Few may know how to properly pronounce the word (it's "KEEN-wah"), but during the past decade, more and more people have become familiar with the taste of this diminutive, nutritious grain.
Cultivated in South America for thousands of years, quinoa was a cornerstone of the Inca diet. It's a comparatively recent addition to U.S. supermarkets and health-food stores, but its popularity has been growing steadily. This is no doubt due to its exceptional nutritional profile, which boasts a protein content as rich as milk and an alphabetic list of vitamins and minerals (including B vitamins, and vitamin E, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium). Its gentle nutty flavor and speedy preparation time (it cooks more quickly than rice and is just as easy to make) only heighten its appeal.
Both the grain -- which is actually the fruit of the Chenopodium quinoa plant -- and the spinachlike leaves are edible, but the leaves are a rare find. If you spot some at a farmers' market, use them in a salad. The grain is most commonly available in red or white -- each of which grows on a different variety of the plant -- and should be stored in the refrigerator. Red is less prevalent, so if you can't find it use white instead. Either can be served hot or cold and will add a lovely texture to baked goods -- not to mention, of course, a whole roster of nutrients. Isn't that why you bought quinoa in the first place?