Curious about what elements of my past were languishing in the far reaches of my inbox, I clicked through the pages, browsing through the email blasts and personal correspondence that I had collected in the past year-and-then-some. Much to my amusement, I found an email dated 15 April 2012, bearing the subject: "Quinoa?!?!". In it, I had written to a friend, declaring: "Tomorrow, I am going to make quinoa for the first time," and inquiring whether she thought I should cook the quinoa in vegetable stock or just plain water. That email exchange--written with such enthusiastic naïveté--really made me laugh. It reminded me how short of a time I've actually been cooking and how recently it was, in the grand scheme of things, that I became so passionate about food. Making and eating quinoa is so routine to me now, but not so long ago those amazing little seeds were an entirely foreign substance to me. Maybe you eat quinoa all the time. Maybe you've never heard of it. Less than one year ago, I had never eaten it in my life; now it is a serious staple of my whole-foods based diet. I recently realized that I have yet to post a recipe featuring quinoa. It is high time that I rectify that situation.
Grains: Whole vs. Refined
When I began to properly cook, expand my palate, and read about food and nutrition around this time last year, refined grains were among the first foods that I replaced in my diet. While I will always eat a good chocolate chip cookie and, if no whole grain bread is available, I won't scornfully dismiss a sandwich on a freshly baked baguette, you won't find me buying or cooking with white rice or white flour if I can avoid it. Here's why:
The whole kernel of any grain is composed of three parts: the bran (the protective outer layer); the germ (the internal embryo, which has the ability to sprout into a new plant); and the endosperm (the kernel's inner core, which contains starchy carbohydrates and supplies food for the germ). The bran of a whole kernel is high in antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber, while the germ contains protein, minerals and essential healthy fats. In the process of refining (which is how we get white flour, white rice, etc.), the kernel is stripped of both its bran and germ, leaving behind nothing but its endosperm; the grain thus becomes a nutritionally barren shadow of a previously rich whole food. Once refined, grains lose about 25% of their protein and over 15 nutrients. This includes grains' B vitamins, which are necessary for the successful breakdown of carbohydrates in the body and, consequently, proper metabolization. Refined grains also lack the majority of the fiber that is present in their whole form. This is a big loss for our bodies, as fiber is essential to the healthy maintenance of our digestive system, keeps us feeling satiated for longer periods of time, and helps regulate our blood sugar levels.*
When I first learned about the immense nutritional value of whole grains compared to the nutritionally devoid composition of refined grains (even when 'enriched'), making the switch to a whole-grain diet was, for me, a no-brainer. What has been even more exciting than knowing I'm being kind to my body (which, yes, is great) has been the world of grain varieties that I have since delved into. Brown rice, wheat berries, spelt berries, quinoa, millet, wild rice...so many interesting grains, each with unique tastes and textures, each great for our bodies in different ways. Really, what's not to love?
Okay, I know. I've spent ages extolling the virtues of whole grains and I'm sure at least a portion of you are sitting there thinking, 'Uh, yes, but quinoa isn't technically a grain, it's a seed'. This is true. However, it is essentially grain-like and very quick-cooking, much like couscous; this convenience (and its versatility--it pairs well with almost anything!) is in large part why I eat it so often. So as to not belabor this post too much, here are the quinoa highlights:
- While this 'superfood' has only relatively recently become integrated into Western cooking and cuisine, quinoa was one of the primary staples in the Incan diet over 5,000 years ago.
- It is still primarily grown and distributed from the Andes region of South America.
- While it cooks and tastes like a grain, quinoa is actually the seed of a plant that is related to beets, spinach and chard.
- Quinoa is one of the few foods that--all on its own--contains the nine essential amino acids that make up a complete protein.
- It is gluten-free, high in fibre and low in fat.
- Quinoa contains significant amounts of manganese, magnesium and iron and has anti-inflammatory properties.**
And now, finally...to the food!
**Quinoa information from World's Healthiest Foods and My New Roots.
Ginger Quinoa, Broccoli + Bok Choi with Miso-Tahini Dressing
1/2 cup (110 g) quinoa (any color is great)
2 tsp. ginger root, grated
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 spring onion, sliced on a slight diagonal
1 tsp. coconut oil (or preferred cooking oil)
8-10 stems (100 g) tenderstem broccoli
1 medium head bok choy, bottom cut off and leaves/stalks separated
sesame seeds, dry toasted (optional, for garnish)
1/2 Tbsp. miso paste (organic, non-GMO; light or dark is fine)
1/2 tsp. tahini (preferably dark, unhulled)
1 lemon, juice + zest
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. ginger root, grated
1 Tbsp. water
1. Rinse quinoa well, rubbing the seeds together, and strain. Do this a few times until the rinsing water remains clear. (Without rinsing, the quinoa will taste quite bitter.) Set aside.
2. In a small pot, heat oil over a low heat and sauté garlic, ginger and spring onion until fragrant, 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so the ginger doesn't stick and burn. Add quinoa and toast for an additional minute.
3. Add 3/4 cup water to the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook (without opening the lid) for 15 minutes. Once 15 minutes has passed, remove from heat and let sit (lid still on!) for 10 minutes.
4. In the meantime, line a grill tray (for UK-style grill) or baking tray (for US-style broiler, which is like a UK grill) with foil. Spread broccoli and bok choi on tray (some overlap is fine). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt.
5. Place tray under grill/broiler on medium-high heat. Cook until beginning to brown, 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Turn down heat if your tray is quite close to the flame and the veggies are burning without cooking through.
6. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously.
7. Once quinoa has cooked and sat for 10 minutes, remove lid and fluff. Add salt to taste.
8. Pile quinoa on plates, top with grilled broccoli and bok choi, and drizzle with dressing. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh spring onion, if desired.