By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

Quinoa, pronounced “keen-WA,” is a food grown in the high Andes, primarily Bolivia and Peru.

It is not technically a grain nor a cereal, but botanically something in between. It has been a staple in those Andean countries for centuries, though with the worldwide increase in demand, they are finding it harder to afford since most of their production is exported. It does not grow well in the United States.

Why the recent interest in quinoa? We are in an era when rightly or wrongly people are avoiding gluten like the plague. Gluten is a protein common in wheat, barley, rye and oats, among other foods. With the trend to avoid gluten, quinoa fills a gap with a healthful grain-like product that fits well with many recipes.

For example, one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes is called taboulleh. In Galveston, check out the Mediterranean Chef on The Strand for an excellent preparation of this traditional salad.

The catch for gluten-phobes is that taboulleh is usually made with bulgur wheat and despite its wonderful taste and nourishing qualities, it has that old gluten fiend lurking around the parsley, onions and tomatoes.

So here is a quinoa taboulleh, courtesy of my friend and colleague Dr. Andy Weil — tasty and, with the red quinoa and beets, it is just beautiful. If you don’t feel like messing with the beets, you might just cut up some crunchy Grannie Smith apples as a substitute and use the regular white quinoa.

Quinoa has the highest protein level of any of the usual or exotic grains, and is rich in magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, phosphorus and riboflavin.

The sales of quinoa in the U.S. have risen dramatically. Since 2007, U.S. imports have swelled from around 1 million to more than 14 million pounds a year. The price has also risen from around $4 per pound to more than $7.50.

Is it worth it? I think so, since this is a really healthy protein source, especially when we compare its nutritional value, fat content and cost to various meats and even fish.

It is highly flexible in the kitchen. For example, quinoa can be substituted for rice, couscous, barley, farro, pasta and other grains and high carb starches in most recipes.

At a lunch medical conference recently, one of the team from the University of Texas Medical Branch’s colorectal surgery group brought an awesome quinoa salad her chef husband had whipped up. I had no problem going for a second portion, despite being regaled with the less than appetizing pictures of gut and anorectal pathology.

Now whether or not you are gluten sensitive or allergic, give quinoa a try at your table. It is a healthy, easy, fun food to cook with lots of interesting possibilities for the palate.
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Coastal Quinoa Veggie Salad
Salad
6 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups black beans
1⁄2 cup cucumber, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup celery, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup red pepper, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup yellow pepper, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup broccoli, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup cauliflower, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup tomato, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup red cabbage, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup corn, roughly chopped
Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste

Dressing
MAKES: 12 cups
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
1 cup canola oil
1 cup basil or cilantro
Mix together all of salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
Purée all of the dressing ingredients in a blender.
Pour the dressing to taste over the salad and serve.
SOURCE: (Recipe provided by Coastal Catering’s Chef Marshall Monroe)
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Quinoa Taboulleh Salad
SERVES: 4-6

1 pound beets
2 cups red quinoa
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 garlic cloves, mashed
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1⁄3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1⁄4 cup fresh mint, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
2 ounces arugula
1⁄4 pomegranate, seeds removed and reserved
1⁄4 cup chopped Marcona almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Pierce the beets in a few places with a fork and lay out evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender and easily pierced with a knife.
Remove the beets from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Use paper towels to peel off the skins or your hands will be pink for days. Cut the beets into cubes and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring four cups of salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the quinoa is dry and fluffy. Let cool.
In a salad bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.
Add the beets, quinoa, parsley, mint, scallions and arugula and toss well to combine.
Divide the salad among serving plates. Top with pomegranate seeds and almonds before serving.
(SOURCE: Recipe porivided by www.drweil.com/drw/u/RCP02412/Quinoa-Tabbouleh.html)

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.