Continuing my series on whole grains, let’s move onto quinoa. Although quinoa is actually a seed rather than a grain, it’s used as and substituted for grains because it’s cooked like one.
As it is extremely nutritious, easy to prepare, and versatile due to its mild flavor, it has rightfully claimed its spot in pantries around the world. Is yours one of them? If not, perhaps after reading this post, you may be persuaded to make it one of your staples.
Quinoa is unique in that it is a complete protein. It is one of the rare non-animal products that provides all 9 essential amino acids. What does this mean? Many plant foods have incomplete proteins bc they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Therefore, you must consume it with another source that contains the amino acid that’s missing. Both combined are called “complementary proteins.”
Food pairings that make up the complementary proteins are:
- Legumes with grains, seeds, nuts, or dairy. Examples: Black bean soup with whole wheat bread; hummus with pita bread
- Grains with dairy. Examples: whole grain cereal with milk; peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Dairy with nuts/seeds, legumes. Examples: Yogurt with nuts; pasta with cheese and beans.
However, this isn’t to say that you have to be intentional about pairing them together at each meal. As long as you eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of plant foods throughout the day, you should be set. If not, then this is another reason to eat healthfully! Do you really want to think about food combinations everytime you sit down to eat? 😉
In addition to quinoa being a complete protein, it is also an excellent source of…(to name a few):
- Iron: As part of proteins called hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells, it helps these proteins carry and release oxygen to tissues in the body. It’s also necessary to make new cells, hormones, and neurotransmitters.
- Magnesium: Helps relax muscles and blood vessels.
- Fiber: We all know why we need fiber! Regularity is key! 😉
- Manganese: An essential mineral required to manufacture enzymes necessary for the metabolism of proteins and fats; has important antioxidant properties
- Phosphorous and Copper: Necessary for bone-buildling and help prevent osteoporosis
So what does it taste like? It is light, fluffy, and slightly nutty. I like to rinse all my grains before I use them. 1 cup uncooked yields 3 1/2 cups cooked. While white quinoa is the most common variety you’ll find, let’s not forget about red or the more intense black quinoa. However, pay close attention to some versions of red quinoa as they are not all strictly whole grains. Purchase ones that are specifically labeled “whole grain.”
The basic cooking method is simple: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or broth of any kind. Bring liquid to a boil then lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook until soft, about 15 min.
I like to cook a big batch of quinoa every Sunday so that I can use it in various recipes throughout the week. It’s perfect in salads (esp ones with fruits), baked goods, stir-frys, and in this case casseroles….
Black Bean and Chicken Quinoa Casserole
- 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
- 1 tsp EVOO
- 1 med yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs garlic, minced
- 1 (15 oz) can black beans, no sodium added
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup sweet potatoes, cubed into small pieces
- 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
- 1 (1o oz) package of frozen spinach, thawed **
- 1 Tbs tomato paste
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (7 3/4oz) can of your favorite salsa
- 1 cup shredded cheddar
* As always, feel free to add or swap any vegetables to your liking. You can add broccoli, bell peppers, squash…
** Make sure you squeeze out much water as possible.
- Preheat oven to 375 F
- Cook quinoa: bring liquid to a boil then lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook until soft, about 15 min.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add 1 tsp EVOO and sauté onion until lightly browned, about 5 min. Add garlic, sauté for 1 min. Add the rest of the vegetables and combine well. Add tomato paste. Add chicken. Transfer mixture to a med bowl and stir in quinoa and beans.
- Add broth and salsa to the same pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 min, stirring occasionally. Combine to the mixture.
- Pour the mixture in 11 by 7 in baking dish coated w cooking spray. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.
- Dig in!
You can stop at this point if you don’t want to go through the trouble of baking it. It makes for a perfect warm quinoa salad ;). This time, thoughts of gooey cheese filled my head so I proceeded…
I topped it with some homemade corn tortilla strips for some crunch. This is an incredibly hearty and delightful recipe. I will have to say, Tim did NOT like quinoa in the beginning, but lately he’s been telling me that he’s starting to like this “quinoa business,” as he calls it ;). That’s good enough for me!
– Is quinoa one of your pantry staples? If so, what are some of your favorite ways to enjoy it?
– If not, what’s stopping you? 😉 I highly encourage you to give it a try!