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Mix it up with some quinoa

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Quinoa is one of those foods that at first is impossible to pronounce properly until you’ve heard someone else say it, and even then it’s a toss-up if you’ll actually remember it.

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Even so, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), has become a staple in my kitchen ever since I was introduced to it while working at a food co-op in northern Wisconsin. Now, given its nutty flavor and fun color, I can’t even imagine making a soup without it.

Quinoa captured quite a bit of notoriety last year when the United Nations dedicated 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa.”

When the UN made the announcement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called quinoa “extraordinary” on account of containing all essential amino acids, trace elements, vitamins, but no gluten. Given that dense nutritional value, the Food and Agricultural Organization has likened quinoa protein to that of whole milk.

Quinoa was originally cultivated in the Andean mountain regions of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It’s a hearty crop from nutritional and agricultural standpoints, being adaptable to wide swings in temperature and moisture, making it a viable option for farming in areas “with arid farming conditions and high malnutrition rates,” the UN reports.

According to Eden, a distributor of organic food, quinoa is a complete protein. Bob’s Red Mill, another distributor, says that quinoa may act like a whole grain in the cooking process, but it’s actually a seed.

The Whole Grains Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to education about consuming whole grains, says that quinoa is related to beets, chard and spinach.

And along with all these attractive nutritional facts and figures, quinoa is easy to cook — it just takes 15 minutes of boiling in water, similar to how one would cook rice. You can tell it’s done when the seeds no longer look like circles and instead look like little curly-Qs. Many stores stock more than one kind of quinoa, with white quinoa being most prevalent. However, black and red quinoa are also options, and these varied colors can add a spark to even the most benign of stir-fries.

To start using quinoa, I recommend adding it first in place of some brown or white rice in your own recipes. It will give you an idea of how it looks when it’s cooked, and you might be inspired to use it in your own creative ways.

A ratio to use for cooking quinoa, like rice, is 2 cups water for every 1 cup of quinoa.

One fun way I use leftover quinoa at my house is in salmon burgers, which are requested by my 2-year-old at least every other week.

Claudia Broman lives and writes in Litchfield. She assists the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery with its marketing.

SALMON BURGERS

1 16-ounce can pink salmon, drained (if you have small children you might want to remove bones & skin)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon mustard

2 tablespoon minced onion

1 teaspoon relish

1 teaspoon horseradish

10 crushed crackers (I really like multi-grain)

½ cup cooked quinoa

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon oil

Mix all ingredients together well in a bowl, except for the flour and oil. Shape into 6 or 8 patties, about ½-inch thick. Place patties on a plate and dust with flour. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high. Add the oil and cook the patties flour side down. Dust tops with flour and flip after the bottoms turn brown. When done cooking through and both sides have browned, place on paper towels to drain off oil before serving on buns with condiments or plain with veggies.

More recipes featuring quinoa are available on the National Cooperative Grocers Association website.

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