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In the mix
Secret Ingredient is a monthly feature that highlights an ingredient and its uses. If you are a chef or home cook with a favorite ingredient and would like to be featured, email Assistant Features Editor Kimberly Dupps Truesdell at
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Downtown Deli and Marketplace offers a quinoa salad that includes spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
secret ingredient

Secret Ingredient: Quinoa, a protein-rich seed

Nutty, protein-rich seed can be used in any meal of day

Deli owner Amy Pinckney touts the nutritional value of quinoa.

Amy Pinckney is in the business of making food that tastes good.

But for the owner of Downtown Deli and Marketplace, her favorite ingredient isn’t just about flavor – it’s about nutrition.

“I like the texture and flavor,” Pinckney says. “(But) the nutritional value of quinoa is big for me.”

Incan for “mother grain, ”quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is compared to milk in protein value. It is high in vitamins B and E, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.

“Quinoa is a complete protein,” says Pinckney, who has been cooking with quinoa for eight years. “It is great for vegetarians and vegans because it gives them something to build on throughout the day.”

Pinckney serves a quinoa salad at the deli and often adds it to soups because it doesn’t absorb liquid the way rice does.

“Most people are usually fond about (quinoa) and get excited about it,” says Pinckney, describing the flavor as nutty. “For me, I love the nutrients.”

What is it: Quinoa is a seed – not a whole grain, though it is often prepared in the same way.

History: Quinoa was a staple food of the Inca and has been eaten for more than 5,000 years in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile.

Where to buy: Pre-packaged quinoa in plain and flavored varieties is available at mass grocers, such as Kroger and Meijer, specialty stores and natural grocers. It is also available in bulk at health food shops and online.

Cost: $3.99 a pound at the Health Food Shoppe (3515 N. Anthony Blvd.)

To prepare: Before cooking, it is best to rinse quinoa to remove any small stones, dirt or plant material. Pinckney cooks her quinoa in a rice cooker, but it can be cooked on the stove. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in saucepan. Add 1 cup quinoa, bring back to boil and cover; cook over medium heat for 12 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all the water. Remove from heat, fluff, cover and let stand for 15 minutes.

How to eat: Quinoa is versatile and can be eaten as part of any meal. Pinckney says it can be served as a breakfast cereal rather than oatmeal, in a salad, as a side dish or in soup. Quinoa can also be milled into flour and included in baked goods – even dessert.

Tips: Increase the water in the cooking ratio for a softer texture. Pinckney also suggests using light flavorings in quinoa salads, such as balsamic vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice.

Restaurant staple: Pinckney opened Downtown Deli and Marketplace as an extension of the Health Food Shoppe in 2011 (she has since began operations on her own) and brought some of the store’s recipes with her, including the one for quinoa salad. The dish features spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and feta tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

– Kimberly Dupps Truesdell, The Journal Gazette