The Unsung Delights of Quinoa

Recipes | | January 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm
Quinoa comes in a variety of colors! Photo by author.

Photo by author.

I like to go against the culinary grain (pun intended!) but I have to agree with the higher-ups in the foodie syndicate who deem quinoa one of the Top 10 Things you should be eating right now (it’s pronounced KEE-new-ah or KEEN-wah).

The ancient harvest native to South America is a seed and not a grain. Technically it’s a pseudocereal, or broadleaf plant (meaning non-grass) that is used in much the same way as cereals. Other seeds-not-grains include buckwheat and amaranth.

When designing menus with my catering clients, I often suggest a flavorful quinoa side dish to accompany the meat entree and vegetables. This suggestion is generally met with confused expressions, wrinkling of noses in distaste, and assertions that “mashed potatoes or rice will be just fine, thank you very much.” But, with a little prodding, and especially once they taste it, the ‘hip’ newcomer quinoa often becomes a front runner. This makes me happy, here’s why:

  • It’s delicious! Quinoa has a really satisfying texture (satisfyingly chewy, crunchy and fluffy all at the same time, like al dente pasta). Its great earthy flavor is slightly nutty and a touch bitter and easily takes on the flavors of herbs, spices, stocks or sauces that you might pair it with.
  • It’s really good for you. Quinoa’s protein content is very high, with a rarely found complete spectrum of essential amino acids making it great for vegan and vegetarian diets. It’s rich in dietary fiber and is very filling though not in the heavy, bloated way, more in a “I just ate something fairly complex that my body will enjoy for a while before I feel hungry again” kind of way.
  • Great news for those of you with wheat sensitivities: quinoa is a gluten free food.
  • Lastly, and to many most importantly, it is quick and easy to prepare.

You don’t need to be a mathematician for these formulas: 1 cup dry quinoa yields 3 cups cooked. I follow a simple 2:1 ratio for cooking (2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa).

Bring quinoa and liquids to a boil together, reduce to simmer and cover for 15 minutes or until liquids are absorbed. Remove from stove and let sit for 5 minute with the lid on before fluffing with a fork and it’s ready to go! Try a chilled quinoa salad with chopped pecans, orange zest, green onions and light vinaigrette as a healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad. Tip: I suggest using liquids other than water to cook quinoa in to enhance the flavor. Chicken or veggie broth are great or try a bit of coconut milk and red curry seasoning blend for Thai inspired side dish, or even pineapple juice and dash of soy are coupled together in this dish:

Polynesian Quinoa Stir-Fry


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon soy sauce (NOTE: soy sauce is not always gluten free, may want to substitute tamari or carefully read labels)

Stir fry

  • 4 ounces unsalted cashews
  • 3 Tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 minced hot red chili peppers
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 1 cup cooked edamame
  • ½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 cups cubed pineapple
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable stock
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin

Prepare quinoa ahead of time, up to 2 days prior. Place the cashews in the dry pan and heat over low heat, stirring them, until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Remove the cashews from the pan, raise the heat to medium, and add the peanut oil, scallions, and garlic and saute briefly. Add chili pepper and ginger, cook for 2 more minutes, then add bell pepper and edamame. Cook about 4 more minutes and add basil and mint, and then lastly pineapple and quinoa. Combine soy sauce, vegetable stock, and mirin and pour over stir fry.  Top with cashews and enjoy!


  • Substitute a quinoa dish instead of polenta, orzo, or rice pilafs.
  • Try blending the 3 colors together for a unique rainbow effect.
  • Add sauteed shallots, diced roasted vegetables, oregano, stewed tomatoes, roasted garlic…sky’s the limit!
  • Use an empty squat round can (such as tuna) open on both sides to create a pretty stack presentation.
  • Bake with quinoa flour (quinoa seeds are also available ground into a flour, and can be blended ½ and ½ with white flour or substituted completely in dishes calling for whole wheat flour).
  • Stuff bell peppers, tomatoes or hollowed squash with cooked quinoa and bake until vegetables are tender.

LauraLaura Seery creates memorable events for San Diego's most discerning eaters at Culinary Concepts Catering. A graduate of University of California, San Diego and a self-taught chef, Laura enjoys writing for her blog about all things delicious, nutritious and green.

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  1. Do you ever dry fry the quinoa seeds before you boil them? It gives off this fragrant, nutty aroma which sort of sticks with it after the boil. Or is that what you meant with the cashews?

  2. Laura Seery says:

    I haven’t tried that with quinoa, but it sounds like a great idea. I have done that it wild rice, prior to boiling, and the slight toasting/browning definitely enhances the flavor. In the above recipe I was referring the cashews on their own, the quinoa would be cooked separately, but I think your suggestion is a great addition to the recipe!

  3. Dr. Orna Izakson says:

    One of my favorite quick, “eek, I have nothing in the house!” meals is quinoa with pesto. It’s bright, high in protein, and really lets you taste the pesto.

  4. Jennifer Frost says:

    I love Quinoa! I often have it for breakfast with some warm milk and a little splenda.