April 07, 2007

Quinoa - Comfort Food Combats Cancer

For the first 30 years of my life, I was a member of an ever-decreasing and very fortunate minority. I lost my treasured minority status abruptly one chilly Wednesday afternoon in November 1999, when we learned that my father had lung cancer. Like other families facing a cancer diagnosis, our lives changed instantly.

Oncologists, neighbors, cancer support groups, nutritionists, friends, nurses, fellow cancer patients -- everybody stepped forward offering advice. And in a world where you're grasping for hope, for something over which you have control, the nutritionist offered our family a rope to hang on to.

The road ahead would be a rough one, she advised us. Radiation and chemotherapy were brutal on the body, and my father's cancer was advanced. Our goals were to keep him as comfortable as possible; his to fight the disease with everything he had, and to live -- truly live -- whatever time he had left. But there were rays of hope. There were things we could do to help him through this. Tangible things.

We walked out of her office that day with a list of what she called superfoods. Blueberries. Quinoa. Leafy greens. Edamame. Nuts and legumes. Yogurt. We learned that building a diet around these simple ingredients would help Dad develop the strength he'd need in his fight.

Anyone who's cared for a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy knows that havoc it wreaks on the digestive system. It changes the way things taste, destroys the appetite, and induces nausea. It creates some strange cravings. I remember heading out in search of takeout chile rellenos because that's what Dad wanted. And my grandmother's recipe for rice pudding -- with quinoa substituting for the rice -- became his favorite bedtime snack.

At 72, Dad discovered he loved this sacred Incan grain and superfood extraordinaire. A little research reveals that quinoa provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals essential to good health. It's higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc, and lower in sodium than its grain sisters wheat, barley and corn. Since it's gluten-free, it's gentler on a chemo-induced finicky stomach. And because it contains all eight of the essential amino acids we needs for tissue development, it's considered a complete protein.

So when Chris of Mele Cotte announced a Cooking to Combat Cancer event in honor of Cancer Control Month, there was no question I would participate. That the recipe I chose would feature quinoa, my father's favorite cancer comfort food.

After a bit of research, I settled on a fruit-based quinoa salad, a fairly simple preparation that I could easily tote to work for a light yet satisfying lunch.

Quinoa Fruit Salad (adapted from this recipe)

1 cup water
1 cup pear juice (natural, no additional sweeteners)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 large red apples, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup vanilla yogurt

Put the water, pear juice, cinnamon and rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Allow quinoa to cool, then transfer to a large mixing bowl and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour.

Stir fruit and walnuts into the chilled quinoa, ensuring that the add-ins are well distributed. Fold in yogurt immediately before serving.

I used goat milk yogurt, which provided a nice tang that played well with the tart-sweet cranberries.

Tasty, simple, and healthy. This one's for you, Mo...

Looking for more cancer-fighting recipes and the heartwarming, inspirational stories behind them? Check out Chris' round-up: 25 starters, salads, sides, main dishes and desserts...

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for participating. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing!

Brilynn said...

I'm just starting to use quinoa and am always looking for new recipes, I wouldn't have thought to put it with a fruit salad.

Anonymous said...

I'm inspired. That sounds like it would be a wonderful breakfast.

Joanna said...

Thank you for sharing that ... I've just bought a packet of quinoa, but not yet cooked it. Now I'll think of your father's story when I do.


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jane said...

quinoa is known to be one of the nutritious food. Since quinoa contain essential amino acids. Quinoa can help you reduce the risk of having cancer.

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