Grain Expectations

The craze for fiber- and protein-rich superfoods continues unabated. From acai berries to flaxseeds to pomegranates, these nutrient-dense fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables lower bad cholesterol and are said to help the heart, mind and body. But no list of superfoods is complete without quinoa. The whole grain, beloved by the Incas who considered it the “mother of all grains,” has only recently become the rage amongst health-conscious consumers.


Quinoa (KEEN-wah) was first cultivated in the Andes more than 4,000 years ago. The Incas deemed it sacred and used it in religious ceremonies. Spanish settlers and others soon discovered its nutritional benefits. The seeds are loaded with vitamins and minerals (iron, magnesium, etc.) as well as protein (up to nine grams per serving) and are gluten free. It is often cooked a la couscous or rice, making it an easy substitute for both dishes. A number of food manufacturers, including California-based Ancient Harvest, have created pasta lines using quinoa and chefs around the country, such as Willis Loughhead at The Palm Court in New York City, build dishes around it. It can be mixed with beans, veggies or used in a stir fry. My favorite recipe uses quinoa, infused with fresh mint, as a side dish to lamb tagine, a traditional North African stew. The following recipe is altered a bit from the one I found on


Lamb Tagine with Herbed Quinoa


For the Tagine:

2 pounds lamb meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1 pinch saffron

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 lemon, zested

2 medium onions, cut into 1-inch cubes

5 carrots, peeled, cut into fourths, then sliced lengthwise into thin strips

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 low-sodium canned broth

1 can tomato paste


1 cup quinoa

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint


In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, the paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, salt, ginger, saffron and coriander. Add the diced lamb, toss and refrigerate at least four hours.


Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pot. Start adding the lamb in small portions and cook until brown. Add onions and carrots to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, chicken broth and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender.


Cook the quinoa according to manufacturer directions. Drain and add chopped mint. Serve with the tagine on top.


Shandana A. Durrani