by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Grains have been getting a lot of bad press lately, and undeservedly so. It is true that many people have grain allergies and must stay away from grains or pay the price in intestinal distress, hives, and the like. But to those with no allergy issues who avoid grains, that bad press is doing a disservice to you, your diet, and your health.
All grains start out as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed, or kernel, of a plant: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The seed is protected by in inedible shell that protects it from pests, disease, etc. The bran is the outer layer of the edible seed. It contains fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. The germ contains vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This is the portion of the plant that allows new plants to sprout. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed and is the germ’s food supply. It contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains contain all three parts of the seed. Processing removes the germ and bran which removes 25% of the seed’s protein along with 17 key vitamins and minerals.
Grains, in their natural state, are delicious, healthy, and filling. As a food group, grains include oats, barley, rice, millet, wheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, rye, sorghum, and buckwheat. Studies have shown that eating whole grains, not the refined grains found in breads and cereals, lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. They also help regulate digestion and elimination, lower blood cholesterol, boost heart health, and keep you fuller longer.
Quinoa (keen-wah) is a tiny, bead-shaped grain that comes in a wide variety of colors: yellow, red, black, orange, pink, and purple. It is hugely nutrient-dense, delicious, and a complete protein. Its well balanced amino acid profile makes it a great source of protein for vegans because it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa is rich in the amino acid lysine, which is crucial for the body’s tissue growth and repair. Its high protein and fiber content help regulate blood sugar which may, in turn, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium and phosphorous. Quinoa is naturally gluten‑free and easily digested, making it a perfect food for those with allergies or intestinal issues.
Quinoa has a delicate, almost nutty flavor and its versatility makes it a wise choice for main dishes and salads. When purchasing quinoa, keep in mind that it expands to two to three times its size when cooked. Before preparing quinoa, rinse it thoroughly to remove the saponins found on the outer coat of the grain. Saponins are responsible for the bitter taste of the uncooked quinoa and should always be removed. Put the dry quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rub it gently with your hands as you rinse it. A layer of cheesecloth on the inside of the strainer makes removal much easier. To cook, the ratio is generally one part quinoa to two parts water. After the mixture is brought to a boil, lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. As the quinoa cooks, it becomes translucent and its germ separates from the grain giving it the appearance of having a tail.
The Spinach-Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Almonds recipe from Vegetarian Times© is a staple summertime salad in our house. It is really delicious and filling, and makes quite a large bowl of salad. That being said, you may want to halve it the first time you make it, unless you’re bringing it to a party and want extra for your family.
Spinach-Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Almonds
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- 1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups spinach leaves
- 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved, or 1 cup dried cherries, chopped
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into ⅓-inch dice (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
- ¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp.)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds on baking sheet, and toast 7 to 10 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, or until golden brown. Cool.
2. Bring 3 cups salted water to a boil in pot over medium-high heat. Stir in quinoa. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed.
3. Remove from heat and cool, covered, in pot.
4. Lay 5 or 6 spinach leaves flat on top of one another on cutting board. Roll tightly into cylinder, then slice into slivers. Repeat with remaining spinach.
5. Toss together quinoa, almonds, spinach, cherries, cucumber, chickpeas and red onion in large serving bowl. Whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in small bowl. Pour over salad, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop, then serve.