Quinoa, the Mother Grain

Jun, 11, 2014

By Dawna Matthews:

My family traveled frequently to South America, so I was introduced to numerous unique cultural foods. One of these was quinoa. At first I couldn’t even pronounce it (keen-wah), let alone spell it. Used like rice, it seemed to be pretty simple but filling. As it turns out, it is simple, filling, nutritious and amazing!

Picture from http://www.activelivingzoomers.com
Picture from http://www.activelivingzoomers.com

Quinoa is a grain native to the Andean region of South America, and has been cultivated and used for nearly 5,000 years by the pre-Colombian Andean people as a staple food. The Incan civilization regarded it as a sacred food known as the “mother grain.” Along with potatoes and corn, it once was a third of the triple super food staples of their diet.

Although it is considered a cereal-like grain and consumed in the same way as rice or barley, quinoa is actually a close relative to spinach, chard, and beets. It is an extremely hardy crop and can be grown in harsh conditions, high altitudes, thin and cold air, hot sun, salty or sandy soil, sparse rainfall, and sub-freezing temperatures.

Quinoa is considered a superfood and one of the few plant based sources of complete protein. Quin – what does that mean? That means it provides all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health and which must be supplied by our diet. Amino acids help support our health, immune system and strong muscles; they are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and much more. Quinoa has all these amino acids and is considered a whole, perfect protein source. Additionally, quinoa is high in fiber, minerals such as magnesium, and is gluten-free. All of these properties make it superfood-awesome!

Easy to cook, quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor. I find it very versatile and delicious hot or cold. Here are some fun ways to try it.

Picture from http://static01.nyt.com
Picture from http://static01.nyt.com

Basic Quinoa:

Quinoa must always be washed before cooking because it has a coating of saponin. Rinse in strainer (make sure the holes are tiny or the quinoa will run straight down the sink) until no longer frothy. Place 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups boiling water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. DONE!

Andean Quinoa Corn Salad: One of my favorite summertime recipes is from Moosewood Restaurant; it’s light, has a little citrus tang and is all around delightful. I enjoy it hot or cold. http://vermontvalleyfarm.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/andean-quinoa-and-corn-salad.pdf

Whenever I eat quinoa, I am reminded that I am eating something truly ancient that was honored by indigenous people. Just knowing its heritage combined with its nutritious value gives me a stirring in my heart and makes me grateful for its presence in my life. What are some ways you enjoy quinoa?

Dawna Matthews

Dawna is a yoga teacher, writer, domestic goddess, and lover of life. She tries to celebrate all the joys given to us in this world by dancing, singing, cooking, and gazing up at the sky. Dawna believes green living is a way of coming back to the self- a simple yet deeply satisfying dance of gratitude to mother earth and each one of us. She lives in Colorado where the mountains are a perfect backdrop to each day. She twirls daily.

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