Though not technically a grain, quinoa can substitute for nearly any grain in cooking. Actually a seed, this leafy plant is a relative to spinach, beets and Swiss chard. Due to its delicate taste and rich amounts of protein, iron, potassium and other vitamins and minerals, it is quite popular. It is also a good source of dietary fiber and is easily digested.
Quinoa is an ancient crop that grows in poor soil, dry climates and even mountain altitudes. It is native to the Andes but is also grown in South America and the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Although it can grow in arid conditions, it thrives best in well-drained soil. Shoppers should be able to find the seeds in health food stores and larger supermarkets.
A quinoa seed is flat and has a pointed oval shape. The seeds can be found in several different colors, including yellow, red, brown and black. When cooked, they expands to about three or four times their original size. They also have a unique texture; the seeds themselves are smooth and creamy, but the tail has a crunchy texture.
When preparing quinoa, cooks should rinse it first to remove any powdery residue. The simplest way to do this is to place the grains in a strainer and rinse them until the water runs clear. For a roasted flavor, they can be toasted in a dry skillet for about five minutes.
To prepare the seeds, cooks should bring one part quinoa and two parts liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce it to a simmer for about 15 minutes or until the grains are translucent. Chefs can also use a rice cooker to prepare it, and some people cook and eat the seeds as they would oatmeal. As a breakfast food, it can be combined with honey, nuts or berries.
Other recipes include quinoa as an ingredient in soups, stews, and pilafs. With their slightly nutty taste, the seeds is sometimes used in bread, muffins, bagels, cookies, and pancakes. It should be stored tightly sealed in a cool dry location or in the refrigerator or freezer for longer periods. The leaves of the plant are also edible, and are said to be similar to spinach leaves.