Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”), is a highly nutritious grain that comes from the Andes mountains of South America and was one of the three staple foods of the Incas. Technically quinoa is a fruit that is used as a grain, so it contains no gluten, which causes digestive problems for many people. Quinoa is not only a complete protein source but it contains more protein than any other grain (around of 16 percent, compared with 14 percent for wheat and 7.5 percent for rice), which makes it an excellent food for people transitioning off of a meat centered diet. It is also high in iron, calcium and magnesium. In recipes it is often used as a substitute for rice but it can also be used as a porridge, a dessert, or in middle-eastern dishes like tabouli. With its increased popularity, you can now find quinoa being sold in the form of pasta and polenta.
During its growth cycle the outer coating of quinoa has a very bitter taste which makes it undesirable to most insects and birds, therefore needing very little man-made protection. Some distributors process it to remove the bitter coating, but if not all it takes is a thorough rinse before cooking to rid yourself of the harsh coating that can also be slightly toxic in large amounts. Once boiled, quinoa has a very light, nutty flavor that works well as a side dish, a main course, or as a creative addition to soups. It’s also very convenient as it takes less time to cook than rice and is generally easier to digest.
Aside from its nutrition and taste, another good reason to purchase quinoa is that it is grown in South American countries like Bolivia, Peru, and Chile where third world farmers work hard to produce quinoa with minimal equipment and resources, as compared with our modern farming methods. Thankfully it has also managed to remain largely untainted and unaltered in this voracious world of corporate agribusiness. Unlike many staple crops that have lost most of their varieties, Peru and Bolivia maintain seed banks with 1,800 types of quinoa. With all of its virtues it’s easy to see why the Incas called it the “Mother of all grains” and the United Nations classified quinoa as a “Super crop”.
Indoor sprout gardens
If you are someone who is motivated to eat healthier and grow your own food but feel intimidated, either by lack of money, space, resources, or time, then learning how to grow fresh sprouts at home may be the perfect way to begin. Sprouts are economical, highly nutritious, and easy to grow in large quantities, especially after you’ve done some experimenting. As opposed to an outdoor garden, that may need ample sunlight and quality soil, sprouts require only a tiny amount of space and can be grown in a sprouting kit, a mesh bag, a glass ball-jar, or any large container that allows the seeds to stay moist while the air circulates around them to prevent mold.
Sprouts are essentially baby plants that are bursting with living enzymes, protein, and minerals. By weight, sprouts are generally more nutritious than most vegetables. Some of the most common sprouts include: mung bean, alfalfa, broccoli, buckwheat, chick pea, clover, mustard, radish and sunflower. Studies have shown that certain sprouts contain high levels of anti-oxidants which aid in the prevention of cancer, asthma, and premature aging. UCLA researchers have recently reported that a compound in broccoli sprouts can protect against respiratory inflammations that cause conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Studies have also shown that phytoestrogens, which are plentiful in many sprouts, play an important role in prevention of menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease.
For most people the main drawback to eating sprouts may be the taste, or at least the perception of how they taste as so many of us are too picky to give them a try. If you fall into this category then try mixing sprouts with your favorite sauces or salad dressings to mask their “sprouty” aftertaste. Sprouts are extremely versatile and can be added to sandwiches, soups, wraps, or dips. Also, try sprouting a combination of seeds that include some of the spicier ones like mustard and radish to make the salad mix more palatable.
I find that one of the great things about having a variety of sprouts on hand is that they are a great “grab and go” snack food. Most Americans complain that they are too busy to eat healthy, so they opt for buying between meal snacks that are either heavily salted or overly sweet. But when you have a few containers of sprouts in the frig you can easily take them with you in a small plastic container to be used as a quick fix that will give you energy rather than exhaust it.
Since organic seeds are inexpensive and easy to grow, taking some time to find the ones you like best can be a fun project. Since they grow quickly you can make it into a little science experiment for the whole family, watching how they change from day to day. A large bag of sproutable seeds may cost anywhere from $2-$5 and will yield about six servings, as compared to organic green vegetables that will cost approximately $2 per serving. What's more, as long as you keep the seeds in a cool dry place they should stay fresh for at least two years, which also differs from harvested vegetables that have a much shorter shelf life.
To summarize, even if you’ve always thought of sprouts as something that only old time hippies or eccentric vegans grow in their basement, keep an open mind and give them a try. Use them as a substitute for nuts or trail mix. Throw them into a soup or blended drink to get used to their texture. Admittedly, their taste is far removed from the flavors at your local fast food restaurant, but with some creativity you’ll be surprised how your own tastes may change.