On Passover, since grains, legumes and most seeds aren’t eaten, the repertoire of foods available to cook with becomes drastically limited! Since one grain-like food that is allowed is quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), many people who wouldn’t otherwise consider using it will be adding it to their menus in the coming week who don’t usually use it, so I figured it’s a good time to share some information on its nutritional value!
Quinoa has been around for at least 3000 years, a traditional staple in South America, though it hasn’t become well-known in the US until the last fifteen years or less. Despite it’s similarity to grains as far as cooking properties go, quinoa is the seed of the goosefoot plant, and related to spinach, beets, and Swiss chard, which is why it’s okay to eat on Passover – it’s technically classified as a vegetable.
Quinoa is high in protein, calcium, and iron, a decent source of vitamin E, and has a few B vitamins. It has an excellent balance of the eight essential amino acids that we need for tissue development. Quinoa is also a great source of iron, and is actually one of the best sources of iron from plant-based foods. One cup of dry quinoa provides almost 90% of the USDA iron requirement!
Like most other grains and seeds, it has a significant amount of phytic acid, which means you will fully benefit from the iron when it’s soaked properly and the phytic acid is neutralized. To break down phytic acid, you need several factors: warmth, acidity, moisture, and time. To soak a cup of quinoa, pour it a bowl with 1 T. of apple cider vinegar (for acidity), 1 c. of water (moisture), and leave it out to soak (time). Ideally grains should be soaked overnight, but even soaking for an hour or two in a warm place will be beneficial. I’ve always left my grains/nuts/seeds/legumes to soak at room temperature but several months ago read that it really should be left at a much warmer temperature than that to be most effective.
Quinoa has a bitter coating, so regardless whether you choose to soak it or not before using it (I don’t usually soak quinoa), it should be rinsed in a strainer that has very small holes (or all the grains will rinse right through the holes) to wash the bitterness off. Quinoa can be used in a variety of ways, in savory pilafs or sweet dishes like the quinoa pudding recipe that I shared last year. General guidelines for cooking are to use two cups of water for every cup of quinoa, and cook in the same way you’d boil or bake rice.