Since it has been grown and harvested for thousands of years, quinoa is considered an ancient crop. In fact, quinoa was once called “the gold of the Incas,” who recognized its health benefits and the valuable increase in the strength and stamina it provided their warriors.
Quinoa is commonly considered a grain; however, it’s actually a relative of leafy green vegetables such as Swiss chard and spinach. It’s a colorful, flowering plant that grows at 12,000 feet above sea level and is native to South America. In areas where it’s grown, people commonly eat the leaves as well as the seeds.
Quinoa is gluten free and full of vitamins and nutrients such as iron, phosphorus, folate, manganese, Vitamin B and zinc. Since quinoa is an excellent source of protein, providing all eight essential amino acids, it’s a powerful food to add to any diet, especially a vegetarian diet.
Because quinoa is easy to prepare, similar to the preparation and cooking of rice, it can be used in a variety of ways – from a delicious side dish, pilaf or stuffing to a supplement in salads, soups and stews.
Next time you’re in the rice aisle of your local grocery store, pick up some quinoa and try this Carrot, Tomato, and Spinach Quinoa Pilaf. It makes a great vegetarian entrée or a wonderful quick side dish on busy night.
Chef Heather attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family-friendly meals in her mother’s kitchen since she was 9. She currently serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.
Carrot, Tomato and Spinach Quinoa Pilaf
Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 20 minutes
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ medium onion chopped
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1½ teaspoons vegetable bouillon granules
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup baby spinach
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat; cook and stir the onion in the hot oil until translucent, about three minutes. Lower the heat, stir in quinoa and toast it, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Stir in the water, bouillon granules, black pepper and thyme. Stir in the carrots. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 15 more minutes. Turn off the heat, add the tomatoes and spinach and stir until the spinach is wilted and the tomatoes have given off their moisture, about two minutes.
Serves two as an entrée and five as a side dish.