa. The United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, highlighting quinoa’s nutritional qualities and its potential to help solve the problem of food insecurity around the world. A traditional crop of the Andes and a distant relative to spinach, quinoa is technically not a grain at all, but actually a seed that is used like a grain, usually referred to as a pseudocereal.
However you refer to it, many people are still unsure about how to pronounce quinoa, let alone cook it. So for the record it’s pronounced ‘keen-wa’ (rather than ‘kwin-owa’).
Quinoa is incredibly versatile – it can be made into a porridge-like hot cereal, used instead of rice, couscous or pasta as a side dish, used as the base for salads and hot dishes, added to soups and casseroles or used in baking. You’ll find white, red and black quinoa on the shelves along with flakes, puffed quinoa and quinoa flour. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavour, not dissimilar to couscous, which combines well with all sorts of flavours.
From a nutrition point of view, quinoa really is a star. It’s high in fibre and iron and has good amounts of minerals and vitamins. It’s also relatively high in protein compared to other grains and it is a complete protein, supplying all of the essential amino acids. For vegetarians and vegans, this is a huge bonus.
How to cook quinoa
Cooking quinoa as the base for a salad or as a side dish is pretty straightforward – if you can make rice, you can make this. Rinse 1 cup of quinoa under cold running water. Place rinsed quinoa in a pot and pour over 2 cups water (you can also use stock or water flavoured with herb sprigs). Stir the quinoa, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until all water is absorbed. This will take about 12-15 minutes. Leave to stand for 5 minutes before fluffing up with a fork.
Anywhere you see couscous or brown rice used, you can substitute quinoa and amp up the nutrition of your dish. Check out our website and the pages of Healthy Food Guide magazine for some tasty quinoa recipes. And while you’re eating you can make a toast to the Year of Quinoa!