About two weeks ago, I had a great dinner with Dave, one of my best friends since college (as well as an incredibly talented music producer who can actually say he’s “big in Japan” and mean it–a recent album of his topped the charts there). Something I love about having known a person for so long is getting to see and be part of all the gradual–and often funny–changes life brings. For example, a few years ago I don’t think I could have paid Dave enough to go somewhere, say, vegan. But since reading Michael Pollan and others (and, I’m proud to say, our blog!), Dave’s gotten quite interested in eating more healthfully. So much so that not only did he insist we we meet somewhere “local and organic,” but when we sat down for dinner at Northern Spy Food Co. (a new neighborhood favorite of mine), he also said something like, “I might just go vegetarian tonight.” He then suggested we order the quinoa. Hilarious. And also delicious.
Since that night, I’ve started to suspect I’m actually a little late to this quinoa train. Not even a week later, a second card-carrying guy’s guy I know got positively poetic about a quinoa soft taco. And in the print world, I’ve seen it popping up everywhere from Mark Bittman’s stir frys to a must-eat food roundup in The Huffington Post (one reason for this surge: it’s gluten-free). If you’re out to maximize everything from nutrient intake to satiety to metabolism, this, my friends, is your grain.
To get you (and me) going, I’ve assembled some critical stats, along with a few promising recipe links.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Quinoa (and Then Some):
1) Taste: First things first–I’m getting the enthusiasm here. Quinoa can be pretty delicious. It’s got a satisfyingly nutty base to it, and what I loved is that–because the individual grains are so light and fluffy–it can really suck in flavor. Think rich mushroom broths or cool Greek salads. For me, this makes it incredibly satisfying. I feel like I’m getting some rich, meatiness without fats and sauces.
2) Nutrition: Quinoa is not only exceptionally high in protein, it’s also what’s known as a “complete protein source,” meaning it’s high in all the amino acids your body needs (particularly lysine, which plays a strong part in tissue repair). In addition, it’s a great source of iron, magnesium (key for everything from mood support to electrolyte balance), calcium, B and E vitamins, and a host of other potent antioxidants–more, it turns out, than you tend to find in fruits and vegetables. The main drawback: Quinoa is also a little on the high side for calories: 1/2 cup is about 300 (rice is about half that), along with 5 grams of fat (almost all of that unsaturated, though). What this tells me is to treat it the way you do, say, garbanzo beans–make it an ingredient, not the main event.
3) How it helps you burn fat and calories: Quinoa is one of the five most fiber-rich plant foods (legumes, wheat bran, asian pear, and prunes round out the group). This means it does an exceptionally good job of slowing the rate at which sugar enters your bloodstream (so less of what you eat gets converted to fat). The large amount of fiber also fills you up and gives you slow-burn energy, meaning you can go longer on less. Finally, quinoa’s high protein content helps support lean muscle tissue (which, in turn, burns up fat in the body).
4) What to know about preparing it: Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook. The logical substitution is to use it instead of rice, but one intriguing idea I saw was to eat it in the morning in lieu of a (small) serving breakfast oatmeal. Having read Heidi Swanson over at 101 Cookbooks enthuse over quinoa, I’ve got to say I’m itching to try her go-to recipe. As for the quinoa-mushroom combination that’s been on my brain, this pilaf courtesy of Martha Stewart made my mouth water (with dill! Thank you Martha). Finally, a lot of people seem to be healthy-ing up their baking with quinoa. This isn’t topping my own list, but, if you’re interested, the NYT’s Well blog recently ran an award-winning cake recipe that looks pretty worthwhile.
…got any more quinoa tips or ideas? Let me know! I’ll add them to the list.