Super Food 2: Quinoa

Imagine a gluten free food that has such boundless nutritional benefits that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation have dedicated a whole year to it. 2013 is The Year of Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), which has been hailed as a gluten free super food due to its nutritional qualities and crop viability.

This ancient grain was sacred to the Incas in South America, who called it "chisiya mama" (chee - si - ya - ma - mah) or mother of all grains. Although widely considered a whole grain today, technically it is a seed of the goosefoot plant, which is related to Swiss chard and spinach.

So what makes quinoa such a superfood?

5 Facts about Quinoa you Didn't Know

1. Quinoa has a near-perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein and dietary fibre. Being fibre and potassium rich, it may lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes and help control your weight.

2. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, namely thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and vitamin E. It is also a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. One cup has 8 grams of protein, about the same amount in a glass of low fat milk.

3. Quinoa is versatile. You can buy it as flakes that that can be used like quick oats (or even replace oats in recipes), or ground into a fine-textured flour that is naturally gluten-free and can be used to make baked goods and gluten-free pasta.

4. It is perfect for vegans, the lactose-intolerant and the gluten-intolerant. Quinoa is one of the only plant foods that provides all nine essential amino acids. One of those amino acids is lysine, which is important for tissue growth and repair and helps the body absorb calcium.

5. Quinoa is hardy and high yielding. Unlike most grains, quinoa can flourish almost anywhere, under relatively harsh conditions. It is being hailed as a food of the future and as a possible relief crop for battling famine and malnutrition.

Here is a refreshing recipe idea for summer lunches or dinners. The great news is that this recipe combines a number of 'superfoods,' including chickpeas, spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds and cranberries, as well as quinoa. This makes for one extra healthy and nutritious meal!

Nutty quinoa and chickpea salad

Serves: 6; Prep and Cook Time: 20 mins

Here's what you'll need... For the salad

And here's how to make it...

1. Cook the quinoa either in a saucepan or the microwave. For one cup of quinoa, you will need two cups of water. If using the stovetop bring to the boil for approx 10-12 minutes or until tender to the bite. If using the microwave, 10 mins on high should be plenty. Remove from the heat, drain (if needed) and leave to cool for a few minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, assemble the chickpeas, mint, spinach and cranberries together in a bowl.

3. Using a small frypan, heat some olive oil over low-medium heat and add the nuts, turning frequently until they are a toasty brown colour.

4. Add the quinoa and nuts to the rest of the ingredients and drizzle the olive oil and zest and juice of the lemon over everything. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you're not dairy free you can also add crumbled feta cheese to this which is delicious!

Adapted from Next Magazine, February 2013.

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