Not too awfully long ago, I decided to say goodbye to the bulk of my bulky carbohydrate intake. I began stripping my diet of “carbs” of the white variety—food items such as rice and pastas that are refined and processed, and virtually stripped of their nutrients.
When it comes to carbs, the truth of the matter is, even the ones touted as simple can be complex to digest, and sugar-packed. And even the seemingly good carbs have their drawbacks. Many are loaded with gluten, something that has the potential to make even those without official sensitivities or celiac disease feel tired and bloated. For this reason, I’ve also stepped away from many whole wheat products.
Although we’ve been force-fed these “carbs” for decades, thankfully, now we are increasingly acknowledging that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. While carbo-loading isn’t a sin, if we are going to load, such as the night before a race or other athletic activity, or even when it comes to simply fueling our bodies for daily functioning, we should be careful about which carbs we are selecting for optimal nutritional benefit and performance.
In marches quinoa (pronounced KEEN-Wa). With the move away from the aforementioned foods acting as staples in my diet, toward a primarily whole food diet rich with veggies, fruits, nuts and legumes, I’ve recently said a loud and proud hello to quinoa. Now I incorporate this trusty seed into almost every day of my life—at least every day that I cook dinner at home.
Although it looks like a grain and acts like a grain, in fact, quinoa isn’t a grain but it’s still healthy. Much like the carbs naturally found in vegetables, the carbs in quinoa have a low glycemic index, meaning they are digested more slowly. The beauty of consuming foods that have a low glycemic index is they can help you lose weight more easily and improve your blood sugar—avoiding spikes and crashes—while simultaneously improving your cholesterol level.
Much like rice or pasta, quinoa can take on endless forms, therefore making it an everyday hero at the dinner table. While I loosely follow recipes from time to time, I tend to prefer conjuring up ideas in my head and quickly whipping something up in an experimental manner. And, because I am the master of over-committing and trying to squeeze too many things into any given day, quick and easy is an absolute must. Meaning by the time the quinoa is done cooking (between 15-20 minutes on stove-top), the rest of my meal must be ready to go so I can sit back, prop my feet up, relax, indulge and enjoy.
Not quite convinced yet?
Here are some easy suggestions for incorporating quinoa into your life—at least your post-work, dinnertime life—every single day of the week.
NOTE: The following suggestions can be adapted using different variations or brands of quinoa. I typically purchase TruRoots Organic Quinoa from a local health food store and prefer to switch it up between the red and whole grain varieties.
Sunday: Nothing says Sunday quite like brunch. A tofu scramble with some veggie sausage rests perfectly atop a bed of quinoa. Looking for a pop of color? Make Dr. Seuss proud with this green eggs and ham recipe served over a bowl of quinoa. If you prefer to keep quinoa as the supporting star in your dish, replace a typical side of toast with quinoa to accompany this vegan soufflé omelet. Or, if you feel up to branching out and taking a different spin on things, try your hand at these Cajun quinoa cakes. Wash it down with a mimosa and you’ll be set for the day, or ready for a nap.
Monday: After a long hectic Monday workday, take advantage of indulging on a light, refreshing quinoa dish that requires little effort and just a few simple ingredients. While individual discretion is encouraged, I personally enjoy combining the following select ingredients, mixed together with a cooled pot of cooked quinoa:
- Whole green grapes
- Sliced strawberries
- Diced onions
- Cubed zucchini
- A can of chickpeas
Depending on how intense your sweet tooth is, you can adjust the ratio of onion to fruit to your liking. Serve this quinoa concoction over, under, or alongside a helping of spinach and/or arugula, and toss with a fruity vinaigrette to finish.
Tuesday: One of my favorite flavors is curry, of the green, yellow, or red variety. Recently I have avoided curry dishes because of my aversion to rice. What I failed to realize is curry can be matched with quinoa, and rightly so. If you aren’t sure which curry you might favor, here is a brief curry overview, including a recipe to make your own. Curry compliments tofu, vegetables, or a combination of both, to make for a filling, hearty dish. If you don’t feel like making your own curry, curry sauce can be found by the jar to allow for an even quicker fix.
Wednesday: Burnt out on quinoa yet? Good, I didn’t think so. We’re only halfway there! The most obvious way to turn quinoa into spaghetti is simply replacing the noodles and calling it done. But it’s not the only way. For this reason, Wednesday is dedicated to quinoa-stuffed bell peppers with a spaghetti twist. Depending on your pepper preference, and availability at the store, choose any large sized bell peppers that appear suitable for stuffing. For my own experiment, I lightly boiled my selected green bell peppers first to soften, although that is not a necessary step. Gut the peppers and/or cut them in half before stuffing with a generous amount of cooked quinoa. Once filled, generously douse with your favorite spaghetti sauce and pop in the oven to cook for 15-30 minutes at 350 degrees (shorter time if you parboiled the peppers first). Once complete, sprinkle a dash of nutritional yeast and serve. Much like traditional spaghetti, this is one dish you really can’t mess up.
If you aren’t a fan of peppers, but are still intrigued by quinoa-stuffed vegetables, here is a recipe for roasted acorn squash stuffed with quinoa mushroom pilaf.
Thursday: No week is complete without a simple stir-fry. Mushrooms, broccoli, peppers, tofu and onions happen to be my go-to. Depending on your level of hunger, place the desired amounts of your favorite fresh, raw, cut veggies in a non-stick wok or pan with about an inch of water. Cover loosely with a breathable lid and cook between medium and high heat. Once the water has boiled down and out, reduce to a simmer and add Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to achieve a more grilled flavor, stir-fry effect. (Think of Bragg’s as soy sauce without having your body swell up from a sodium overdose. Pure genius.) Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking, layer over your quinoa. For an added punch, sprinkle with chili powder and voila!
Friday: Time for a salad of sorts to help you finish off your week strong, but not overstuffed. Although it varies week to week based on what I have handy in my refrigerator, my quinoa “salad” typically consists of a few simple ingredients, such as: spinach, pine nuts, blueberries (or other seasonal fruit), and baked tofu, topped with nutritional yeast and dressing of choice. Here are a few especially attractive salad numbers that I have on my short list to recreate soon. Any of the following can be served amongst a helping of leafy greens to make sure you get your roughage fill for the day.
- Pineapple Fried Quinoa (Pictured Above)
- Quinoa Salad with Figs and Berries Galore
- Quinoa Salad with Creamy Balsamic
- Quinwow Salad
- The Next Day Salad
Saturday: Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Now, it’s time for leftovers! Go ahead and “treat yo’self” to a combination of any of the week’s creations, that is, if there are any left.