Side Orders: How to incorporate protein-, fiber-rich quinoa into your diet

Organic Colorful Raw Quinoa in a Bowl quinoa tile food / Getty Images

Quinoa is one of those beautiful foods that has been around for centuries. It's been cultivated in South America for more than 5,000 years, but has only become a household name among North American consumers over the past decade or so. It's part of the popular Mediterranean diet and is among those delicious, healthful seeds that nutritionists and other health-minded people recommend we consume on a regular basis.

Pamela Kelle, registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist in Chattanooga, says quinoa (pronounced keen-wah or kee-no-uh) has a number of health benefits. In addition to being an excellent source of fiber. Although insoluble, it's also a valuable source of complex carbohydrates for those who cannot tolerate gluten.

"It's also a good source of protein for anyone cutting down on animal protein," she says. "It's actually a seed, served as a grain."

Quinoa comes in three colors - white, red and black - and one isn't better for your health than another, Kelle says.

photo Anne Braly

"The color variety does not affect nutrient content - only the flavor, in subtle ways," she says, adding that quinoas with more color - the red and black varieties - tend to taste a little nuttier. Other than that, there's very little difference; it's just a matter of personal taste.

"I like quinoa very much and use it at least once weekly," Kelle says. Here are some suggestions she offers for making it a regular part of your diet.

* It's great eaten cold under a salad of raw veggies dressed with poppyseed dressing.

* Serve it hot mixed with black beans and tomatoes.

* Use it as a substitute for pasta in a dish.

* And in the winter, it's wonderful served hot for breakfast with a little butter and honey in it.

Microwave varieties are easy to prepare, and Kelle feels food manufacturers have done an excellent job packaging quinoa in a manner that protects the nutrient content without adding preservatives.

"You can now find it in most grocery stores, and it's often served in restaurants," she adds.

Food blogger Maria Lichty has just come out with her first cookbook, "Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook." It's filled with recipes that celebrate family, friends and community, but what's really special is that the recipes are all health-oriented - several with quinoa - without compromising flavor.

Lichty's recipe collection spans mealtime, from Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Streusel Muffins for breakfast to Caprese Garlic Bread With Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Basil for dinner. The recipe I particularly liked was her take on enchiladas. There's no meat in this dish but plenty of protein and flavor with black beans and quinoa playing the starring roles. To make this even more healthful, it doesn't have the tortillas that you might expect in an enchilada casserole - it just has all the flavor. If you want, you can serve it with tortilla chips to scoop up all that's deliciousness, but it's fine on its own as a vegetarian dish with the black beans and quinoa - something we all need, as Kelle says, at least once a week.

Black Bean-Quinoa Enchilada Bake

1 cup quinoa, rinsed with cold water

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 cup frozen corn kernels

Juice of 1 small lime

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups enchilada sauce, store-bought or homemade

2 cups shredded Mexican cheese

For garnish (optional): sliced scallions, sliced radishes, sliced avocado and/or sour cream

Tortilla chips (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa and 2 cups water, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove the pot from the heat, and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Cover and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno, and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and corn, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, chili powder, cumin and cilantro, and remove the pot from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa and black beans. Add the sauteed vegetable mixture and enchilada sauce; stir to combine. Fold in 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese, and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the edges of the casserole are bubbling. Garnish with your choice of toppings, and serve warm with tortilla chips, if desired.

Tonight's the night

Carrabba's Italian Grill is teaming up with Folds of Honor, an organization that provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and disabled service members, to raise money for its Children's Fund with a special four-course wine dinner this evening. It's not too late to call for a reservation at

If you can't make it tonight, you can still support Folds of Honor's Children's Fund through Saturday, Sept. 28, by rounding up your check to the nearest dollar after a meal there. Or you can make a separate monetary donation that will go directly into the fund.

Carrabba's is located at 2040 Hamilton Place Blvd.

Email Anne Braly at