Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) ) is a pseudo-grain which has been grown and used for 6000 years, mainly in South America where it was an essential part of the Inca diet. In recent years, quinoa has gained popularity in the United States because of its nutritional value. What makes quinoa unique is its high protein content (up to 18%). It is also contains a complete and balanced set of amino acids. This means that quinoa has exactly the protein our bodies need for maximum benefit. It is very unusual for a plant to have a complete protein (soybeans are an exception).
For those who have allergies, quinoa is a great choice. It is gluten free, has a low glycemic index, and is easy to digest (especially if you soak it first!). As an added bonus, organic quinoa is readily available at retailers like Costco, while non-organic varieties can be found at many grocery stores.
Marinated Quinoa Salad
1 ½ c. quinoa, soaked overnight,*cooked,** and cooled to room temperature
½ red onion, diced
3 Roma tomatoes (or whatever you have on hand), seeded and diced
1 c . diced red, yellow, or orange peppers
1 ½ c. English cucumber, diced (if you use a regular cucumber, seed it first)
1 15 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 c. soaked and cooked dry beans
1/3 c. high-quality balsamic vinegar
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, unfiltered if possible
1/3 c. water (I use kefir water)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. lemon juice
1 t. sea salt
1 t. pepper
Combine the cooled quinoa with the vegetables. You can mix in any vegetables you like and have in season. In a separate container or blender, combine the dressing ingredients. Blend well. Pour over the quinoa mixture and fold in carefully until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Allow to marinate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. The flavors in this dish continue to develop and mellow the longer it sits. Plan to make it ahead.
*Like all grains, quinoa needs to be soaked in order to release the enzyme inhibitors bound up in the grain. Simply place the quinoa in a bowl and cover with twice as much filtered water. Cover and allow to sit 12-24 hours, whenever possible. When the grain has soaked, rinse it well with cold water. Quinoa contains saponin, which is why the water looks soapy when you rinse it. If you don’t rinse the grain well enough, it might even taste soapy!
**To cook the quinoa, cover the grain with twice as much water as you have grain. Salt the water and bring to a rapid boil, uncovered. Turn down the heat to med-low, and cover. When the water has cooked out and the grain has become translucent and swollen to about twice its size, it is done. I like my quinoa a little al dente, but if it’s too crunchy, you can either add a little more water and cook it a little longer, or simply remove from heat, cover the pot and allow the grain to steam a little longer.