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Quinoa – why should it be a hero of your diet?

Quinoa – why should it be a hero of your diet?

Quinoa - a complete protein and fantastic wheat-free alternative to grains, easy to prepare quinoa is definitely worth incorporating in your diet.

Grown in South America (Peru, Chile and Bolivia), quinoa was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago and has been important in the diet of the Incas and their descendants.

Botanically, quinoa is not classified as a grain. It is a pseudo-cereal (a non-grassy plant used in much the same way as cereals and grains with a similar nutritional profile). The seeds of pseudo-cereals can be milled and ground into flour just as other grains and cereals. However, nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain (we consume the entire intact grain seed without removing any of its parts). Although there are many cultivated types of quinoa, the most common versions available in stores are white, red and black.



Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and among the least allergenic of all the grains. Like buckwheat, quinoa has an excellent amino acid profile, as it contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete-protein plant source. It has a high protein to carbohydrate ratio when compared with other grain products and therefore it is an excellent choice for vegans and vegetarians who may struggle to get enough protein in their diet. Quinoa is a slowly digested carbohydrate, making it a good low-GI option. Quinoa is relatively high in antioxidants compared with other grains.

One cup of cooked quinoa (185 grams) contains: 8 grams protein, 5 grams fibre, Magnesium, Manganese, Folate, Phosphorous, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, vitamins B-1, B-2, and B-6, and traces of vitamin E, B3, and calcium.

Cooked quinoa seeds become fluffy and creamy, yet maintain a slight crunch. Quinoa has a delicate, subtly nutty flavour, versatile for breakfast as a cereal, lunch as a side dish or dinner as a salad.

Quinoa has a naturally bitter coating called saponin that acts as an insecticide. Thoroughly rinse the quinoa seeds before cooking (put quinoa seeds into a sieve and run cold water over them) to remove potential bitterness. Once you have rinsed quinoa, it can be cooked like rice. It is prepared in as a little as 15 minutes. It will expand to several times the original size during cooking.


Try these healthful and easy quinoa recipes:

1) Quinoa, lentil & goat cheese salad (4 servings)

200 g quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot
2 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
400 g Puy or green lentils
¼ cucumber, lightly peeled and diced
100 g fresh goat cheese, crumbled
10 horseradishes cut into small pieces
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
Cook the quinoa for 15 minutes until tender, drain well, and then set aside to cool. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small pan, then cook the shallot for a few minutes until softened. Add the tarragon, stir well, and remove from the heat.
Stir the softened shallot and tarragon into the cooled quinoa along with the cooked and drained lentils, cucumber, Feta cheese, horseradishes, orange zest and juice and vinegar. Toss well together and chill before serving.

2) Spicy tuna quinoa salad (4 servings)

1 onion, sliced
350 g red pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red chilli, finely chopped
250 g ready-to-eat quinoa
350 g cherry tomatoes, halved
handful of black olives, chopped
225 g jar tuna in olive oil, flaked
Fry the onion and peppers in the oil until soft. Add the chilli and cool slightly.
Mix the quinoa, onion-pepper mixture, cherry tomatoes, olives and tuna together. Divide between 4 plates, pour over a little of the oil from the tuna jar and serve.

3) Strawberry spinach quinoa salad (2 servings)

6 cups baby spinach
2 cups strawberries, halved
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup crumbled fresh white cheese
For the balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small bowl; set aside.
To assemble the salad, place spinach in a large bowl; top with strawberries, avocado, quinoa, walnuts and fresh cheese. Pour dressing on top of the salad and gently toss to combine.

4) Quinoa salad with grilled Feta cheese (4 servings)

200 g quinoa
500 g Feta cheese
fresh thyme (used dried if fresh isn’t available)
peel of one organic lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
300 g tomatoes, diced
2 celery stalks, strings removed and cut into small pieces 
2 big handfuls of arugula
For the dressing:
60 ml lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Cook quinoa for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let soak for another 5 minutes under cover. Drain, flush with cold water and let cool. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Put thin slices of the Feta cheese on a tray with baking paper, sprinkle with thyme, lemon peel and olive oil.  Bake for 5 minutes or longer until the Feta slices turn golden. Prepare the dressing in a large bowl. Add tomatoes, arugula, celery and quinoa into the bowl with the dressing and toss well. Serve the salad on 4 plates and top with the warm Feta cheese.

5) Quinoa salad with fennel and dried tomatoes (4 servings)

200 g quinoa
1 medium size fennel bulb, centre removed, cut into thin wedges
10 dried tomatoes including oil, tomatoes cut into small pieces
3 spring onions, sliced
2 cup canned black beans (you can also use canned chickpeas)
juice of one half lemon
fresh parsley and cilantro
Cook quinoa and then rinse with cold water. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add spring onions and fennel and let them soften. Once the fennel and onions are soft, add dried tomatoes and two spoons of the oil from the tomatoes. Mix boiled quinoa with the vegetables; pour over the lemon juice and season with a little salt and a generous portion of the fresh herbs. Serve with a slice of lemon.


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