Quinoa in cookies?
Oh yes, I went there.
Step aside, oatmeal. Didn't you know all the cool kids have quinoa in their cookies these days?
But, first things first. Does anyone else get insanely happy when baking cookies? Like singing-and dancing-in-front-of-your-reflection-on-the-microwave happy? My mom even got me microphone tongs with an on/off switch. I can't make this stuff up, people.
You know you want that on your Christmas list.
But anyway, let's talk about a couple ingredients in these cookies that might be unfamiliar to you.
First up, quinoa.
Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is an ancient whole grain of the Incas from the Andean region of South America. Actually, it is technically a seed, sort of like the "tomato is a fruit" conundrum. It is gluten-free and known for its earthy, nutty flavor and high protein content. With its quick cooking time of 10-15 minutes, it's a staple in my pantry for sure.
And cocoa nibs?
I don't know about you, but anything with the word "nibs" is a win in my book. I was first introduced to these little delights when I did a project on chocolate for my Bioactive Compounds class while studying nutrition. I know, tough subject, right?
My project mates/dear friends, Stephanie and Eliza, and I decided that a trip to a real live chocolate factory was in order. Absolutely necessary. We headed to the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle, which is the only organic, fair trade, fair for life certified bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America.
Somewhere between stuffing our faces with samples, we learned about cocoa nibs (commonly used interchangeably with cacao nibs).
I'll break it down for you a bit. You see, it all starts with a cacao tree, usually grown in Africa, Central America, or South America and known by the scientific name of Theobroma cacao. (So THAT'S where the name Theo comes from! We'll talk more about the theobromine compound in a bit.) From the trunk and limbs of the tree, a large fruit about the size of a football called a cacao pod grows. Cacao beans are found inside the pod and are harvested, fermented, dried, and roasted.
Often at this point, they are referred to as "cocoa". But, cocoa, cacao...it doesn't really matter. We're on our way to chocolate!
Cocoa nibs are broken up chunks of roasted cacao beans, which usually go on to mix with sugar and a hint of vanilla to create chocolate. However, in this case, we are snatching them up before they get that far. Although, I must admit, that is not a bad fate.
I adore the nutty coffee-like flavor of nibs. But, you can't dive in expecting them to taste like little pieces of chocolate. Remember, no sugar has been added so they're a bit bitter. We have the flavonol, proanthocyanidin, to thank for that.
I know, big word. The class was 10 long weeks of words like that. But, trust me when I say that it means some good things for your health.
Cacao is packed with antioxidants. Even a small amount has been shown to have anti-thrombotic, anti-hypertensive, anti-depressant, and anti-inflammatory effects. It also improves cerebral blood flow and acts as a mild stimulant through the activity of the theobromine compound, which is chemically similar to caffeine but responds more gently in the body.
So, a tip for choosing chocolate:
Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao has a lot of these antioxidants. On the flip side, chocolate that is heavily processed or contains a low percentage of cacao has little antioxidant activity left. I like to buy from companies that support fair trade and keep processing minimal (sticking to basic ingredients like cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and ground vanilla bean). The higher the percentage, the more bitter the chocolate. Aim for 60-70% cacao to enjoy these health benefits without sacrificing too much sweetness.
But, back to the cookies!
Now, these cookies are a little different. If you expect an ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven with these, you'll be disappointed. These aren't supposed to compete with your mom's classic recipe. Rather, they have a softer muffin-like texture from the cooked quinoa, which I love in contrast to the crunchy and chewy nibs. These are lighter and better, say, with a cup of tea rather than dunked into milk.
And I am smitten with the cross-cultural tones in these with the quinoa, cinnamon, and cacao. Some toasted almonds tossed into the batter would be glorious as well.
Cocoa nibs can be hard to find, but I usually find success at natural grocery or health food stores. You can also buy them directly from Theo here. They can be costly, but a little goes a long way. I only use 1/3 cup in this recipe. You can sub chocolate chips if you would like (increase to 1/2 cup), but the husband and I tried both and agreed that we liked the nibs better. They create a more unique flavor profile with the quinoa and cinnamon. Plus, the minute you add chocolate chips, you will likely start comparing them to your favorite chocolate chip cookies. And these are simply not that!
So, grab a spatula, wooden spoon, some tongs, or anything that resembles a microphone. You've got some cookies to bake and singing and dancing to do!
quinoa cookies with cocoa nibs + cinnamon // makes 18 to 24 cookies
1 cup quinoa
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer. Add quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water to a medium saucepan. Turn heat to high until water comes to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover with lid. Cook until water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Allow cooked quinoa to cool.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, add softened butter, natural cane sugar, and brown sugar. Beat until creamy and well combined. Add vanilla extract and egg; beat again.
In a small mixing bowl, combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda, sea salt, and ground cinnamon.
With the mixer running, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until combined well, scraping the bowl to incorporate all ingredients if necessary. Stir in 1 cup of the cooked quinoa and cocoa nibs to the batter. Mix until just combined.
Drop generous tablespoon-sized mounds of dough onto the lined baking sheets, spacing evenly apart. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until edges are nicely browned. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.