The first time I heard of quinoa was more than 14 years ago. I was at a bustling little restaurant called Le Loup Blanc in Paris. The menu was plug-and-play – pick a meat, then fill out your plate with a selection of sides.
Quinoa was one of those side choices. And like many of us, I pronounced it incorrectly. But however I said it, I was glad I tried it. I was immediately hooked on those nutty little grains, and I ordered quinoa every time I ate there.
Eventually, I moved home to the U.S., but quinoa came with me. I loved it because it was so versatile, so easy to cook and so good for me.
One cooked cup of this “pseudo-cereal” (it’s actually the seed of a plant in the same family as spinach) offers 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein, along with plenty of iron (a big plus for non-meat eaters) and B vitamins, but no saturated fat or cholesterol.
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The exciting protein news on quinoa isn’t necessarily the quantity, but the quality. Quinoa offers all nine essential amino acids in the quantities required to make it a complete protein (unusual for vegetable-based protein sources). Another bonus: It’s gluten-free.
I like to cook up a batch of quinoa on the weekends, then use it during the week much as I would cooked rice – in cold salads, in hot side dishes like a stir-fry, or with stews and sauces.
My recipe for winter quinoa dressing is a perfect dish for both newbies and quinoa pros. It complements the gorgeous roasts of winter as a side dish, or can be served as a main event for a simple supper.
Winter quinoa dressing with apples and dried cranberries
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 1/4 cups uncooked quinoa
1 3/4 cups low-sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 sweet Italian turkey sausages, casings removed
2 small celery stalks (or 1 large), chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
6 ounces fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 apple, cored and diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
In a large microwave-safe baking dish, combine the quinoa, broth and olive oil. Cover and microwave for 11 minutes, then allow to sit in the microwave for another 2 minutes. Remove the dish from the microwave and stir the quinoa. Depending on the power of your microwave, you may need to adjust the cooking time.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until the meat is golden, about 7 minutes. Add the celery, onion and mushrooms, and cook until the vegetables are tender, another 7 minutes. Add the apple, cranberries, pine nuts, garlic, rosemary and sage, then cook an additional 2 minutes.
Combine the quinoa with the sausage and vegetable mixture and serve immediately.
Per serving: 240 calories; 60 calories from fat (25 % of total calories); 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 10 g protein; 570 mg sodium.