Chicken with Quinoa and Veggies (left)

Chicken with Quinoa and Veggies (left)

Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Quinoa is an ancient grain for modern times

Quinoa has been around for thousands of years and those with an interest in healthy eating are rediscovering this versatile grain.

In the past few years I’ve come to enjoy quinoa in many recipes. Quinoa, a grain, originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it was successfully domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption.

The nutrient composition is very good compared with common cereals, as quinoa contains essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Today it is also highly appreciated for its high protein content (18 per cent) and like oats, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it a complete protein source. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, and is high in magnesium.

Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous. It is gluten-free and considered easy to digest.

A favourite cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups (I use less) of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking 10 to 15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts). Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes and chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavour. It is also suited for vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.

If one of your new goals for this year is to improve healthy eating, then quinoa is the perfect addition to any diet.

Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf

1/4 cup quinoa

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1 (20 ounce) package ground turkey

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 egg

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon water

Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute; remove from heat to cool. Stir the turkey, cooked quinoa, onions, tomato paste, hot sauce, 2 tbsp. Worcestershire, egg, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well-combined. The mixture will be very moist. Shape into a loaf on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Combine the brown sugar, 2 tsp. Worcestershire, and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Rub the paste over the top of the meatloaf. Bake in the preheated oven until no longer pink in the centre, about 50 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the centre should read at least 160 degrees F (70 degrees C). Let the meatloaf cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Chicken with Quinoa and Veggies

1 cup rinsed quinoa

2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic scapes, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into strips

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 zucchini, diced

1 tomato, diced

4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

8 fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon lime juice

Bring the quinoa and chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan; reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Simmer until the broth is absorbed, the quinoa is fluffy, and the white line is visible in the grain, about 12 minutes.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet; cook and stir garlic scapes and onion until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken breast strips and cook until chicken is still slightly pink in middle, about 5 more minutes. Remove the chicken meat and set aside. Pour 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and cook and stir the zucchini and tomato until the zucchini is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Return chicken to skillet and sprinkle with feta cheese, basil leaves and lime juice. Cook until the chicken is fully cooked and hot, about 10 more minutes. Serve over hot quinoa.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

2 cups water

2 cubes chicken bouillon

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 cup uncooked quinoa

2 large cooked chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 large red onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

Bring the water, bouillon cubes and garlic to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard garlic clove and scrape quinoa into large bowl.

Gently stir chicken, onion, bell pepper, olives, feta cheese, parsley, chives and salt into quinoa. Drizzle with the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Stir until evenly mixed. Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.

Gluten-Free Quinoa Veggie Burgers

1/2 tsp. ground cumin seed

1 tsp. ground coriander seed

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa

1/2 cup mashed cooked chickpeas + 2 tbsp. water

2 tbsp. ground chia seeds or egg replacer

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. dried basil leaf

1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaf

4 tbsp. tapioca flour OR wheat flour

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat non-stick frying pan on med. low. Dry-roast cumin, coriander, paprika and garlic powder, stirring, 5 min. Blend all ingredients in bowl or food processor. If you have time, chill mixture for hour or so before forming into patties, for a firmer patty. Divide burger mix into 8 equal portions and form into 3 inch patties. Fry in a little oil on medium heat, 5 – 10 minutes each side, until browned and firm.

To freeze: Place uncooked patties between sheets of wax paper on baking sheet and freeze. Store in freezer bag or plastic container and cook as needed (thaw in fridge or microwave). Quinoa burgers make a delicious meal served with roasted potatoes or a hearty soup like pinto bean soup. For a perfect summer meal, add all your favorite veggie burger fixings, corn on the cob, and potato salad. For a light meal, skip the bun and fixings. Serve these quinoa burgers with steamed veggies or a green salad.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.