I have recently been introduced to the South American grain quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) and I can't get enough of it. It cooks to a light consistency with just a touch of crunch. And it is really good for you. Many refer to it as a "super grain" because, unlike traditional grains, it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also higher in unsaturated fats, iron, calcium and B vitamins, as well as being lower in carbohydrates and gluten-free.
Although it is referred to as a grain, quinoa is really a seed that is produced by a broad-leafed annual herb. Its native habitat is the Andes, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Quinoa was first introduced in this country as a health food, so the best place to look for it is in your local health food store. As this grain gains popularity it is sure to be available in other markets as well.
Quinoa can be more expensive that traditional grains, but when you consider that when cooked it expands 3 to 4 times in volume you realize that you're getting your money's worth.
Quinoa is not edible until the bitter tasting seed jackets, called saponin, are removed. This process is done before the grain makes it to our markets, but it is still important to rinse it thoroughly before preparing to remove any residue. To do this simply place quinoa in a bowl of cold water and rub the grains between your palms. Drain it in a sieve and then repeat the process several times, or until the water remains clear.
Quinoa is an excellent substitute for rice and can be prepared in everything from pilaf to pudding.
I used quinoa in this recipe for cardamom rice pudding with delicious results. It is great for breakfast or as a late afternoon snack.
Begin by washing the quinoa to remove the saponin residue.
Bring quinoa and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. This will take about 15 minutes.
Lightly whisk together eggs, milk, salt, cardamom and sugar. Stir in cooked quinoa, coconut and breadcrumbs. If you plan to use almonds and raisins add them at this time.
Pour the quinoa mixture into a buttered 9" x 9" baking dish. Place the baking dish in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until you can stick a tooth pick in the center of the pudding and it comes out clean.
Time to prepare: 50 minutes.