quinoaDoes it seem like everyone you know has suddenly joined a strange cult that goes by the name of quinoa? They're making quinoa cakes. They're mixing it up with vegetables. They're claiming it gives them superpowers. And yet ... you just can't understand why anyone would get so damn excited about a stupid little grain.

I hate hype as much as the next person. But you know what? Quinoa kind of is all that. It's worth trying anyway. First off, let's get past the name: It's pronounced "keen-wah." I'm just saving you from embarrassment when you walk into the grocery store and say, "Can you please show me where the qwin-oh-ah is?" and get snickers from the Lululemon-clad moms.Here's why quinoa is about to become your new dinner BFF.

First of all, a meal with quinoa means you can skip the meat. It's a complete protein consisting of all nine essential amino acids and it contains a fair amount of iron. It has twice as much fiber as most other grains. And it's rich in a few other ass-kicking nutrients like Riboflavin, magnesium, and antioxidants. On its own it's gluten free. So why aren't you eating some quinoa right now?!?

Oh, because you're wondering how it tastes. Like birdseed, right? Well, only if you forget to cook it. Quinoa is a fun grain that expands into this soft, almost spiral nub. It's a little like couscous, only with a nuttier flavor and lighter, fluffier texture, I think. Be careful when you cook it not to let it get mushy -- that can kind of ruin it. Undercooking it will give you the wrong impression of quinoa, too. Regular, white quinoa is good but I especially love red quinoa, if you can find it. You can serve it as a side, or in a salad, or tossed with other veggies. Here's a few recipes to get you started.

Just quinoa. Here's a handy guide to cooking up the perfect bowl of quinoa. It's not rocket science, but it's not exactly rice, either. Knowing the basics will help you run with this versatile grain.

Quinoa with roasted vegetables. This is a great recipe to get started with, once you've learned how to cook quinoa. The grain plays well with just about any veggie, really -- roasted or steamed.

Quinoa tabouli. For a fun twist on this summery classic, swap in quinoa instead of bulghur. It's easier, fluffier, and more nutritious.

Quinoa salad soft tacos. Here's a fun idea -- use quinoa to stuff your tacos instead of ground beef. You won't miss the protein or the flavor. Did I mention this recipe is vegan and gluten-free?

Quinoa patties. Now you're ready for advanced quinoa: Pancakes or patties. This is especially good if you've got leftover quinoa.

*NOTE about the ethics of eating quinoa: Check out The Kitchn's summary, Is It Still OK to Eat Quinoa, which includes links to other reports. It's a complicated issue. Keep in mind that quinoa is being grown the the U.S. now, though of course that is not the only solution to the issues. 

I'm dying to try this Double Broccoli Quinoa recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

Double Broccoli Quinoa

Ingredients

3 cups cooked quinoa*

5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems

3 medium garlic cloves

2/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

2 big pinches salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup heavy cream

Optional toppings: slivered basil, fire oil (optional)**, sliced avocado, crumbled feta, or goat cheese

Directions

Heat the quinoa and set aside.

Now barely cook the broccoli by pouring 3/4 cup water into a large pot and bringing it to a simmer. Add a big pinch of salt and stir in the broccoli. Cover and cook for a minute, just long enough to take the raw edge off. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto, puree 2 cups of the cooked broccoli, garlic, 1/2 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and cream and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with about 1/2 of the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust if needed, you might want to add more of the pesto a bit at a time, or you might want a bit more salt or an added squeeze of lemon juice. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, a drizzle of the chile oil, and some sliced avocado or any of the other optional toppings.

Serves 4 - 6.

*To cook quinoa: rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan, heat the quinoa, 2 cups of water (or broth if you like), and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

**To make the red chile oil: You'll need 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes. If you can, make the chile oil a day or so ahead of time by heating the olive oil in a small saucepan for a couple minutes -- until it is about as hot as you would need it to saute some onions, but not so hot that it smokes or smells acrid or burned. Turn off the heat and stir in the crushed red pepper flakes. Set aside and let cool, then store in refrigerator. Bring to room temp again before using.

Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 10 min

Have you tried quinoa?

 

Image via Jennifer/Flickr