FoodIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about food and recipes for the month of January. This week, I would like to recommend that you add quinoa to your diet. It has become a staple in our household over the past few months.

Quinoa is very similar to rice and cous cous, it has similar properties to them, and you can cook and prepare it in the same fashion. It has a slightly nuttier flavor, but tastes quite similar as well. Quinoa is not actually a grain, however, because it does not come from grass. It is also more nutritious and easier to digest than most grains, is high in magnesium and iron and is made up of between 12-18% protein with a balanced set of essential amino acids. It is gluten free and is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus. On top of the nutritional value, it cooks very fast and is easy to prepare.

Raw QuinoaMy uncle pays an arm and a leg for single serving boxes of quinoa from a health food store, but my wife and I buy it cheap in our local grocery store. They have it in the bulk organic foods section, where we can get it by the pound.

Before cooking the quinoa, you will probably want to rinse it off due to the high levels of sapponin that coats the outside of the seed. The sapponin gives the quinoa a bitter taste and can be mildly toxic, which prevents birds and insects from bothering with it so that it does not require any unnatural pesticides. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove the coating of sapponin for you, but it only takes a minute to rinse.

Once it has been rinsed, toss a cup of quinoa into a cup to two cups of water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer until the water has been absorbed. Depending upon how much water you use, it can take as little as 10 minutes to completely cook. You can cook it with a little olive oil and basil to have a side dish ready to serve, or you can get a little more exotic and prepare it according to some of the following recipes.

I had never heard of quinoa before last September, when Scott posted a video about a dish made with quinoa:

My wife and I don’t actually eat it as a snack, and we have never followed that recipe perfectly. We just throw whatever we have available together and make a salad, which tastes very good as a bed for haddock or as a side dish. They Call Me Mommy has a similar recipe to make apricot quinoa.

Christina Lucy included a recipe over at The Outdoor Journey for making stuffed bell peppers, which tastes very good. I have made the stuffed peppers a couple of times already since seeing that article.

To make the stuffed peppers, preheat your oven to 350° while you cook the quinoa. Halve the peppers lengthwise and remove the seeds, and then boil them for a couple of minutes. Chop whatever veggies you want to use in the stuffing and combine them with egg whites, herbs, cheese, and the quinoa in a bowl. You may want to chop up tomato, carrot, beans, celery, or anything that needs eating in the fridge. Sprinkle in some bread crumbs, mix everything together, and then spoon the mixture into the pepper halves. Bake for 20 minutes or so.

As you can tell, I’m anything but exact when I cook, but you can get the exact recipes that inspired my quinoa meals by clicking on the links. You can substitute quinoa for most recipes that you already know that use rice or cous cous, and there are a plethora of recipes that you can find online by just looking for them in your favorite search engine.

Do you have any recipes that I should try in the near future?

(Photo Credit: Francisca Ulloa)