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Ten years ago, only a handful of nutrition experts and cooking professionals had ever heard of quinoa, which has been cultivated in the Andes ranges of Peru, Bolivia and Chile for more than 5,000 years. Fast-forward to 2014, and quinoa has become far more prevalent on restaurant menus and in home kitchens. In fact, it was even the subject of a recent humorous Bud Lite commercial!

Pronounced "KEEN-wah," it is not a true grain, but is a seed of the Chenopodium (or goosefoot) plant. It is frequently mistakenly called a grain, and in fact is used as such because of its cooking characteristics. Botanically, quinoa is related to spinach, beets and Swiss chard. It has gotten its reputation of being a super food because it is the only plant-based protein source that contains all eight essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. It is also rich in calcium, iron, B-vitamins and fiber, while being low in sodium. Finally, quinoa is gluten-free.

There are many healthful ways to serve quinoa, both as a main dish and a side dish, including the four offerings below.

QUINOA PILAF WITH BROCCOLI AND CASHEWS

One reason quinoa is often thought of as a grain is that it figures in a variety of pilafs. If you would like a vegan recipe that is full of flavor and texture contrasts, then you’ll especially enjoy this treatment.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ medium red onion, diced
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
½ cup vegetable broth
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup quinoa
1 cup fresh broccoli flowerets,
cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup unsalted cashew pieces
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onion and garlic for three minutes. Do not let garlic burn. Add the next four ingredients and bring to a boiling. Stir in the quinoa. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the broccoli and simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, tossing well. Garnish with the cashews and scallions. Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish.

QUINOA-CRANBERRY CEREAL

A nutrient-rich hot cereal, garnished with fruits, will be most welcome on a chilly winter morning. In the spring, you can add fresh sliced strawberries to the mix.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
1 banana, sliced
Agave nectar or honey, topping
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Place quinoa, water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa appears translucent. Scoop about 1 cup of hot quinoa into 3 cereal bowls, and top each serving with cranberries and bananas. Drizzle with agave nectar or honey to taste, and sprinkle with cinnamon. If desired, pour almond milk on top. Serves 3.

QUINOA SALAD

If you’re familiar with tabouleh — a Middle Eastern salad containing bulgur, chopped vegetables, mint and olive oil—then this variation is sure to please your palate.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 cup diced seedless cucumber
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Grape tomatoes, optional garnish

Place the quinoa and water in a small saucepan and bring to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and cook over low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. Transfer the quinoa to a serving bowl, and toss with the next 5 ingredients. Serve, garnished with optional tomatoes. Serves 3 to 4.

TURKEY-QUINOA MEATLOAF

Most meatloaf recipes include some grain as a binder—usually rolled oats or stale bread. Quinoa serves the same function, while imparting a nutty flavor and an extra helping of protein. Because ground turkey is blander than beef, strong flavoring elements like Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce are included.

½ cup quinoa
1 cup water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (20 ounce) packages ground turkey
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons pepper
4 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons water

Cook quinoa and water in a small saucepan until all the liquid has been absorbed—about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small skillet and cook the onions over medium heat until they are just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat to cool. Place the turkey in a large bowl, and add the cooked quinoa, onions, tomato paste, Tabasco and 2 tablespoons of the Worcestershire. Add the eggs, salt and pepper, and shape the mixture into a loaf in a foil-lined 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Combine the remaining Worcestershire sauce with the brown sugar and water to form a paste. Spread on top of meatloaf. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour, or until it is no longer pink in the center. Let the meatloaf cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 8.

Ginnie Manuel is a Midlothian-based freelance writer and cookbook author.