Quinoa, which means "mother grain" in the Incan language, has been grown as a food source in South America for thousands of years. Because quinoa requires cool temperatures, it primarily grows in the Andes Mountains. There has also been some success growing it at high elevations in Colorado.
Source of Protein
Quinoa is one of the few plant-derived foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This makes it a valuable addition to a vegan diet, since vegans do not eat food from animal sources. It can also be a nutritious meat substitute for people trying to reduce their meat consumption. Because quinoa contains no gluten, it is a safe, nutritious grain for people with celiac disease.
Quinoa can be used to make a tasty, nutritious hot cereal for breakfast. Cook according to package directions, substituting soy or skim milk for part of the water for added flavor and nutrition. Add chopped fruit, nuts and spices after cooking. If you want to use dried fruit, add it at the beginning of the cooking cycle so it rehydrates as the quinoa cooks. Quinoa flour can be substituted for part of the wheat flour in pancakes. For those with celiac disease, it can be combined with other gluten-free flours.
Main and Side Dishes
Quinoa grains are small and have a nut-like flavor. As a side dish, quinoa is delicious on its own or mixed with other vegetables. It can be used in any dish that calls for rice, such as soups and casseroles, or as an ingredient in veggie burgers. You can buy several types of quinoa pasta, as well. Cold cooked quinoa can be sprinkled on tossed salads or used with cold beans and other vegetables in bean salads. Essentially, the only limit to uses of quinoa for main and side dishes is your imagination and taste preferences.
People with celiac disease may wish to combine quinoa with other gluten-free flours, such as rice or tapioca flour, as a replacement for wheat flour. For best results, use 5 to 10 percent quinoa flour in the blend. Experiment, starting with small amounts of quinoa flour, to find the amount that works best for you.
If you're fortunate enough to live in an area where quinoa is grown, the leaves of the quinoa plant can be eaten as a cooked green vegetable. The leaves and stalks can also be used as feed for grazing animals, such as cattle and sheep. Quinoa can even be fermented to make an alcoholic drink, which is called chicha in South America.