Expanding your cooking repertoire does not have to cause more stress. Making a trip to a special store or hunting down a rarefied spice is not always necessary to create new dishes. Simply re-combining regular pantry items, or eating certain ingredients at different times of day is enough to get unstuck from a cooking rut.
Take this quinoa porridge recipe, for example: Everyone knows how to boil water and prepare stovetop oats, but have you ever tried swapping out the main ingredient? How simple! How bold! And while you are at it, why not add some cubes of a sweet vegetable, a dash of cinnamon, and a sprinkle flax seeds? Suddenly, you have a breakfast option that is easy enough to whip up in the morning, but one that allows you to pat yourself on the back for being a bit innovative and exciting.
Each serving of this quinoa porridge recipe contains around 250 calories, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein. (Not including sweetener.) It makes an excellent, complex-carbohydrate, plant-based breakfast option. Better yet, each serving costs around $1.00!
Oats are not the enemy, to be clear. They boast numerous health benefits — they are high in fiber, and can help lower dietary cholesterol. But if you are keen on trying something new, and if you enjoy a different texture, then try using a non-cereal ingredient in place of oats.
The world’s favorite grains — rice, wheat, corn, and oats — come from the cereal family of plants. Their long, grassy stems produce edible, starchy seeds. Quinoa, on the other hand, is part of a non-grass, flowering plant family called “pseudo-cereals.” (You might see them labeled as “ancient grains.”) Amaranth and buckwheat also fall into this category. Pseudo-cereals likewise produce starchy seeds, but these ones are naturally gluten-free. And, compared to oats, quinoa also higher in protein (containing all of the essential amino acids to produce a complete protein), fiber, and trace minerals.
An interesting fact about quinoa is that it is naturally lower in pesticides than most grocery store items. The plant has a built-in defense mechanism against pests (a bitter taste) in the form of phytochemicals, called saponins. This naturally-occurring coating makes it unnecessary for farmers to spray quinoa like other, more vulnerable plants. Obviously, pesticide usage varies country to country, and no plant is 100% immune. However, as a general rule, quinoa is one of the safer items on your supermarket shelves. For consumers, this means that your food dollars are better spent on plants with a higher absorption rate of pesticides.
Non-organic quinoa, along with avocados, kiwis, pineapples, onions, and other “tough-skinned” foods, are relatively equal in pesticide levels (a.k.a. very low) to their organic counterparts. Save your money. Foods like berries, tomatoes, mushrooms, greens, peanuts, and other vulnerable plants are more worth your dollars.
Saponins are present in many plants: soybeans, most legumes, onions, garlic, ginseng, and certain leafy vegetables, etc. You can tell if a plant has saponins if, when washed, the invisible coating on the food reacts with the water to froth like detergent. (Most food producers will have previously removed the phytochemical during processing). It is bitter to humans, like bugs, and will irritate the digestive tract if consumed in large quantities.
So, what does this mean when buying and preparing quinoa? It means that nine out of ten times your quinoa will be saponin-free and ready to cook, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a rinse, just in case.
A SWEET AND NOURISHING QUINOA PORRIDGE RECIPE
- ½ cup of quinoa
- 1 cup of water
- ¾ cup plant-based milk (opt for sugar-free, if possible): almond, coconut, etc.
- 1 medium apple
- ½ medium sweet potato
- ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
- Sweetener of choice: stevia, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.
- Garnish! (Ideas: sliced almonds, ground flaxseeds, mixed berries, etc.)
- Rinse quinoa under a running tap. Combine the quinoa and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- While you are waiting, wash and chop the sweet potato and apple into very small cubes. (Leave the peel on for extra fiber). Add to the saucepan, along with cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
- After it boils, reduce the heat to low and let simmer 10-15 minutes until all ingredients are soft.
- Add plant-based milk and increase the heat slightly to make a porridge consistency.
- Remove from heat and add sweetener to your desired level. Pour into bowl and garnish with sliced almonds, ground flaxseeds, mixed berries, etc.
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