Cooking With Quinoa


Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain-like seed with a nutty taste and silky, mildly crunchy texture. Many families and professional chefs enjoy cooking with quinoa for its versatility, distinctive flavor and health benefits. Read on to learn more about this unique food and get inspired with some new quinoa recipes.

What is Quinoa?

Originally grown 5,000 years ago in the Andean Mountains in South America, the Incas considered it their "mother seed" and fed it to their warriors for endurance. Relatively unknown in the United States until the 1980s, quinoa can now be found in most health food stores.

Though it is commonly referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. Unlike most grains, it's a complete protein because it contains all nine amino acids. You'll see yellow quinoa the most, but pink, red, purple, orange, and black varieties do exist, as well. It may be common to find "tricolor" quinoa that is a mixture of three of these varieties.

Most health food stores sell quinoa in bulk so you can buy as little or as much as you want, but keep in mind that it does expand quite a bit when it's cooked. Store it in a moisture-free airtight container and extend its shelf life from 3 to 6 months by keeping it refrigerated.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is prepared in a similar way to rice. Follow these steps to cook quinoa like a pro:

  1. Wash the quinoa well. This is to remove the bitter-tasting saponins, which are the plant's natural coating. Saponins protect the seeds from being eaten by birds and other foraging animals in the field, hence the bitterness. It is important not only for the taste of your quinoa dish, but also because some people are intolerant to saponins. Even though some boxed quinoa says "pre-washed", it's worth washing it yourself just to be safe. The best way to wash quinoa is by filling a large bowl with water, dropping in the seeds and rubbing between your hands.
  2. Drain the water. After washing, the quinoa can be drained with a fine-mesh sieve.
  3. Cook over the stove. Take one cup of rinsed seeds and put them in a saucepan with 2 cups of water or stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cover. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Cooking quinoa reveals the beautiful spiral-shaped germ.

Nutritional Benefits of Quinoa

  • Quinoa is considered a "super grain" because it contains all nine amino acids and is high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein. Compare that with just 4.2 grams of protein in the same amount of cooked white rice.
  • Quinoa contains large amounts of the flavanoids Quercetin and Kaempferol, potent plant antioxidants that, at least in animal studies, have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects.
  • Quinoa is gluten free and incredibly versatile, and it can be used as a substitute for people who are gluten intolerant. Though it is low on the glycemic index (a ranking of how foods affect blood sugar levels), it is still considered a carbohydrate, so those seeking a low-carb diet should eat quinoa in moderation.

Quick Quinoa Recipes

Quinoa can take the place of rice in most dishes. It is delicious served with a pat of butter or drizzled with your favorite oil. Here are some additional ways to add quinoa into your diet:

  • Turn it into a stuffing or pilaf with sauteed onions, mushrooms, leeks, garlic, and/or red peppers.
  • Use it cooled in your favorite salad.
  • Use it ground as a gluten-free flour in cookies and muffins.
  • Make it into a breakfast cereal by adding dried fruit, milk, sweet spices and your favorite sweetener.
  • Put it in soups, stews and chilies.

Featured Quinoa Recipe: Kale Quinoa Salad

Mixing spoonfuls of quinoa into your greens is a great way to turn a salad into a meal. This delicious salad recipe features kale, apples, dried apricots, and sugared almonds for extra crunch and sweetness.

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry quinoa, cooked in low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 large handfuls lacinato kale, finely chopped
  • 2 medium apples, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 3/4 cup dried apricots, sliced
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 T sugar

Dressing Ingredients

  • 2 T maple syrup
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt


  1. Add cooked and cooled quinoa to a bowl with kale, apples and apricots.
  2. Place the almonds in a pan over medium heat and shake the pan until they start to toast. Sprinkle sugar over the nuts and keep stirring with a wooden spoon. When the sugar has melted and the nuts are a golden brown, turn off the heat but continue to stir until they are cooled.
  3. Add cooled almonds to the salad bowl and mix.
  4. Whisk together the dressing and add to the salad, mixing thoroughly. For an added protein burst, toss in some shredded prosciutto or chicken.

Note: Feel free to alter these ingredient amounts to suit your preferences. More quinoa will make for a heartier meal, more apples will add sweetness, etc…


  • "Ingredients 101", http://food-hacks.wonderhowto.com/how-to/ingredients-101-why-properly-rinsing-rice-barley-farro-quinoa-is-so-damn-important-0156320/
  • 11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa, http://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-benefits-of-quinoa/
  • 1 Cup Cooked White Rice, http://www.fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/generic/rice-white-cooked-regular?portionid=16

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