quinoa, my new favorite superfood

Quinoa and bean salad by fritish, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  fritish 

I first met quinoa when it was in the soup served at a Lenten soup supper several years ago in my church. It was barely obvious, just a few tiny translucent circles in the broth. I didn’t notice that it added any flavor, but I learned it was full of protein so it must be good, right?

Since then I’ve ordered a salad or a side dish made with quinoa and I felt very trendy. After all, I knew how to pronounce it correctly – keen-wah, not kwin-oh. Again, I didn’t notice much of a flavor, just a bit of texture mixed in with the other ingredients. I found quinoa and brown rice pilaf in boxes in the supermarket and found the results quite pleasing.

Then recently I was diagnosed with diabetes. One of my physician’s referrals was to a nurse to provide dietary advice. In addition to her explanation of why exercise is important to ensure the insulin receptors are kept functioning, she told me that I must avoid five foods – soft drinks, fruit juices, bananas, corn, and white rice. I wasn’t pleased about any of them. I had already given up diet soft drinks because of the aspartame in them. I had just found a great recipe for lemonade to use up all the lemons on our small lemon tree. The nurse explained that lemonade wasn’t even a fruit juice – it was more accurately sugar water with citrus flavoring. Bananas had been my first resort to address leg cramps. Now I drink more water. Corn was about the only one of the five that giving up didn’t pose any objections. But white rice, ah, that has been the big challenge.

I have always enjoyed rice, though my childhood experiences with rice were limited to casseroles – rice with ground beef in tomato sauce or cream of chicken soup. But then I went to live in Iran where rice is the primary ingredient in all meals. White rice served mixed with other ingredients – meat, vegetables, herbs, and/or fruit – made up polow (the Farsi version of pilaf). White rice served with sauces, meat, and vegetables on top was referred to as chello. My favorite Iranian meal, chello kabob, consisted of a mound of white rice – Iranians considered one cup of uncooked rice to be appropriate per person – topped with marinated and grilled slices of meat with grilled tomatoes and yogurt. The first time I had a typical Iranian meal served in a restaurant, I thought they had made a mistake and placed a combined portion for the whole table in front of me. But the same size portion was placed in front of each of us. I had trouble getting through that meal, but by the time I left Iran I felt cheated if I was served a smaller portion. By the time I left Iran, I loved white rice and could have eaten nothing else, especially if I had the Iranian spice sumac to sprinkle on it.

Giving up white rice was the least pleasant of the dietary restrictions.

Until I decided to try substituting quinoa for rice.

It takes about the same length of time to cook quinoa – 20-25 minutes. And quinoa expands like rice, although where one cup of  raw rice doubles in volume, quinoa triples.

So I did some research. I learned quinoa is considered a superfood, a marketing term without any scientific basis, because of its high protein content, its dietary fiber, and its calcium which makes it a good source for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. It is also gluten free.

No wonder some call it a superfood. With that endorsement, even if there is no agreement among nutritionists about the superfood claims, I will continue relying on quinoa as my white rice replacement, at least until some counter-claim surfaces against it.

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