The other day, a friend asked me how to make a healthy vegetarian meal. It got me thinking about the magic of quinoa. Because it is so nutritious, quinoa is a regular at our gluten-free table with or without meat. With a 17-year old athlete in the family, it is important to be sure he’s getting enough protein and that he feels satisfied even after a meatless meal. How can quinoa, a miniscule grain–about the same size as the tip of a ballpoint pen–pack such a wallop of nutrition? It is loaded with protein, and not just any protein, but “complete protein”, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. This makes it great for vegetarians, vegans, athletes…all of us who need adequate protein intake. Quinoa is also abundant in many health-supporting nutrients. One of its particularly copious amino acids is lysine, which is necessary for tissue growth and repair. And, because quinoa packs a big dose of manganese and is a good source of magnesium, folate, calcium, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin (vitamin B2), it can help prevent and alleviate migraine headaches, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and arrhythmias. Whew!
Quinoa is available as a grain, a flour and flake. The grain form is golden or red, the red being slightly firmer and higher in fiber. Either can be cooked just like white rice–even in a rice cooker–and eaten with veggies, sauces, in soups, stews and as a side dish to accompany meats. For an every day quinoa side dish, use a 1:2 ratio of grains to water or broth, and boil well-rinsed grains for 15 minutes. Add Himalayan salt and pepper to taste. For a delicious, healthy, gluten-free twist on Moroccan cous cous, see below. The flour form of quinoa is used in commercially available quinoa-based products like pasta. I use the flour instead of wheat for gluten-free baking either on its own, or combined with other gluten-free flours such as garbanzo, brown rice, sorghum and tapioca flours. For breads, cakes and pie crusts, this requires the addition of xantham gum, a natural bacteria that mimics the sticky, chewy, glutenous qualities of the absent gluten. I use 1/2 teaspoon for every cup of flour. On the quinoa flake box is a recipe for a warm cereal which I think has an unappealing, raw flour-like taste. Perhaps toasting the flakes first would help, but I have a different interest in these little gems. I use them to make gluten-free, healthy alternative matzoh balls at Channukah, Passover and any time of the year. For a nutrient-amped version of an old classic, see recipe below.
Gluten-Free, Supercharged Moroccan Quinoa “Cous Cous”
1 t coconut oil
3 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 t Himalayan salt
1/2 t pepper
1 1/2 c quinoa grains, rinsed well
1/4 c currants
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
In saucepan, saute shallots in coconut oil for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add grains and boil 15 minutes on a medium heat. When done, turn off heat and stir in toasted pine nuts and currants.
Quinoa Souffle “Matzoh” Balls–This recipe is a gluten-free, updated twist on a fabulous gourmet matzoh ball recipe from Chef Jeff Nathan.
3 eggs separated
1/4 c canola oil
1 t Himalayan salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
1 t parsley, chopped
1 c quinoa flakes
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t xantham gum
1 t onion flakes, optional
Fill large pot with water and put over high heat to boil. Meanwhile, mix yolks with oil, salt, pepper and parsley. In a second bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks (not stiff, dry peaks). In third bowl, combine last four dry ingredients. Stir yolks into dry ingredients. Next, fold egg whites into “dough”. Let dough sit 20 minutes. Using a teaspoon, scoop dough and form into small balls about 1 1/2″ wide; they will expand as they boil. Drop into boiling water. Turn balls after a few minutes to be sure both sides are evenly cooked. Boil for 20 minutes. Voila!