Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quinoa vs Rice – which is better?

Everybody knows rice. I mean, who hasn’t tried it at some point? It’s ubiquitous all over the world. But quinoa (pronounced keen’-wah) is lesser known, and that’s a shame, because it really is delicious.

Like most people, I eat rice, and I’ve tried all sorts. Rice comes in a few different colors: red, brown, white and black, and there’s even wild rice, but that’s a member of a different plant species. I like rice, but it hasn’t featured hugely on my blog, although it was most recently in my post on Nasi Goreng. In dishes like that, it’s really a necessity. But I actually prefer quinoa. Let’s compare the two and see why. Let's start with rice.


As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in Asia and the West Indies. It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after maize (corn), according to data for 2010.

Genetic evidence has shown that rice originates from a single domestication 8,200–13,500 years ago, in the Pearl River valley region of China. Previously, archaeological evidence had suggested that rice was domesticated in the Yangtze River valley region in China. From East Asia, rice spread to Southeast and South Asia. Rice was introduced to Europe through Western Asia, and to the Americas through European colonization.

Though rice has some nutritional benefits, its high starch and therefore carbohydrate content are a cause for concern. Certainly a necessary staple in countries where people are starving. They need as many carbohydrates as they can find. But for the rest of us in the Western world, who sit a vast majority of the day, I think it should be avoided or at least minimized. It’s just too starchy. It drives up blood glucose which can lead to diabetes.

Another cause for concern is rice and rice products contain arsenic, a known poison and Group 1 carcinogen. There is no safe level of arsenic, but, as of 2012, a limit of 10 parts per billion has been established in the United States for drinking water, twice the level of 5 parts per billion originally proposed by the EPA. Consumption of one serving of some varieties of rice gives more exposure to arsenic than consumption of 1 liter of water that contains 5 parts per billion arsenic; however, the amount of arsenic in rice varies widely with the greatest concentration in brown rice and rice grown on land formerly used to grow cotton; in the United States, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying this issue, but has not established a limit. White rice grown in the afore-mentioned states, which account for 76 percent of American-produced rice, had higher levels of arsenic, possibly because of past use of arsenic based pesticides to control cotton weevils. Rice from Thailand and India contain the least arsenic among rice varieties in one study.

Mmmh, worth thinking about. So, enough about rice. We know it well enough. What a lot of people don’t know about is quinoa.


Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It's actually a "pseudo-cereal" rather than a true cereal, or grain.

Quinoa originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru where it was successfully domesticated 3,000 - 4,000 yrs ago for human consumption, though archaeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5,200-7,000 yrs ago.

The Incas who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as the “mother of all grains” and it was the Incan emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season.

The nutrient composition is very good compared with common cereals. Quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Nutritional evaluations indicate that it is a source of complete protein and is a good source of calcium, which is useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest.

Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous.

Most boxed/packaged quinoa has already been rinsed for convenience, and cooking instructions therefore suggest only a brief rinse before cooking, if at all. If quinoa has not been rinsed, the first step is to remove the saponins, a process that requires rinsing the quinoa in ample running water for several minutes in either a fine strainer or a cheesecloth. Removal of the saponin helps with digestion; the soapy nature of the compound makes it act as a laxative.

One cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups (or less) of water to a boil with one cup of seed, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 10–15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).

Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavor. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.

Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food when mixed with, for example, honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes. Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-free and gluten-free baking.

Quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. As I've explored here before, germination activates natural enzymes and multiplies vitamin content. It, in fact, has a notably short germination period: only 2–4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, e.g., 12 hours with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the seeds, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.

With regard to overall vitamins and minerals, quinoa scores highest with more Vitamin B12, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, and Zinc than brown or white rice. It’s lower in carbs and higher in protein and fiber, as illustrated below.

NUTRITIONAL COMPARISON (based on 100g of raw product)

Brown Rice
White Rice
63 g
72.8 g
79 g
13.1 g
7.5 g
6.6 g
5.9 g
3.4 g
0 g
5.8 g
2.68 g
0.58 g

Conclusion: while quinoa and brown rice have similar compositions, quinoa comes out on top all around. 

