Welcome to Pantry Essentials: Week Two! I hope you all enjoyed last week’s pantry essential post on canned salmon. Like I mentioned last week, this series is all about highlighting some key ingredients that are useful “pantry staples” to stock in your kitchen. Every week of this series I’ll be posting a recipe along with nutrition highlights and ideas for creative use for each ingredient.
Week Two’s Pantry Essential: quinoa.
This week we’re switching gears a bit from proteins and entering into the world of whole grains. It’s a wonderful world, vast and versatile and oh-so-delicious. I cook with a wide spectrum of gluten-free whole grains on a daily basis. My old stand-by is brown rice, but I also love the texture and flavor of wild rice and millet. But right up on my list of tasty grains battling it out for the top spot is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), an ancient grain that reminds me of an earthier, more rustic version of couscous.
- Feast on fiber: like other whole grains, quinoa is a great source of dietary fiber. Diets high in fiber have been shown to prevent diverticulosis, colon polyps and cancer, and varicose veins. Fiber also reduces the risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Interestingly, because fiber slows down digestion, it also slows down the release of glucose and insulin into the blood stream. This is very helpful for people with diabetes or anyone struggling with blood sugar imbalance.
- Protein power: According to Michael Murry, author of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and many other health-related books, “quinoa has an excellent amino acid profile…because it contains all the essential amino acids.” Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids, those that we must consume through food because our bodies cannot produce them on their own, are found almost exclusively in animal products. Certain whole grains, however, such as quinoa and buckwheat, provide all essential aminos and are therefore an excellent source of complete plant protein.
- Gluten-free naturally: as I mentioned above, quinoa is a naturally gluten-free whole grain so it’s perfect for those of us with gluten or wheat sensitivities. Many gluten-free products out there on the market are made with refined rice flour or starches, which are void of most vitamins and minerals. Your best bet is to eat grains in their whole and natural state, not refined and milled into flour. This way the grains maintain their excellent nutritional profiles and all that fabulous fiber. Quinoa, for instance, is a super source of magnesium, manganese, vitamins E and B2, and and iron.
What Makes It Essential
I find quinoa to have the lightest texture and mildest flavor of all of the grains. Because of this, it pairs well as a side dish with just about anything. Tossed with herbs and citrus, a pot of quinoa becomes an easy and elegant pilaf (as you’ll see in the recipe below).Quinoa makes a lovely bed for broiled or grilled fish and complements the texture of beans well, too.
Quinoa also has a place on the breakfast menu. Cooked quinoa can be turned into a delicious porridge in a snap when you throw in a splash of almond milk, handful of dried fruit, and sprinkle of ground flaxseeds and walnuts. Unlike brown rice or millet, quinoa cooks in a flash. Only requiring about 15 minutes on the stovetop, the grains plump up in no time at all making this grain a great go-to for busy days when you need something fast.
A container of cooked quinoa will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, which makes it easy to have on hand for serving as a side dish, eating for breakfast, or even adding to soups for a textural boost at the end of cooking. On my “to make” list is this recipe for Healing Quinoa Cabbage Soup. Sounds like the perfect lunch or light supper, doesn’t it?
This was a tough one. I had so many ideas of what recipe to feature using quinoa that I almost posted three! Almost. But after taking a few more bites of this Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado, my mind was made up. This was the one. Each bite brought the perfect balance of refreshing herb and citrus flavors to the palette contrasted with the rich, creamy texture of beautiful avocado slices.
Try serving this as a side dish to these Marinated Chicken and Red Onion Skewers. That’s what I did and the flavors of each dish worked wonders together. Add a little oil-and-vinegar coleslaw on the side and you’ve got yourself a perfectly balanced, refreshing meal. Enjoy!
Oh, one other thing. Sorry there is no picture for this recipe. It’s not something a like to do often, post a recipe without a photo. But I’ll be honest. This was gobbled up so fast after I put it on the dinner table that I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture!
Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado - Serves 4 as a side
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste
1 small or 1/2 large avocado, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Combine quinoa with water in a pot and bring to boil over high heat on the stovetop. Reduce to very low heat, cover, and cook until quinoa has absorbed the water and the grains are plump—about 15 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and—using the fork—fold frozen peas into warm quinoa. The steam will heat them through. Fold in cilantro and season with salt to taste. Transfer to serving dish.
Top with sliced avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over the quinoa, being sure to spritz some on the avocado slices. Enjoy this dish warm or at room temperature.
Stop on by next Tuesday for Pantry Essentials: Week Three. The featured “pantry staple” for next week has grown to become one of my favorite ingredients of all time to cook with and eat. I’ve got a tasty recipe in store that’s too good to miss!
(This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.)