First cultivated by the ancient Incas in the Andean region of South America thousands of years ago, quinoa was highly worshiped and referred to as the “mother grain.” Unfortunately for the Indians, the Spanish conquerors destroyed the quinoa fields and forbade anyone to grow quinoa during the Spanish conquest of South America.
Now, a few hundred years later, quinoa has reestablished itself as an important part of South American cuisine and is on its way to becoming a staple food in the United States.
One of quinoa’s many draws is that it is gluten-free, which makes it safe for someone with celiac disease or a gluten-sensitivity to eat. But quinoa’s health benefits extend far beyond its omission of gluten.
Quinoa is a very special grain because it's a complete source of protein meaning that it provides all of the essential amino acids. (Essential nutrients are ones that must be obtained through food or supplements because our bodies are incapable of making them.) This makes quinoa an excellent stand-in for animal protein. Plus, it’s a good source of fiber, B-vitamins and iron, and it is low fat and cholesterol free.
So, why aren’t more people eating this nutritious powerhouse of a grain?
From what I’ve gathered, it’s because they assume quinoa is difficult to prepare. In reality, cooking quinoa is quite simple.
First, rinse the quinoa to remove any lingering saponins, the bitter residue that quinoa uses to ward off insects. Then, add two cups of liquid (e.g. water or broth) to every one cup of dry quinoa and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer approximately 15 minutes.
For extra flavor, toast the quinoa first in a dry saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, about five minutes. One cup of dry quinoa produces roughly four cups of cooked grain.
Quinoa is terrific in salads, soups, baked goods and as a hot cereal or pasta.
Be aware that quinoa is not always appropriate on a low fiber/roughage diet.