Although quinoa may be unfamiliar to North Americans, it was a staple food for the Incas and has been grown in the Andes for more than 5,000 years. Technically a "pseudocereal," quinoa is often considered a grain, even though it is not a grass. It is more closely related to beets and spinach. Unlike wheat and other grains, it is gluten-free, but it can be substituted for grain in most recipes.
Although primarily a carbohydrate, quinoa is relatively high in protein - one cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein - and it contains all of the essential amino acids. A good source of magnesium, manganese, and calcium, quinoa also provides vitamin B2, vitamin E, iron, phosphorus, copper, and zinc. It is higher in fat than many true grains.
Quinoa is a source of oxalates, which may cause problems for those with a history of kidney stones or other conditions that require a low-oxalate diet. The outside of raw quinoa is covered with saponins, which were traditionally used as a diuretic and laxative. If you don't want these effects, be sure to rinse your quinoa before cooking it. Quinoa is increasingly available packaged or as a bulk food. Be sure to buy seeds that are dry and free from moisture or discoloration. Because of its relatively high fat content, it keeps best in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Since quinoa does act like a grain in many recipes, you may also be able to find quinoa pasta, quinoa breakfast cereal, and quinoa flour. Use these like their more familiar counterparts, but note that since quinoa lacks gluten, baked goods made with 100% quinoa flour will not rise properly. Use a mixture of half quinoa flour and half wheat flour for best results.
To remove the saponins on the outside of quinoa seeds, wash them in a strainer, making sure to rub the seeds against each other and circulate the water through them. When a test seed no longer tastes bitter, the saponins have been washed away. Quinoa is a quick-cooking grain - it takes only about 15 minutes to prepare by boiling. Use one cup of seeds to two cups of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the quinoa is fluffy, like rice. Quinoa more than doubles in volume during cooking.
Small red beans have never been as well-known as their larger and meatier cousin, the red kidney bean. But they stepped into the spotlight in 2007 when the USDA discovered that small red beans had the highest antioxidant activity of all the foods tested. Because many antioxidants are contained in plant pigments, it stands to reason that these small, dark-red beans would be a rich source of them. But scientists were surprised when these beans stole the show - small red beans showed higher antioxidant activity than wild blueberries.
Research at Colorado State University confirms that the phenol and anthocyanins that give bean coats their color have antioxidant properties and posits that there is a link between a darker seed coat and higher phenol levels. Beans have long been known for their fiber, protein, and minerals, as well as their antioxidant properties. Small red beans are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins.
Small red beans are also known as Mexican red beans and, as half of the classic combo of Louisiana red beans and rice, they are sometimes called Louisiana red beans. Although they resemble kidney beans, they are smaller and darker in color. Either kidney beans or pinto beans can be substituted for them, and both were found to have nearly as powerful antioxidant effects. New Orleans cooks, however, say that the larger, meatier kidney bean does not provide the right taste.
Since the discovery of their antioxidant prowess, small red beans have become somewhat easier to find, and canned versions are no longer hard to come by. Don't confuse these small red beans with red azuki beans popular in Asia, which have a different taste and nutrition profile.
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