Addicted to health food stores, I came across quinoa about 18 years ago, packaged in tiny boxes with an alarming price tag and the promise of exceptional nourishment. My favorite health food store had a sales advisor who sold me on its health benefits, but he had little to say about how exactly to prepare and use quinoa.
At home with my new treasure, I read the instructions: “Rinse well before cooking.” Have you seen dry quinoa grains? They’re practically microscopic; most of the pricey grains caught the flowing water and rode on to provide nourishment to whatever creatures inhabit the pipes and sewer system under our house. The little quinoa that remained, I cooked, and the outcome was a pasty, gummy mess not suitable for human consumption, so it too, nourished the landfill.
I didn’t try quinoa again for many years. During those years, the price of quinoa came down a bit, the boxes got bigger and the Internet changed the culinary world forever. Now, if you want to learn how to effectively use quinoa, Google, Wiki and Bing, among many others, are there to help. The hundreds of videos on YouTube about rinsing quinoa completely validate my original struggle.
But I have learned something important: You don’t actually need to rinse quinoa. Put quinoa and water in a rice cooker, then turn it on. This single solution has revolutionized how I prepare quinoa and has thus helped me and my family to ingest it and personally, physically, benefit from its outstanding provision of nutrition. I’ve grown to love this little powerhouse grain.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet my son’s girlfriend and her family for the first time, and we agreed to have a Sabbath picnic after church. Since we don’t live in the area, my resources were limited to whatever kitchen items my son had scavenged from our house for his collegiate apartment. On Friday, we scoured through his bachelor’s cupboards, then made a quick trip to the little store on the corner and managed to put together a delicious Mexican quinoa salad for the next day’s outing.
Everyone loved it and wanted the recipe—and that’s really the birthplace for this article. When giving out a quinoa recipe, I struggle with any form of precision or measuring, or formulation. And I certainly can’t discuss it without addressing the rinsing step that seems to foil people in their own efforts to use it. The key for using quinoa is to cook it in advance in your rice cooker and fluff it while it cools down. Refrigerate it, and then it is ready to become whatever you want it to become; it makes a wonderful replacement for rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy higher glycemic foods.
I have used quinoa in stir fries, soups, casseroles, veggie burgers and veggie nut loafs, all with excellent outcomes. It’s a blank canvas on which you can create a lovely, beautiful, nourishing occasion that brings out the best in the people you care for and love.
Kathryn Stiles is married and has a son attending Southern Adventist University and a daughter attending La Sierra University. She currently works at the new Loma Linda University Medical Center – Murrieta as the executive director of marketing and communications.
Photo credit: Kathryn M. Stiles
This week’s recipe for Mexican Quinoa Salad comes from Kathryn M. Stiles in Murrieta, Calif. Stiles notes that salad ingredients for this recipe are only suggestions; the recipe can be easily adopted to your preferences.
Mexican Quinoa Salad
Total time: 40 min.
2 cups dry quinoa
4 cups cold water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Honey or agave to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Dash of hot sauce
Dash of fresh lime juice
Salad Ingredients (Suggestions)
One or two red and green bell peppers, diced
1 can (about 2 cups) black beans, drained
1 small can black olives, drained and chopped
¼ red onion, chopped fine
2 ears of fresh, or 1 small bag of frozen, corn kernels
¼cup jalapeno peppers, fresh and diced without the seed, or pickled and diced, to taste
1 small package cherry tomatoes
1 handful cilantro, diced
1 handful pepitas (pumpkin seeds), raw or toasted
2 handfuls raw spinach leaves
1 head chopped romaine lettuce
2 small avocados, diced
1. Place quinoa in rice cooker and cook according to its usual setting. When your rice cooker clicks off, remove the quinoa immediately and let it cool in a large container. Fluff it lightly with a fork. Place the quinoa in a covered container, to cool.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together the ingredients in a small bowl.
3. Prepare the salad by combining your choice of suggested options, except for the avocadoes, which should be added just before serving. Add half the dressing to the salad, then mix well.
4. Add the cooled quinoa at the very end, tossing it lightly into the other ingredients. Save the other half of the dressing until just before serving, then lightly drizzle it over the top.