Until the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the quinoa fields of South America in the 1500s, this little seed had nourished the Incas for thousands of years. It was the chisaya mama, “the mother grain”, the sacred food, gold of the Incas. Sadly, quinoa fell into oblivion, almost forgotten even by the people it had fed for so many thousands of years.
It’s not until the 1980s that quinoa re-emerged and was introduced to the American consumer. In less than 30 years, it has become a favorite food — not because it’s a “super food,” as scientists have discovered, but because it simply tastes good.
And what a super food it is! A complete protein with an abundance of Lysine, quinoa is also packed with essential minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorous. No wonder this little seed was thought to have given the Inca warriors their incredible stamina. I say “seed,” because although we refer to quinoa as a grain, technically it’s the seed of chenopodium (a pseudocereal), a plant related to beets, chard and spinach. In fact, the leafy foliage of chenopodium quinoa is also edible.
For me, though, I don’t need statistics or a degree in botany to be convinced that quinoa is a great food! I just adore its flavor. Cooked the proper way, this tiny, “lady-like” seed is delicate, fluffy and slightly nutty. Once you’ve had a taste of it, you’re hooked.
But before you start cooking your batch of quinoa, there’s a small detail you need to know. The quinoa seed is naturally coated with a bitter substance called saponin. Surely the quinoa plant evolved this way to make its treasure unpalatable to birds and other foragers. Aside from being quite bitter, saponin can be mildly toxic. Therefore commercial quinoa sold in the US has been pre-washed to remove the unpleasant saponin. But I find that it’s not a bad idea to rinse the seeds again before cooking them (see the pictures and instructions below).
If quinoa hasn’t found its way into your kitchen or your heart yet, I hope this little article will convince you to give this noble food a try — I know it’ll have you coming back for more!
makes 3 cups
active time: 10 min
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 1/2 cups spring water (or filtered water)
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove – skinned
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
- Step 1: Place quinoa in a fine sieve and rinse in cold water, rubbing the seeds between your fingers. Strain and discard water. Repeat this process using fresh water two more times. The water will be cloudy at first and then become clearer. After rinsing the quinoa 3 times, strain and shake excess water vigorously. Set aside.
- Step 2: Place spring water in a medium heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, olive oil, garlic, and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and slow-simmer for 15 minutes until tender and the water has been absorbed.
- Step 3: Turn off the heat. Remove garlic and discard. Stir well, cover and let stand for another 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and serve.
- Cook’s note: The quinoa can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Cool to room temperature, place in a container with lid and refrigerate.
Step by step
Place quinoa in a fine sieve and rinse in cold water, rubbing the seeds between your fingers. Strain and discard water. Repeat this process using fresh water two more times. The water will be cloudy at first and then become clearer.
After rinsing the quinoa 3 times, strain and shake excess water vigorously. Set aside.
Place spring water in a medium heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, garlic, olive oil and salt.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and slow-simmer for 15 minutes until tender and the water as been absorbed.
Turn off the heat. Remove garlic clove and discard.
Cover and let stand for another 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, the quinoa is light and fluffy and ready to eat!