*Quinoa is actually a psuedocereal; I explain below!

For many Americans, our go to filler grain tends to be rice.  If we are feeling particularly adventurous, we might even turn to brown rice for the “extra” fiber. (The industry likes us to believe that brown = wheat = healthy, but brown rice actually is not much different from white, but it still has its benefits.)

A pan of toasting quinoa

Toasting Quinoa by tombothetominator via Creative Commons

But what most people do not know is that there is an entire world of grain-like products out there that in many ways outdo rice in the health department.  Today, I am going to highlight quinoa.

As you might have noticed, I have been stopping just short of calling quinoa a grain.  That is because it actually has more in common with chenopods such as spinach and beets.  But for our purposes (and yours), quinoa is an excellent alternative for situations where a good, hearty grain-like base is needed in a dish, and it blows rice away in terms of health benefits.

Quinoa’s high protein profile makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans, and quinoa comes with one of the most balanced servings of amino acids you can find.  Another benefit?  Quinoa is gluten-free.

So where can you find it?  I suggest you skip the “grain” aisle at the grocery store and visit the one of the bag-your-own stations found in many supermarkets.  Not only is it cheaper when purchased in bulk (my last batch I got for less than a dollar a pound), you typically find a much more varied selection than what you can get of the bagged varieties.  Here in Austin, I suggest you try either Whole Foods Market, Central Market, and some HEB stores also carry it.

Bowl of Cooked Quinoa

Bowl of Prepared Quinoa by sweetonveg via Creative Commons

To prepare Quinoa, you take most of the same steps as rice, although when you buy it in bulk you want to make sure you take the time to soak it in water for a few hours to remove the bitterness (if you buy it prepackaged, this has likely been taken care of for you).  Bring two cups of water to boil, throw in some salt and butter/oil to mature the flavor a bit, and then add one cup quinoa and cover.  Once the germ begins to separate from the seed (you will see a little curl coming off), it is done!  As I said before, treat it like rice; serve it under chili or toss it in a soup!

Including quinoa in your diet every once in a while is a great way to sneak in more nutrients with very little effort!

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