A Bud Light commercial about quinoa might get more people to eat the healthful grain than any health or nutrition expert could predict.
The TV ad shows a Philadelphia Eagles fan tailgating when he realizes his wife packed another one of those "quee-no" burgers. He accidentally ate a quinoa veggie burger before the last game, and the Eagles won. Now he chooses to eat it again to help out the team.
It's a funny commercial that brings a lot of attention to the hard-for-some-to-pronounce (it's keen-wah) healthful whole grain that isn't on the grocery list of many consumers.
Although it's becoming more mainstream, as noted in the TV ad, as people realize its nutritional value. It's high in protein and contains all the necessary amino acids, making it an excellent option for vegetarians and vegans. As a whole grain, it is also an excellent source of fiber and important minerals. It's a popular choice for many with celiac disease because it's gluten free.
Quinoa is versatile and can be used in all kinds of dishes. Search for quinoa on Pinterest and you'll get dozens (maybe hundreds) of pins for quinoa recipes. You'll find buffalo quinoa bites, sweet potato quinoa patties, crunchy quinoa and buckwheat chocolate truffles, blueberry quinoa pancakes and quinoa coconut chocolate chunk cookies, as well as a number of salad recipes.
Alfalfa Restaurant on Main Street has been serving vegetarian dishes for decades, and quinoa appeared on the Alfalfa menu long before healthful grains became trendy.
A black bean quinoa burger has recently been added to Alfalfa's menu. The recipe was developed by assistant kitchen manager Isaac Benson.
Alfalfa manager Karissa Arnold Lindstrom said the restaurant is committed to offering delicious and healthy food for everyone, but especially vegan and vegetarian options. "Because a lot of people may not be familiar with quinoa or not know how to use it, incorporating it into a burger makes it more approachable and gives people a way to experience quinoa in a familiar food," she said.
Quinoa is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets, although it is often referred to as a "supergrain" because it's a nutritionally complete protein. The pinhead-size seeds can be white, red, or black.
According to America's Test Kitchen, white quinoa, the largest seeds of the three, has a slightly nutty, vegetal flavor with a hint of bitterness; it also has the softest texture of the three quinoas.
The medium-size red seeds offer a heartier crunch, thanks to their additional seed coat and a predominant nuttiness. Black quinoa seeds, the smallest of the three, have the thickest seed coat. They were notably crunchy in recipes and retain their shape the most during cooking, but many of the Test Kitchen tasters disliked their slightly sandy texture. These seeds had the mildest flavor, with a hint of molasses-like sweetness.
Red and tri-color quinoa are available in bulk at Good Foods Market & Café on Southland Drive.
"Quinoa is a grain native to South America; in fact, the red that I carry is called Inca heirloom grain," explained Victoria Guy, a specialist in Good Foods' grocery department. "It is gluten-free, and makes a good substitute for couscous, because it has a similar mouth feel and texture in cooking."
When choosing packaged quinoa to cook, you'll want to buy the prewashed, even though it might be a few cents more per ounce.
Thoroughly washing quinoa before cooking removes all traces of its bitter saponin coating, nature's way of making the high-protein seeds unattractive to birds and other seedeaters. In addition to being unpalatable, saponin is mildly toxic, causing low-level gastrointestinal distress in some people.
But cleaning quinoa is a chore because the tiny seeds (often mistakenly called grains) can easily slip through a fine-mesh strainer and down the drain. America's Test Kitchen found that the traditional quinoa offered no flavor or textural advantages over prewashed brands.
Here are tips from Cooking Light magazine on how to cook quinoa.
■ You'll need 1½ cups water to every 1 cup of quinoa.
■ Thoroughly rinse quinoa under cold water, and drain it in a fine-mesh sieve. Better yet, let the quinoa soak for about 15 minutes in cold water, then drain the grains through a fine-mesh sieve.
■ Combine 11/2 cups water and the rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. You'll know the quinoa is finished cooking when it appears as if each grain has "popped" open. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork.
Here is Alfalfa's recipe for the quinoa burger.
Alfalfa's black bean and quinoa burger
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup dry quinoa
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, minced
1 medium red onion, minced
1/2 bunch green onion, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
1/2 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 tablespoon egg replacer
Boil the quinoa until cooked thoroughly then drain and let cool. Combine the beans, quinoa, bell peppers, onions, cilantro, and seasonings in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the gluten-free flour and egg replacer then mix thoroughly again. Mash everything to consistency. Form into patties and cook in a little bit of oil on medium high heat until heated through and golden brown.
Makes 6 to 8 burgers.
This recipe for savory red lentil, quinoa, and vegetable stew is from Ellie Krieger's new Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99).
Savory red lentil, quinoa, and vegetable stew
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 large onion
1 large carrot
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
2 cups packed kale leaves
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup red lentils
1 cup quinoa, preferably red
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
½ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons packed fresh cilantro leaves
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan, then keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
While the broth is heating, chop the onion and dice the carrot. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mince the ginger and garlic. Stem the kale; discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt, and cayenne to the onion-carrot mixture and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the lentils, quinoa, and all but 1 cup of the boiling broth. Stir in the kale leaves and cinnamon stick. Cover, decrease the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the quinoa and lentils are nearly tender, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook until the peas, quinoa, and lentils are tender, 2 to 4 minutes more. Stir in the remaining broth as needed if the mixture seems too thick. Serve garnished with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per 2 cup serving, 2 tablespoons yogurt, and 1½ teaspoon cilantro leaves: 510 calories, 12 g. fat, 25 g. protein, 76 g. carbohydrate, 15 g. fiber, 0 mg. cholesterol, 660 mg. sodium.
Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.