The Benefits of Quinoa and a Few Recipe Ideas

Since I’ve been writing about gluten-free diets, I’ve decided to devote an entire post to my favorite gluten-free grain, quinoa. Did you know that quinoa is technically not a grain, but a distant relative to spinach and beets? Here is some additional info quinoa.

Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is a high-quality vegetarian source of protein that also has 3 grams of fiber per serving. In a ¼ cup dry serving, there are 160-175 calories (varies by brand). Quinoa is safe for people with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance because it is gluten free and can be used in recipes as a replacement for gluten-containing grains. Another benefit of quinoa is its vitamin and mineral content. Quinoa is rich in iron, phosphorus and magnesium. Iron is especially important for women and for those following a vegetarian diet.

How to Cook It

For a recipe that calls for quinoa, cooking is quite simple. The most important part of the cooking process (in my experience) is rinsing the quinoa prior to cooking. Rinsing eliminates any granules of sand and also decreases the naturally soapy, bitter taste that can sometimes be present. To cook quinoa, use a saucepan and a small amount of oil/fat. I usually spray coconut oil or olive oil. Add ¼ cup portion to the pan just enough to lightly heat the dry quinoa for a minute without water. Next add enough water to cover the quinoa. For a ¼ cup dry serving, you can use ¾ cup or 1 cup of water. Simmer on low-medium heat. The quinoa is ready when the grains have softened, are soft when tasted, and when all of the water has been absorbed (sometimes more water needs to be added if it was cooked at higher temperature and still appears undercooked). Each quinoa grain has an O-shaped particle that will sometimes separate from the rest of the grain and both parts are edible.  Quinoa does not require rinsing or draining once it’s done.

How to Use it

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Quinoa in a mexican-inspired dish. Instead of rice, I used quinoa and added black beans, onions, broccoli, and topped with a generous helping of salsa and a few olives.

Quinoa can be used in many dishes. My favorite ways to use quinoa are in place of rice or pasta. Instead of adding rice to a burrito or Asian-inspired stir-fry, use quinoa as the base. The same spices can be added to the quinoa as it is cooking or after it is fully cooked. Quinoa can also be used in ways similarly to oatmeal. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and other dried or fresh fruit to hot quinoa for breakfast. You can also use quinoa when making your own granola instead of using oats. The most interesting way I’ve used quinoa is in cookies (I’ve included the recipe below).

Other Quinoa Products

Quinoa is now on the market in a variety of food products, from quinoa pasta, quinoa flour, bread with added quinoa, and the list goes on. If you do follow a gluten-free diet, be sure to read the label of these products and make sure that wheat or other gluten-containing grains have not been added to the flour mixtures. Otherwise, enjoy quinoa in its many forms!

Quinoa Cookies

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Ingredients:

(makes about two dozen cookies)

  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (melted) or other fat
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grade A Maple Syrup
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dry measured quinoa (when cooked, will greatly expand)
  • Optional: Raisins, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, and or brown rice cereal.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. You’ll want to cook the quinoa prior to adding to the rest of the ingredients, so use the cooking method listed above (stovetop, in a saucepan. Be sure to rinse the dry grain before cooking!)

  •  Measure the dry ingredients (brown rice flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda) and mix in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients (melted fat, eggs, maple syrup, vanilla)
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients using a wooden spoon or spatula to lightly mix the two together. Be careful not to overmix.
  • Once the quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat, and mix in with the combined wet-dry mixture.
  • Add the rest of the optional ingredients
  • The mixture should now be the consistency of a chocolate-chip cookie dough. If not thickened due to the heat of the quinoa, allow to harden a little bit in the fridge.
  • Grease a baking pan (cooking spray does the trick for me), and use a spoon to scoop out dough onto the pan  I usually can fit  a dozen on the baking pan, but it depends on what size you like.
  • Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-14 minutes.
  • Allow to cool for a bit and enjoy!
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Enjoy a side of healthy quinoa cookies with breakfast.

-Jess

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The Case of the Mid-Day Snack Attack

Recently I’ve noticed that the mid-day meal often gets replaced with several snacks for many people. A busy workday or a day full of classes and studying can make it difficult to sit down and enjoy a full lunch meal because you may be eating at your desk or have limited time. Skipping lunch is a bad idea, so how can you make the most out of your snack choices to replace a single full meal during the daytime, or how can you make the wisest snack choices when lunch isn’t keeping you full until dinner?

Having snacks that provide a mix of protein, carbs, and fats will keep you better satiated than having a snack consisting of just carbs. For me, eating an apple only makes me more hungry for another apple an hour later. I like to eat fruit with a tablespoon or two of almond or cashew butter, which provides satisfying, healthy fat and a little protein as well. Another filling snack idea is whole grain crackers with hummus and a hard-boiled egg. If you’re craving a sweet crunch, try mixing your favorite trail mix with a cup of whole-grain cereal.

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Trail mix and whole grain cereal make a great snack that satisfies a crunchy craving.

Here are some other snack ideas (and keep in mind, all it takes is a little tupperware to transport your goodies to your desk or backpack for mid-day munching)

  • For a sweet treat, try 6 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt with 1 cup of whole grain cereal and 2 tbsp. of dark chocolate chips
  • If savory is more your style, prepare garlic kale chips the night before. To prepare, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F, wash, drain, and cut kale into smaller servings. Use a non-stick spray and give both the pan and the kale a light spray. Top with copious garlic powder, and a little salt and pepper. Heat for about 25-35 minutes, flipping the “chips” half way through and adding more garlic powder to the opposite side.  Garlic-y kale chips taste great with roasted, salted almonds, which provide some protein also.
  • You can’t go wrong with a raw veggies and hummus, add an egg or a serving of soy nuts for a great protein fix.

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    My snack-meal during a busy day of class.

  • Feeling spicy? Try whole grain or blue corn tortilla chips and pack 2 tbsp. guacamole (or avocado slices) along with 2 tbsp. spicy salsa in a small container. You can even make your own guacamole, and add some protein with it by blending with a little Greek yogurt (if you haven’t already noticed, I’m a big fan of all things Greek yogurt).
  • If you’re on the run and your options are found in a convenience store, look for a healthy protein bar, such as Luna, Clif, or Larabar. (The less ingredients listed on the package, the better). Add a 5 or 6 oz. container of yogurt, typically available at most convenience stores.
  • Once again, if your choices are limited and you find yourself in a place with less than healthy options for snacking, go for a small package of whole grain pretzels or popcorn and mix with trail mix for a crunchy, salty, complete snack.
  • Rice cakes, although they have a bad reputation for being bland, make a good base for a protein fix. I like to top mine with cottage cheese, almond butter, and chocolate chips—although for me, I’ve only had this as a late night study snack, feel free to give it a try if you can transport all the fixings to wherever you may be.

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    Rice cakes with cottage cheese, almond butter, and dark chocolate chips. Yum!

These are just some ideas on how to get complete nutrition during a busy day. If you know you don’t usually eat a big meal for lunch, having one or two of these snacks will prevent you from being ravenous by the time dinner rolls around.

Happy Snacking!

-Jess