Quinoa 101 + Spiced Quinoa & Avocado Salad Recipe

Gotta love kids. I watched this 10+ times. Every time I made an edit, I insisted on re-watching it.

Quinoa is grouped in the grain category because of its taste and texture. But, it’s actually an edible seed from a dark leafy plant similar to spinach. For those visual learners, this is a quinoa flower:

Quinoa is pretty much a nutrition power house. It has a higher % protein by weight compared to most grains. According to the USDA, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa has ~8 more calories compared to couscous and brown rice,  yet brings more protein, fiber and iron.  Unlike most grains like wheat, rice and oats, quinoa is a complete protein. Meaning, it has all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein primarily found complete in animal proteins), that our bodies cannot make and must get from food, making it a good option for vegetarians. And, it’s a good source of minerals like magnesium and phosphorus.

Quinoa is gluten and wheat free for all those allergy-ied and sensitivity-ied. Be on the look out for quinoa flours and pastas popping up on the market. Quinoa has a mild taste and fluffy texture, making it very easy to like because it tastes so darn good. And, my favorite part about it? It’s super easy to make (cooks only in 10-15 minutes compared to 30-40 minutes for rice).

Making It:

1. Rinse in small colander under running water – wash away the soapy foam that will appear.

2. Pour quinoa and water into a pot, it’s usually 1:2 ratio (1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water), cover, boil for 10-15 minutes until fluffy. You will start to see small white squiggles,which are just the outer germ rings, separatting from the seeds. Have no fear- they are harmless.

3. Now for the good stuff… Mix it onto anything. Substitute for any rice, barley or couscous dish. Mix with veggies, add any spices or herbs, why not some (low fat) cheese, throw in a salad or soup, add to a wrap, stuff into a pepper, mix with some honey, almonds and fruit for breakfast.

Now for a recipe. I wouldn’t dare post this without including a recipe to keep my dear friend and co-worker Jess reading.

Quinoa & Avocado Salad with Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette Salad

Adapted from Fine Cooking (another fav)

Photos getting better, eh?

Ingredients:

3 tablespoon raisins (preferably a mix of dark and golden)
1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well
Kosher salt
1 large lemon
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1-1.5 teaspoon ground coriander  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
1-1.5 teaspoon ground cumin  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 medium scallions thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
1.In a medium bowl, soak the raisins in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and cool to room temperature.
3. Grate zest from lemon and squeeze then squeeze as much juice as you can into a small bowl. Whisk lemon zest + juice, olive oil, spices, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss with quinoa, raisins and avocado. Season with pepper. Tastes really good room temperature or chilled.

Cracking the Whole Grain

Everywhere you go you hear whole grain this, whole wheat that. Everywhere you shop you see label claims of whole grain goodness. We all know whole grain is healthier than its white refined counterpart, but do you actually know what whole grain means? I get asked this question a whole lot.

Whole grain is literally a whole, or entire grain. That means it has 3 parts: bran (outer layer), endosperm (inner layer) and germ layer.

File:Wheat-kernel nutrition.svg

Bran: Highest concentration of fiber and iron, a good source of protein and B vitamins.

Germ: Highest concentration of protein and poly-unsaturated fat, good source of fiber, iron, B vitamins, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Endosperm: Highest concentration of carbs, least amount of protein, iron, fiber, no B vitamins or fat = least nutritious part of the grain.

If you can’t guess where this is heading, refined white grains, like white bread and white flour, strip off the germ and bran layers removing the protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins and fat and leaving the endosperm, aka the carbs. That is why white bread  has very little nutritional bang for its buck. The fat and protein found in bran and germ can readily spoil, which is why companies thought to strip them away lengthening bread’s shelf life.

White bread isn’t “bad” for you in the sense that it has harmful ingredients. Rather, it is mainly carb with little vitamins and nutrients so it doesn’t have any benefits, making it essentially empty calories. Where as the protein, fiber, vitamins, iron and polyunsaturated fats in whole grains help lower cholesterol, ease bowels, increase satiety and can even have protective effects against certain cancers. 

Now for the grain dictionary:

Enriched – Returning nutrients that were lost when the whole grain-ness was stripped away. The good ‘ole government mandates “enriched” breads and wheats to return the following vitamins/minerals: Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron. Many companies have been adding back the fiber, though it’s not mandatory.

Unbleached / bleached – Categorizes if the flour has been subjected to a whitening process or not. Bleached flour goes through more processing and chemicals, so go for non-bleached flour. Whole grains are not bleached.

Multi-grain – Several types of grains were used in the product, like a mix of wheat and oats. It does NOT mean it’s whole grain unless the wheat specifically listed as 100% whole wheat on ingredient list.

Organic – Describes certain standards used to grow grain (type fertilizer, etc), but does NOT refer to how the grain was processed. You can have organic white bread.

