Katie's Healthy Bites: Cooking with Quinoa

Dubbed “the gold of the Incas,” quinoa seed is treasured because of it's nutritive value. It has more protein than any other grain or seed and offers a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can't make on their own.

Most folks call quinoa (pronounced “keen-whah”) a grain, but it's actually a seed -- one that originated thousands of years ago in the Andes Mountains. Dubbed “the gold of the Incas,” it's treasured because of it's nutritive value (more protein than any other grain or seed!). I love it for its yummy nutty flavor.

Why You Should Try It

As I said, quinoa actually has more protein than any other grain or seed and offers a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can't make on their own. It's also a great source of calcium and is high in lysine, the B vitamins and iron. Better still, the seed is easy to digest and gluten free.

The Different Kinds

You'll usually find quinoa in its tan or yellow form -- though it comes in many colors: orange, red, pink, purple and black. Look for any color quinoa in your local health food stores; they all work -- and taste -- great in dishes. I always stock up in bulk to keep costs down. Stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, quinoa keeps for several months.

How to Cook Quinoa

It may seem foreign but cooking quinoa is simple. First, I always rinse the quinoa. It has a natural soapy coating that helps protects the seed from pests but there's no need to eat it. To clean, just place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse with cold water for a minute or two.

Next is the cooking. Use one part quinoa to two parts liquid. Plain water works fine, but I like experimenting with a vegetable or chicken broth for extra low-calorie flavoring. Place both the quinoa and the liquid in a saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and let the seeds cook for 10 to 15 minutes -- or until the water is absorbed, the seed is translucent and the germ is partially detached (it will look like a little feather or spiral).

When cooked, quinoa has a crunchy, nutty flavor. It works great in savory side salads, mixed into veggie burgers and more. I also love it as a hot breakfast cereal -- just pour in some cow, soy or almond milk and add chopped nuts for a crunchy topping.

Here's one of my favorite, easy dishes:
Quinoa Summer Salad
Servings: 8

4 cups cooked quinoa* (or whole-grain couscous if you can't find quinoa)

1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 cup bell peppers (use red, orange or yellow), chopped
1 cup cucumber (leave skin on for green color), chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup black beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Juice of one lime (zest is optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup parsley (or cilantro), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and serve. That's it!

Nutrition Info: 110 calories; Fat: 2.8 grams; Saturated Fat: .4 grams; Protein: 4.5 grams; Carbohydrates: 17 grams; Cholesterol: .04 milligrams; Sodium: 71 milligrams; Fiber: 2 grams

Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, owns HealthyBites, LLC and is a finalist on The Next Food Network Star, which airs Sundays on Food Network.

[Photo courtesy of Letinelle / Flickr]
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