The other day I went to Whole Foods and was so enthralled by the amazing DIY grain bar I decided to go meat-free this week and rekindle my love for tasty and satisfying plant-based protein in the form of lentils, millet and quinoa.
I know, how very un-paleo of me.
But here’s something you may not know: when I started CrossFit in March 2013, I was eating a mostly plant-based diet. I ate meat on the odd occasion, but I felt amazing on a diet of vegetables, nuts, and properly prepared legumes and unprocessed, gluten-free grains.
Then I did a 4-week Paleo challenge that returned me back to my old rampaging meat-eater self.
I still don’t know whether my body prefers a mostly vegan or paleo-ish style diet. All I know is that as long as I avoid processed foods, most dairy products, sugar and gluten, my body (and mind) is happy. For now, what works for me is eating simple whole foods. Including quinoa.
WTF is quinoa?
Firstly, this is how you pronounce it: KEEN-wah!
Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain, which is why there is some debate about its paleo-ness. It is native to the areas in and around the Andes in western South America, and was considered a sacred crop by the Incas.
It has a delicate, nutty flavour and firm texture, making it very versatile for use in both sweet and savoury dishes. It comes in white, red and black and is available in different forms including flakes, flour and pasta.
Why should I eat it?
- It is very nutritious, containing high levels of manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
- It’s also one of the only plant foods that is a ‘complete protein’, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
- For a ‘grain’, it has a high ratio of protein to carbohydrate – per cup it contains 8g of protein and 39g of carbs. A cup of brown rice, by comparison, has 5g of protein and 46g of carbs.
- It’s gluten-free! Yay!
How do I cook it?
- Rinse thoroughly before cooking to remove the bitter-tasting natural pesticide coating. Drain.
- Most common cooking method: add 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and put the lid on. Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
- As I can’t seem to get my quinoa nice and fluffy using the above method, I often cook it like pasta. I bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the quinoa and cook for 15 minutes or until the grains are slightly translucent and the little white ‘tails’ pop out. I then drain the water and let it sit for 5 minutes to fluff up before adding salt and olive oil.
Use whatever method works for you!
You can also watch this super-cute video on how to cook quinoa by Sarah Britton of My New Roots.
How do I eat it?
- Use it in place of rice or couscous to eat with stir fries and stews
- Add it to soups to give them a protein boost
- It works really well in salads and tabbouleh. I like to throw it into a salad (warm or cold) with chopped kale and roasted cauliflower. Yum!
- Cook up a big batch and use the cooked grains in porridge for breakfast
- Use quinoa flakes in place of oats in bircher muesli
Recipes to try:
Quinoa Oat Porridge by Amy Chaplin
Quinoa and rocket salad (plus some other easy recipes) by Sarah Wilson
Quinoa flakes bircher muesli
This Pumpkin Pie porridge by Sarah Britton is TO DIE FOR. The original recipe used amaranth as the grain, but quinoa also works.
Black bean and quinoa burgers from Love and Lemons
Where the fork do I find it?
Quinoa is getting more and more popular, which is great news for us! You will find quinoa in the health food section of most supermarkets, plus most health food stores. If you’re in Melbourne, also try the organic food stalls at the Vic Markets.
I find that buying it in bulk (à la Whole Foods) is cheaper than by the packet.
Do you eat quinoa? How do you eat it? Any favourite recipes you want to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!