Sprouted- Right now that is no regulated definition and it can vary based on company. A type of natural and raw processing that uses the enzymes of the grain to germinate, or sprout. Some studies show sprouting allows our bodies to better absorb some nutrients like the iron and B. It can only be considered whole wheat if the bran, endosperm and germ layer are all left intact, and in that case the label usually indicated “whole grain sprouted.”

Examples of whole grains: WHOLE wheat bread, WHOLE wheat flour, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, bulgar, whole grain barley, popcorn, millet, whole grain buckwheat. All of the above are awesome. Next time you head to the aisles buy one that you’ve never tried before. I have a soft spot for homemade popcorn.

Reading label is key (C’mon peeps). Unless the ingredient list has 100% whole wheat flour, it’s not all whole wheat. Companies are so sneaky. Even “made with whole wheat” doesn’t mean  100% whole wheat. Even “whole grain” listed on the front doesn’t mean the whole product is made of whole grains without the “100% whole grain” marker.Other tricky words that do NOT mean whole grain: Durum, semolina, refined, stone ground, wheat berries, multigrain, cracked wheat, bran.



Do It Yourself (DIY): Oatmeal

Ah, the wonders of oatmeal. This little girl seems to agree.  It’s usually associated with breakfast, but it’s great as a snack or for any meal, especially on a cold day. Oatmeal is a whole grain high in soluble fiber. And, it’s a good source of the B vitamin thiamine and iron. Soluble fiber is beneficial in a few ways. First it absorbs water in our bodies which slows digestion, making us feel full for longer (helpful in weight control and maintaining stable blood sugar). And, it helps lower cholesterol by removing the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) out of the body. According to Quaker,  3/4 cup of oatmeal each day can lower cholesterol. The research is so strong that the FDA approved the label claim that it can reduce risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet.

Kids can sometimes be scared of oatmeal because of its mushy texture. Great, a perfect opportunity to get them involved. Because if you haven’t picked up on one of my main themes = if kids prepare the food they are more likely to eat it. A fun activity is an “oatmeal bar” – have kids set up cups of fruit, spices, add-ins, natural sweeteners (honey/maple syrup). Make a big batch of oatmeal on the stove and have everyone add in their own toppings.

Types of Oats:

All oats are whole grain meaning they have all parts of the oat gran including the bran, endosperm and germ. But they can differ in taste, preparation, cooking time and nutritional value.

Steel cut/Irish: Inner portion of the oat kernel is cut into small pieces by steel rather than being rolled.  It has a nuttier flavor and is and chewier than rolled oats. It takes longer to prepare because of its minimal processing. Cooks in 15-30 minutes on the stovetop.

Rolled oats/old fashioned: Inner portion of the oat kernel is rolled into flat flakes with heavy rollers, then steamed and lightly toasted. Cooks in 5 minutes on the stovetop.

Quick-cooking rolled oats/quick oats: Rolled oats cut that are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled to cut down cooking time. Cooks in 1-2 minutes on the stovetop.

Instant: Rolled oats that are pre-cooked and dried, then sodium is added as a preservative. Just add boiling water and does not require cooking.

Nutritional Comparison of Quaker Oats (per 1.5 oz dry = single portion packages):

Rolled/old fashioned: 159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Steel cut/Irish:   159 kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Quick oats:  159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium 1.1 gm sugar

Instant (Maple & Brown Sugar): 160 Kcal, 3 gm fiber, 270 mg sodium, 13 gm sugar

Surprising, huh? Instant oatmeal is much higher in sodium and sugar and lower in fiber. Another case where you can thank salt for being a preservative in pre-cooked goods. I was surprised when I learned that those with high blood pressure should avoid instant oatmeal because of added sodium. My vote? Any type besides the instant. Really, rolled, steel cut and quick oats are nutritionally comprable, they just differ in cooking time and taste.

Since I’m the barrer of bad news on instant oatmeal, it’s only fair I provide some alternatives. Making oatmeal from scratch is really easy, I promise.

Do It Yourself Oatmeal:

1. Buy either rolled, steel cut or quick oats. I like the flavor and texture of steel cut best even though it takes a little longer to make.

2. Follow instructions on the label for amount of liquid, oats and cooking time.

3. Substitute water for fat-free milk if you don’t eat much dairy and need to boost calcium intake.

4. Add in flavorings of your choice: cinnamon, vanilla extract, dried fruit, fresh fruit, teaspoon of peanut butter (similar to hummus, I try PB with everything), teaspoon of natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup.

If you’re not ready to part with instant, you can still make a healthier choice if you buy unflavored package and add in your natural sweetener or fresh flavors. This way YOU can control how much sugar goes in.

Have leftover rolled “old fashioned” oats? They’d go perfectly in this  cookie recipe.