Repeat after me everyone…
KEEN-wah. That is the phonetic spelling for this word, quinoa. I know, it looks like Kwin- No-Ah and that is exactly how I pronounced it when I first discovered it. As if I actually discovered it? Quinoa is an ancient grain from Peru where it is a staple in the diet. Here in America it is growing in popularity and it's now grown in Colorado; but it's still referred to as the “supergrain” of the Incas. Quinoa is gluten-free which means it can be tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities.
Quinoa is one of those near perfect foods that we stumble upon every once in a blue moon. It is nearly perfect because it is very nearly a perfect protein and no other “whole grain” can really make such a claim to fame. Quinoa is a “complete” protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids which are essential because you must consume them each day. Your body can not manufacture enough of these nine essential amino acids to sustain life.
Those nine essential amino acids, in case you really want to know, are: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine. I had to look them up because even I can't remember them. But when I was in college, studying nutrition and learning about proteins and amino acids, I had to memorize all of these amino acids. So we were taught a mnemonic device: a memory aid, which helped me recall this seemingly random string of words. That “memory aid” is PVT TIM HaLL; the “a” stands for arginine which is also sometimes essential.
Most grains are not complete proteins because they are “limited” in lysine. “Limited,” in this case, means that the amount of lysine is less than 70 percent of that found in the reference protein. That reference protein being the incredible, edible egg.
The cool thing about quinoa is that it contains 97 percent lysine compared to the egg but it also contains only 91 percent of leucine which is OK, but leucine is higher in other grains. So, the bottom line here is that quinoa is not a “perfect” food, but it is pretty darn close. To make it “perfect” I suggest mixing it with another whole grain such as brown rice. I love to mix these two grains because I prefer the taste and texture of brown rice but I also want to reap the additional health benefits of quinoa. Even better would be to mix quinoa AND brown rice with beans or lentils which provide all of the essential amino acids except for methionine/cystine. Together the quinoa, brown rice and legumes provide the perfect protein plus lots of cholesterol lowering soluble fiber.
When you prepare your quinoa be sure to rinse it in a fine sieve to help remove SOME of the saponins; a slightly bitter, soapy substance that coats each grain. Saponins are actually an antioxidant. They are called “the plant's immune system,” developed by the plant to help protect it against microbes and fungus. In humans, these saponins may have similar antimicrobial benefits.
On the downside, saponins can inhibit the absorption of some essential minerals contained in the grain. So rinse quinoa a bit before cooking, but not too much, so you get some protection but still facilitate optimal nutrient absorption. I know, sometimes eating for health's sake can be a pain in the…but just take it one day and one recipe at a time.
Quinoa & Brown Rice Cakes
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (1/2 cups dry + 1 1/2 cups water: Note 1:3 ratio)
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice (1/2 cups dry + 1 1/2 cups water: Note 1:3 ratio)
I suggest making extra grains to have on hand. For future meals, mix with veggies & sauces plus protein foods for quick meals or with fresh fruit, nuts, cinnamon & almond milk for breakfast or a snack. Yum!
- 3 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 8 Tbsp water
- 2 grated carrots
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 c Quinoa flour or other flour (see recipe below to make flour)
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
- 1/4 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp canola or olive oil (to grease a cookie sheet)
(set aside to gel: used as a substitute for two beaten eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute) By using flax seed this is a vegan recipe (no animal products). To hear a great runner and athlete discuss his vegan diet, click here.
- Cook Quinoa & Rice separately as cooking times vary.
- To make “Flour” from quinoa or oats, grind in a coffee grinder (If you use quinoa flour this will be a gluten free recipe)
- Chop all the veggies. Place in a BIG bowl with the cooked quinoa, brown rice, flour & flax mixture or eggs. Add the seasoning & mix with a fork.
- Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop out the Mixture. Place on a greased cookie sheet & flatten
- Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Flip & bake another 15 minutes. Each side should be a little brown.
- These cakes freeze well for up to one month.
- Serve with Harissa (In a blender add: 2 chopped red peppers, 20 mint leaves, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/4 tsp each cayenne & sea salt. Puree & Store in a jar, top with olive oil to cover & preserve for up to one month)
1/4 cup/62 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet
Quinoa & Brown Rice Cereal
Please choose organic ingredients when available for the most naturally occurring vitamins, minerals & ANTIOXIDANTS!
- 1/4 cup cooked Quinoa ($0.12/oz = $0.06/ 1 oz serving)
- 1/4 cup cooked Brown Rice ($0.06/oz = $0.03/ 1 oz serving)
- 1 small piece chopped fruit or 1 cup berries ($3/16oz = $0.75/ 4oz serving)
- 1 Tablespoon raisins (a small handful) ($4/ 16 oz = $0.25/ 1 oz = $0.09/ Tablespoon (0.36oz)
- 1 Tablespoon walnuts or 4 halves (small closed handful) ($11/ 16oz = $1.45/ 1 oz = $0.38/ Tablsp (0.26oz)
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon ($10/ 16oz = 1/8 tsp = 0.01 oz = 2/10th of $0.01)
- 1 cup almond milk or organic milk of your choice (Ave. price ~$1.80/ 4 cups (quart) = $0.45/cup)
- Prepare Brown Rice & Quinoa ahead of time. Rinse the grains separately. If time permits, soak for about 20 minutes and then rinse until the water is clear. Rinsing helps to remove some of the Saponins. Prepare enough grains to use as cereal everyday and perhaps some extra to throw into other dishes throughout the week. These grains make great beds for steamed vegetables, or thrown into soups or salads.
- To make 1 cup Brown Rice, add 1/3 cup dry Brown Rice plus 1 cup water to a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow boil & let simmer for about 30 minutes. Check periodically to stir and add more liquid as needed.
- At the 15 minute mark, add 1/3 cup dry Quinoa plus 1 cup water. Again bring to a boil and reduce to a slow boil. The quinoa is cooked when the “tails” can be seen & the grain appears more translucent than when you started. Again, stir periodically and add more water as needed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and set aside for 15 minutes. Ideally, pour the grains into a large bowl where you can allow them to cool before placing in the refrigerator within 1 hour.
- Put the grains into storage containers. Label and date and use within 3 days. You can also freeze grains in freezer bags for up to one month.
$1.40 – $1.76 per serving. Only $0.09 for the grains, $0.18 for processed cereal
Other important nutrients to note: Greater than 50% DV for Vitamin E, 10-20% DV for all Vitamins & Minerals except B12, Higher in Manganese than any other grain cereal because the grains are unprocessed. Manganese is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates for energy and is also necessary for the development of your body's own antioxidant defense system.
Per serving (307g, 2.5 cups) 270 calories, 9g Fat (1:3 ratio Omega 3: Omega 6), 45g carbs, 4g fiber, 6g protein
High in Antioxidants. Saponins are the primary antioxidant found in whole grains. They may help to lower cholesterol as well as block the absorption of carcinogens during digestion. Think of them as your first line of defense. Saponins also inhibit the absorption of some vitamins & minerals. For this reason it is advised to rinse or soak grains before cooking just enough to remove some of the saponins but not all of them.
Check out my Healthy Turkey Divan recipe, which includes quinoa here.