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Healthy foods: quinoa

What is it? Quinoa is a bona fide "superfood" in a tiny package - even though it's often underrated, misunderstood, and mispronounced. Pronounced "KEEN-wah", this wee grain favoured by vegetarians and vegans is not like the more familiar cereal grains that come from the grass family (e.g., oat, rice, rye, wheat). It's the seed of a goosefoot plant, a flowering green related to more familiar leafy greens like spinach and chard, that's considered a pseudocereal since it does not come from the grass family.

Quinoa has been cultivated for millennia in the Andes of South America and was once considered "the gold of the Incas" and "chisaya mama" (mother of all grains). On a grocery store quest for quinoa, head to the bulk bin and search for small, yellowish or sandy white kernels that resemble slightly puffed-up sesame seeds. Red, pink, purple, and black-hued varieties also exist.

What is it good for? Quinoa is a beloved standby for vegetarians and vegans striving to get the protein they need. A quarter-cup of uncooked quinoa contains 11% of a person's daily recommended protein. But this is not just any protein: Quinoa packs complete protein, meaning it includes all 9 essential amino acids, a distinction usually reserved for animal protein found in meat and dairy foods. Tiny quinoa also offers up a healthy dose of magnesium, a mineral that helps to relax blood vessels and is thought to lessen incidences of migraine headaches. And just to add to quinoa's nutritious pedigree: It's considered one of the least allergenic grain-like foods due to its low gluten content. This makes it a favourite among those with celiac disease and gluten allergies.

What does it taste like? Quinoa resembles rice in both appearance and taste. Its delicate, nutty, earthy flavour is complemented by a texture that can be at turns crunchy and chewy. Preparation is similar to rice, too. Thoroughly wash the seeds by placing a portion in a fine-meshed strainer and running cold water through it. Bring one part quinoa and two parts liquid (water or flavoured broth, depending on your recipe) to a boil in a saucepan. Boil-and-simmer time is generally about 15 minutes. Cook the small grains to a fluffy, creamy texture for hot breakfast porridge, eat it like rice or couscous with steamed vegetables, or chill cooked seeds and toss into a salad. Quinoa can also add bulk to soups and stews or be ground to use as an alternative flour in baking. It keeps for a long time, especially when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Amy Toffelmire


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