Because it's clear how healthy quinoa is, you might want to try it sometime, rotating it in among the other grains you eat. There must be a good reason why the United Nations recently declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa”.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Grilling Trout

In June I wrote a post about my trip to Mammoth Lakes, California, and how we had fresh trout for dinner. Though I gave some hint as to how the fish were prepared that evening, I thought I’d spend more time on it today, considering we recently enjoyed it again.

And I wanted to focus on trout, because it is really a wonderful fish and I don't hear much about it, either from friends making it, or on cooking shows. It's delicate, moist, flaky, and mildly sweet and needs very little to taste great. If you’re not able to head to your nearest lake and fish for your dinner, but you have a Costco nearby, you’re in business. In fact, as my husband pointed out, it's actually cheaper to get it at Costco. By the time you buy your fishing license, get bait, etc. you've spent more (of course there's the whole fishing experience thing, if you're into that). Costco sells a 4-pack of fresh, whole trout, which are the next best thing. Granted, I’m not the one who deals with the head and tail (I leave that to the fisherman at home), but I think I could, if I had to.

Trout is wonderfully healthy and a good source of Omega-3’s.  Omega 3’s are at critical lows in the SAD (Standard American Diet) and we should be eating more of them.  Omega 3’s cannot be manufactured by the body, so they must be obtained from food and fish is an excellent way to add this critical nutrient to a healthy diet.

Omega 3’s offer many health benefits:
  • They can alleviate inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and help reduce the amount of medication taken for them.
  • They prevent the blood from forming clots, which therefore reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • They protect against heart and circulatory problems and are good for the healthy development of the brain and eyes.
  • People who regularly consume oily fish (such as trout) are less likely to suffer dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Making trout a part of our diet can also help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
  • In addition, this fish offers Vitamin B12, B6, niacin, potassium, phosphorous and selenium. Fat-soluble vitamins are plentiful in oily fish such as Vitamins A, D, E and K.
Other oily fish are salmon, sardines, swordfish, fresh tuna, anchovies, eel, kipper, mackerel, carp, smelt, and bluefish. As oily fish contain a certain amount of fat it is best to use cooking methods where additional oil is not needed. Therefore, grilling, baking, steaming, and pan-frying are ideal.

And finally, Rainbow Trout is a good choice in terms of sustainability, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s annual Seafood Watch guide.

Ok, so enough about that. We were in the mood for trout again so we headed to Costco and here’s what we did with it.

Grilled Trout with Herbs

Preheat your grill.

Take each trout and rinse it well under running tap water. Pat dry with paper towels.  Place fish on cutting board. Open cavity and stuff with a few sprigs of fresh lemon thyme, lemon slices, salt and pepper. Close up cavity. My husband will use a bamboo skewer, snapped in half, and weave it in and out to sew up the cavity, if you will. This helps prevent the stuffing from falling out when he turns the fish on the grill.

Do this with the remaining fish.  Place the fish on the heated grill and grill about 8-10 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fish. The rule of thumb is generally about 10 minutes per inch, measuring at the thickest part of the fish, of course.

Remove from grill. Lift fish head with one hand while sticking a fork in under the gills on the underside. Gently pry the skeleton away from the meat by lifting the body up. The meat should easily pull away from the bones. Use gravity. Flip the fish over and do the same on the other side. The head, skeleton and tail will then all be attached to one another and you can throw this out. Congratulations - you've deboned the fish in one fell swoop! Remove bamboo skewers and stuffing from cavity. 

Serve "butterflied" (open) with melted lemon butter.  In my opinion, the best veggie to serve alongside this fish is green beans. Dribble a little melted lemon butter on those, too. Maybe sprinkle on both some sliced almonds for a little texture.

You can also make fish tacos with trout. Simply pan-fry a filet for 5-7 minutes and add to a corn tortilla, along with shredded green cabbage with lime juice. Sprinkle on a little green Tabasco sauce or salsa verde and some “white sauce”, made from a little mayo and sour cream mixed together with a bit of lime juice and grated lime peel.

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