Nutritious quinoa has nutty flavor

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Revered by ancient Incas as "the mother of all grains" and hailed by nutritionists as the "supergrain of the future," quinoa (KEEN-wah) has been cultivated in the Andes for more than 6,000 years.

Because it's not a grass, it's technically not a grain. Still, it looks like a grain and cooks like a grain, so the food world calls it a grain.

Quinoa's surge in popularity is due to its tremendous nutritional value. Its protein content (12 percent to 18 percent) outranks grains. It's one of the few vegetarian foodstuffs considered to be a complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids.

Compared to grains, it's high in unsaturated fat and low in carbohydrates. It's a great source of fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorous. If that's not enough, quinoa is also gluten-free and widely considered kosher for Passover.

Because the quinoa plant is hardy and undemanding, NASA is considering growing it on extended space missions.

Spanish conquerors denigrated it as "food for Indians" and suppressed its growth because of its sacred status in non-Christian religious rituals.

Quinoa cooks like rice, but go easy: It cooks much faster and swells to four times its original volume. Before cooking, rinse under cold water until water runs clear.

Quinoa's delicate taste is often compared to couscous, and it's a great choice for salads and pilafs. To bring out the nutty flavor, toast quinoa in a dry pan or with a little butter before cooking.

QUINOA, SPINACH AND WALNUT STIR-FRY

1 cup quinoa

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

5 ounces fresh baby spinach

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Basil leaves

Put quinoa into small bowl, add water to cover and swish to rinse. Pour into fine mesh strainer and drain well. Heat oil in large skillet. Add quinoa. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add salt and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook over medium-low until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add spinach and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat until spinach is almost wilted and tomatoes are warmed, about 1 minute. Stir in walnuts and cheese. Garnish with basil leaves. Serves 4.

-- Recipe from Health Barn USA, Wyckoff, N.J.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 360 calories, 19 grams fat, 37 milligrams cholesterol, 13 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 510 milligrams sodium

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