Quinoa was the darling of the Incas, who referred to the nutty-tasting seed as the “mother grain.” And for good reason. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is gluten-free, high in iron, and low in carbs, and is considered a complete protein with all eight essential amino acids. Like rice, it cooks in water, expanding to three or four times its size, and can be substituted for rice or couscous in nearly any dish.

The bulk of the world’s supply is grown in South America, but more than 20 years ago a Colorado farmer named Ernie New took a chance on it on his 1,300-acre organic farm in the San Luis Valley. “Back in those days there wasn’t a market for it,” recalls New. “Nobody knew how to grow it, clean it, or cook it.” But he appreciated the plant for its minimal water requirements and ability to grow at altitude. Now, New marvels at quinoa’s newfound popularity and skyrocketing demand.

Use either traditional quinoa or the black variety in this innovative paella from Jef Forsberg at Boulder’s Sunflower Organic Dining.

Quinoa Paella (Serves 8)

  • 2 pounds mussels or clams
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into parts
  • 1 pound chorizo sausage, sliced
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced
  • 2 large green peppers, diced
  • 2 poblano chiles, diced
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (you may substitute canned tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 3 cups quinoa
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 6 cups organic chicken stock
  • 8 large sea scallops, quartered
  • 1 14-ounce can artichoke bottoms, drained and chopped
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, chopped (about ? cup)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Clean mussels or clams by submerging them in a large bowl of very salty water for 30 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot, season chicken with salt and pepper, and sear off the chicken pieces, getting good color on the skin. Add chorizo to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and cook with the chicken and sausages for a few minutes. Add the peppers, chiles, garlic, and tomatoes. Add the saffron and smoked paprika and cook for a few minutes.

Add quinoa to the pan and deglaze with wine. Add five cups of chicken stock and simmer on low. When half the stock has been absorbed, add the mussels, scallops, artichokes, roasted peppers, and corn to the paella. Cover tightly with a lid until all of the mussels are open. Remove the lid and check the quinoa for doneness. If it’s a little underdone, add the remaining cup of stock. Paella is done when the quinoa is translucent and all the liquid has been absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with scallions and parsley, and serve family style.