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Gluten Free : Quinoa: A Great Gluten Free Ancient Grain

Carole Kotkin

Quinoa has been called the "mother grain of the Incas," who began cultivating it at least 3,000 years ago. While technically a seed, it takes on a grain-like consistency when cooked.

Today, nutritionists recommend this ancient "super grain" for its nutritional value. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus, and is high in magnesium, iron, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, copper and zinc. It is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Quinoa is a complete protein because it contains eight essential amino acids.

To some people, quinoa looks more like birdseed than something they'd want to serve for dinner. But once cooked, quinoa has a delicate, couscous-like texture and a nutty flavor that's a perfect background for both sweet and savory additions.

Start the day with a bowl of quinoa mixed with dried fruit, milk and a bit of cinnamon, or stir a cup of it into a pot of your favorite soup. An easy lunch can be had by tossing a cup of cooked quinoa with a mixture of vegetables and a tasty vinaigrette. Or try a similar mixture as a filling for a hearty wrap.

There are a few tricks to turning that bag of tiny seeds into a delicious dish. First, quinoa needs to be rinsed before use to eliminate the bitter coating that surrounds each seed. And be sure not to overcook or use too much water, or quinoa will lose its fluffy texture.

Prepare quinoa as you would rice. Unlike whole-grain rice, however, it will be ready to serve in less than 20 minutes.

ONE-POT KALE AND QUINOA PILAF

A fresh-tasting sauvignon blanc complements the flavors of tangy goat cheese and kale in this meatless main dish. The acidity of the wine can easily handle the acids of the lemony vinaigrette.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed under running water

1 bunch kale, washed and chopped into 1-inch lengths

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 scallions, minced

1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil (or olive oil)

3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring 2 cups salted water to a boil over high heat in a large pot with a cover. Add the quinoa, cover and lower the heat to just maintain a simmer. Cook 10 minutes. Top the quinoa with the kale and re-cover. Simmer another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the quinoa and kale to steam 5 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the lemon zest, half the lemon juice, the scallions, oil, pine nuts and goat cheese in a large serving bowl.

Check the quinoa and kale - the water should be absorbed, the quinoa tender but firm and the kale tender and bright green. If the quinoa still has a hard white center, you can steam it a bit longer, adding more water if needed.

When quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf transfer it to the serving bowl. As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon, it should smell lovely. Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper and the remaining lemon juice if needed. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from "The Food 52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Morrow, $35).

Per serving: 300 calories (39 percent from fat), 13.7 g fat (3 g saturated, 3.4 g monounsaturated), 6.5 mg cholesterol, 11.6 g protein, 36.7 g carbohydrates, 5.6 g fiber, 78 mg sodium.

(Contact Carole Kotkin: ckotkin@gmail.com. She is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of "Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.")

©2012 The Miami Herald Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service