Quinoa: Great “Grains” and Vegetarian Sources of Protein

» Posted by on Sep 18, 2011 in Environment, Ethics, Health, Vegetarian Sources of Protein | 0 comments

Quinoa: Great “Grains” and Vegetarian Sources of Protein

Aside from being asked, “Why become a vegetarian?”, the other question people often ask me is “what are good vegetarian sources of protein?”

There are tons of vegetarian sources of protein out there, and some in places that most aspiring vegetarians wouldn’t expect.

If you’ve read the Vegetarian Sources of Protein article, you know that most people (especially westerners) get way too much protein.  Vegetarians tend not to have that problem quite as often, but sometimes and especially if you’re not eating as balanced a diet as you should, you have to seek it out.

Introducing Quinoa: One of the Powerful vegetarian sources of protein

A great secret to have on hand is quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah).  Quinoa is a small pellet that you can prepare in a variety of ways.  It’s also a complete Vegetarian Source of Protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids in the correct proportions.

Quinoa History

Quinoa got started as a domesticated crop roughly 3000-4000 years ago, although some reports estimate that people have been eating it as long as 7000 years ago.  The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, called it the  ’mother of all grains’ and used it during religious ceremonies.  However, when Europeans took over parts of South America, Spanish conquistadors looked down upon the grain and halted its production, even forbidding the Incas from producing it.

Quinoa is a not a true cereal grain (like barley or millet) per se, as its not a member of the grass family.  It’s actually closer to beets or spinach.  However, it cooks and tastes like other cereal grains, so that’s why it generally gets lumped in as one.

Preparing Quinoa

Vegetarian Sources of ProteinAs a great vegetarian source of protein, quinoa becomes light and fluffy after cooking and has a mildly nutty flavor.  You can substitute it for white or brown rice, or even couscous.

Several companies offer packaged quinoa.  Often this comes pre-rinsed, and you can just open it and go.  However, if you’re buying quinoa in bulk that hasn’t been pre-rinsed, it is advisable to do so.

The first step is to remove the saponins (the exterior which actually act as a gastrointestinal irritant).  This involves either soaking the quinoa in water for a couple hours, then changing out the water, repouring fresh water, and resoaking for another hour or two.  You could change it out one more time to be safe.  Another (easier) option is to place the quinoa in a sieve or strainer and leave it under running water for several minutes.  At this point, the prepackaged quinoa starts to look pretty good, eh?

If you’re still going with the raw quinoa, cooking it is fairly similar to cooking rice.  You start with a 2:1 ratio of water to quinoa; if you’re cooking one cup of the grain, begin by boiling two cups of water.  Once your water reaches a boil, take it down to a simmer and cook for 10 or 15 minutes.  Your cue that it’s done is when the germ starts to separate from the seed.  Cooked germ appears like a small curl, and should be “al dente” when tasted.  You can also use a rice cooker to prepare your quinoa — the same way you would with white rice.

Using Quinoa as one of the Vegetarian Sources of Protein in Recipes

Some examples of recipes that call for quinoa:

  • Kale or romaine salads
  • Fried cakes, fritters, or patties
  • Pilafs (instead of rice)
  • As a warm breakfast instead of oatmeal
  • Hearty stews
  • Stir-Fries
  • And more…

Quinoa is one of the great vegetarian sources of protein, and when paired with tofu, nuts, or beans, you’re getting even more.  You might want to start with the prepackaged kind to make it easy on yourself, but don’t be afraid to take a night and make the real thing.  Enjoy!