Thousands of years ago, before food blogs and five-star vegan restaurants, natives of the Andes Mountains gathered quinoa as a main ingredient for meals that would provide them with strength, endurance, and nourishment. In addition to the generous nutritional profile of quinoa, the plant was considered sacred, nicknamed la chiyasa mama, or the mother grain, and celebrate for its spiritually enhancing qualities.
Flash forward and quinoa has quickly become one of today’s most-talked about superfoods. Whether you’re stirring it up into a hot salad, or simply attempting the correct pronunciation (it’s keen-wah, by the way), you’ve likely had some experience with this ancient grain.
Except, surprise! It’s not actually a grain. Humans eat the seeds of the quinoa plant, which are those little round doodads we soak, boil, and steam. The origins of quinoa are rooted in South America, specifically the mountains of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. As mentioned earlier, the food was considered sacred, and celebrated for its ability to survive in a variety of growing conditions.
It’s easy to see why; quinoa packs such a nutritional whammy that we’re wondering how we just recently came to see its potential. It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. And don’t even get us started on fiber. On average, there are about 17–27 grams of fiber per cup, which is more than twice as many as you would get from a more common grain. And while most of the fiber is insoluble, there is still a hefty portion of soluble fiber that can help increase fullness, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood sugar.
The magic continues. Quinoa on its own provides a plethora of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron. But take note: because quinoa also contains a substance called phytic acid (which can unfortunately reduce the absorption of these minerals), it must be rinsed before consumption. This helps to remove some of the phytic acid from the seeds, and allows you to get the most out of your meal. In short, quinoa helps you feel full for longer and gives you a sweet handful of some essential minerals. Not bad at all.
But what’s also impressive is the diversity of la chiyasa mama. Not only can it be used an arsenal of delicious recipes, but quinoa comes in over 120 varieties. Most of these are categorized into red, black, and white quinoa. White quinoa is the variety most often found in grocery stores, while red quinoa is a bit more firm (making it ideal for salads), and black quinoa provides an earthy, sweet flavor that works as a stellar base for a cold mango salad.
Which leads us to the treasure chest of quinoa recipes. Not only is quinoa a lovely base for cold and hot salads, but it can also be used to create a multitude of gluten-free and vegetarian breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Some stellar recipes include:
- Guacamole quinoa
- Peach quinoa muffins
- Quinoa, beet, and black bean burgers
- Coconut quinoa with dates and nuts
- Summer quinoa salad with strawberries and baby kale
- Spanish style quinoa stuffed peppers
- Quinoa and veggies breakfast skillet
- One pot kale and quinoa pilaf
Recipe: Quinoa Cauliflower Tabouleh Salad
One of my favorite ways to enjoy this superfood is in a cold salad, but with a Middle Eastern twist. Fresh parsley, basil, and lemon, bring this dish to life, and the addition of a good olive oil adds just the right amount of healthy fat to create a smooth and savory salad. For some added flavor, feel free to serve the dish with some feta cheese, halloumi, or hummus. You can also make a lunch of pita wraps by repurposing the leftovers, but I doubt you’ll have any to spare.
- 1 small cauliflower
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
- ½ bunch basil, chopped
- 3 tbsps lemon juice
- ½ cup quinoa (we suggest red quinoa)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper
- Feta cheese, halloumi, or hummus for topping (optional)
- Place water in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Place quinoa in boiling water and cook for about 15-20 min until soft (but not mushy!). Remove from heat, set aside and cool completely.
- Trim cauliflower, cut in chunks and place in a food processor or blender, pulse until it looks like coarse meal.
- In a big bowl combine the cooked quinoa, chopped herbs, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and cauliflower. Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Add any extra toppings, if desired. *Serves 4
Written by Amanda Kohr