Mary Tutwiler

Quinoa: new uses for an ancient grain

by Mary Tutwiler

It’s always a delight to discover a new food, even when it’s actually an ancient Inca dish. Locals can discover quinoa at an event Saturday in Lafayette. Quinoa, (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a seed of the goosefoot plant, a native of the Andean region of South America. Cooked like rice, the tiny seeds swell to a fluffy and tender dish that is a great substitute for cous-cous (a Mediterranean pasta) or rice.

Why bother? Quinoa has far more nutrition than most of the grains we regularly eat. The seed  contains a balanced set of the eight essential amino acids humans need for survival. Most grains like rice and corn need to be paired with beans or meat to derive the same nutritional values that quinoa provides on its own. It’s also gluten free, making it a great alternative for those with wheat allergies.

But all the nutritional values of quinoa wouldn’t be worth bothering with if it didn’t taste good. My first experience with it was a total surprise. Cooked just like rice for 15 minutes, the outer germ around each grain twists like a curly tail, providing a gentle crunchy contrast to the tender grain. The flavor is delicately nutty. I seasoned it with sesame oil, soy sauce and finely chopped green onions. Not only did I love it, but everyone I fed it to exclaimed over both the flavor and lightness of the grain. It’s far lighter than rice and doesn’t make you feel sleepy after lunch. It also stays with you longer, I suspect because of its complete protein. I found packaged organic quinoa at Drug Emporium and Fresh Market, about $5 for 12 ounces.

I’m not the only quinoa fan in town. Chef Betsy Mitchell and dietitian Julie McNally will be demonstrating quinoa cuisine on Saturday, March 28 from 10:30 a.m. till noon at the Carriage House Hotel in River Ranch. To pre-register call 406-2582. They will also be offering pre-packaged meals at The Oasis restaurant in the fitness center at City Club.