Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Non-Grain Super Grain: Quinoa

During the Pesach/Passover festival the eating of leavened bread and products are forbidden. Instead we eat unleavened matza. There are some Jews of European background who have taken on the tradition of avoiding rice as well. My single friends and I would groan anticipating the week of dry matza and constant potato-based meals. (Truth is, that is the time when people REALLY get creative w/ their cooking, whipping up delicious concoctions from matza or potato flour.)

One day, I visited a friend who was quite excited about her new discovery for Pesach. Malka, whose grand-parents are from Poland, was not eating rice, but she was eating lots of quinoa. Quinoa is a grain-like food with a nutty/(earthy?) flavor. "It's the best!" she raved. "It's just like rice, and I feel full afterwards. Now, I can be normal on Pesach!"

I had eaten it before, but her excitement inspired me to look more into this quinoa wonder...

Well, first thing I learned. It is not a grain!

It's actually the seed of a plant hailing from the Chenopodium family, and it's actually related to beets and spinach. Go figure. For many years, it was cultivated in the Andean regions of Peru, Chile and Bolivia and was the staple food of the native Indians. However, the Spanish conquerers arrived and in their attempt to rule and control, quinoa fields were destroyed and growing quinoa became illegal.

Since then, it had been "rediscovered" in the 1980s and is now grown in America and is readily available.

A rather dramatic "grain," hunh?
There's more...
Quinoa is the only "grain" that is a complete protein, having all essential amino acids. Animals need amino acids to make proteins in the body and most species can synthesize around half on their own. The 9 remaining Essential Amino Acids must be obtained externally from the diet. Grains and legumes typically lack certain amino acids, ie. corn is deficient in lysine and beans are deficient in methionine. I'm always impressed with vegetarians who know how to mix and match various legumes to make a complete protein. Eating rice and beans is a well-known example of getting a complete protein.

Manganese, magnesium, iron, copper ,phosporous, and B vitamins also help make quinoa the awesome super grain that it is. From helping w/ migraine headaches to supplying cancer-preventive fiber; from protecting cardiovas. health to providing anti-oxidant power, quinoa has got it goin' on!
Plus it's low in gluten and easier to digest than other grains. However, it is relatively higher in fat.
The Andean Indians valued quinoa also for its ability to stimulate breast milk.

I love adding raisins and nuts to quinoa...then again, I love adding them to almost everything. Ooh, and cranberries. You can spice that baby up with cumin and a lil' soy sauce. You can sautee onions and scallions beforehand. Mmm, super grain, here I Come! Thanks, Malka for the inspiration! And thanks to G-d, the All Good and Beautiful for His "inspiration!"

G-d bless!
Nourishing Traditions, Fallon