Welcome to Your New Grain Staple: Quinoa

It is the “Mother of Grains,” or so the Incans would have us believe, but after taking a closer look at the nutritional and taste benefits of  quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), I am in full agreement.  Eating quinoa is like winning the nutritional lottery as far as grains are concerned.  I have decided that I love it so much it will now replace brown rice as my go-to grain.  Here are 5 reasons why you should eat quinoa instead of brown rice.

1.  Taste.  Quinoa has a rich nutty flavor to it that makes it taste more substantial and filling than brown rice.  It also has  little more fiber, so the scientific data even shows that quinoa is more filling.

2.  Time.  Quinoa takes 12-15 minutes to rinse and then cook up in water on the stove top; brown rice takes 50+ minutes, not to mention a hefty amount of spices and salt to make it have flavor.  When I come home after a long day, the last thing I want to do is wait for rice to cook.

3. Versatility.  Don’t just limit quinoa to a side grain dish, that would be a disservice.  Quinoa can add substance to soups, be a breakfast porridge, or even be the main ingredient in sweet baked goods.  Quinoa has no gluten, so it is excellent for gluten-free diets.

4. Quinoa is a symbol for endurance.  The crop thrives (was domesticated) in one of the harshest climates on earth, the highlands of the Andes mountains.  It can grow in altitudes over 9,800 feet above sea level where wind and fluctuating temperatures can damage other crops like corn and potatoes.  The Incas used quinoa to protect these other staples in their farming terraces.  Additionally, the Incas had the most extensive road network in Pre-Colombian South America.  The runners who used to send messages along these roads most likely relied on quinoa for nourishment.

5. It packs a much larger nutritional punch than brown rice.  Consider these numbers that I gathered from the nutritional label of a box of quinoa and a bag of brown rice.  Additionally, quinoa has thiamin, niacin, and folate, but I ran out of room in my table to show it.  I also don’t exactly know what these nutrients do for out bodies.  Let’s face it, quinoa outperformed long grain brown rice in every single category.

Long Grain Brown Rice Quinoa
Serving size ¼ cup dry 1/3 cup dry
Calories 170 160
Total Fat 1.5 grams 2.5 grams
Potassium 0 grams 320 mg (9% DV)
Carbohydrates 35 grams 30 grams
Fiber 2 grams 3 grams
Protein 4 grams 6 grams
Iron 4% (DV) 20% (DV)
Phosphorous 0 20% (DV)


 

Quinoa Fruit Bars

This recipe is a make-over for quinoa, transforming the unglamorous side dish into a sweet and hearty dessert bar that doubles as a to-go breakfast or quick energy snack.  For those of you who have never tried or heard of quinoa, you are in for a treat.  For those of you who have only use quinoa as a side dish for your dinner, you are also in for a treat.  This nutritious grain is much more versatile than I originally thought.

Up until this point, I had only used quinoa, an ancient grain from the Andean highlands of South America revered by the Incas, as a quick grain option.  It’s very easy to cook and has a rich, nutty flavor.  It is one of my favorites. Then I rented from my local library The South American Table cookbook by Maria Baez Kijac.  This book is a collection of 450 recipes from South America, a culinary jewel often overlooked by cooks in the US who are generally more familiar with Mexican recipes.

I wanted to use quinoa in a different way other than relegating it to the side lines and figured that Peruvian or Bolivian cooking would guide and inspire.  After all, Peru and Bolivia were the geographic centers of the Incan empire where quinoa was the “mother of grain.”   I adapted this recipe slightly from a Quinoa Bars recipe in The South American Table by adjusting the spices moderately and taking out the anise seeds, since I don’t like licorice flavor.

Quinoa Fruit Bars uses quinoa like flour, making a “cake” that holds and binds the dried fruit and nuts.  Orange juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add an autumn holiday flavor.  These bars are moist and versatile.  Since quinoa has no gluten, these bars are an excellent gluten-free baked good option, just use rice flour instead of all purpose). Make variations of these bars by substituting other dried fruit or nuts.  Cut up the leftovers into ready-to-go bars for a quick breakfast or snack. Store at room temperature in covered Tupperware containers for 3-4 days.

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Quinoa Fruit Bars
adapted from The South American Table
makes 24 bars

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a cup of warm water for 15 minutes to plump them.

2.  Toast 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (or other nuts) in a small saute pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes.

3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add
2 cups water and
1 cup rinsed quinoa (See How to: Cook Quinoa for preparation instructions)
Cover the pot and cook 12-15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  The quinoa will be light and fluffy.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (for gluten-free use rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped dates (or dried apricots, cherries, etc.)
plus your toasted nuts and plumped raisins.

Mix these ingredients together.

5.  Add the quinoa to the dry ingredints.  Mix to combine.

6.  To the dry ingredients mix in the following:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh orange juice, and
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

7. Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 inch pan that’s been lightly coated with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Buen Provecho!