Easy dinner recipes: Tempting quinoa ideas for Gluten-Free Wednesday

If you're looking for a wheat-free alternative this Gluten-Free Wednesday, you can't go wrong with quinoa.

A South American grain-like crop, quinoa has come to be recognized as a nutrient-dense superfood, and it's all the rage right now. The seeds, or "grains" (quinoa is not a true cereal, though its seeds resemble and are used like grains) of the plant can be found at most supermarkets, and it can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, and even popped.

If you've never cooked with it before, here are a couple of tips: Rinse the grains under running water; they are coated with saponins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using. For extra depth of flavor, try toasting the quinoa before cooking it. After rinsing the grains, dry them in a towel, then toast them briefly in a dry skillet until they color slightly and have a nutty aroma.

To cook, place the rinsed grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish. Check out some of our recipe suggestions below.

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

Quinoa salad with shiitakes, fennel and cashews: Looking for a robust dish that is still vegetarian? Try this combination of quinoa, meaty shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and crunchy toasted cashews. These flavors come together in perfect harmony in this salad, which can be dinner tonight in less than an hour.

Scarlet quinoa salad: The quinoa salad from M Cafe is bright, refreshing and filling if you're looking for something on the lighter side, and it's vegan. Quinoa is cooked with finely diced beets, which tint the quinoa a vibrant shade of red. Cool the quinoa, then add cucumber, lemon zest and herbs and toss the salad with a tangy fresh vinaigrette. The recipe does require a little forethought when it comes to ingredients and a shopping list (you'll need to buy umeboshi vinegar -- available at Asian markets and select well-stocked stores). And you might as well shop for extra of everything -- yeah, this salad is good enough you'll probably want a double batch.

Kale chopped salad: A great salad for kale lovers, chopped kale and romaine are tossed with quinoa, almonds, raisins and parmesan cheese. Just before serving, toss with a bright lemon vinaigrette. The whole dish comes together in only 45 minutes.

If you are sensitive to gluten, check all ingredients to make sure they are gluten-free before using, as many may contain trace gluten (such as spices, a number of which include flour as an anti-caking agent), and/or are produced in facilities that also process gluten-based products.

You can find the recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

QUICK & EASY: 99 terrific recipes in about an hour or less

QUINOA SALAD WITH SHIITAKES, FENNEL AND CASHEWS

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: This recipe calls for a wok. Quinoa is generally available at health food stores as well as at well-stocked supermarkets, including Whole Foods stores.

2 cups quinoa

1 quart water

Salt

1/4 cup peanut oil

5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced