Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Tale of Two Quinoas (Quinoa Pilaf and Breakfast Quinoa)

A friend of mine asked me about quinoa when she saw that make it for Adam.  I had been thinking of posting about this mystery grain, so the timing was perfect.

Quinoa has been slowly gaining some exposure lately, even though it's actually been used for about 4,000 years.  It's a "super grain" (well, it's actually a seed) that is so full of nutrients that the Incas considered it a food from the gods.  It's one of the few plant products that is a complete protein, so it's incredibly healthy.  As a vegetarian that is very important.

I was introduced to it through a coworker who liked to bring in healthy foods for us to try.  I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant.  What was it?  It looked weird and I wondered how "nuts and granola" it would taste.  I'm all for healthy eating, but I'm not about to eat bird seeds.

It was delicious.  It wasn't like anything I had before, yet it was very homey.  The texture was similar to firm-ish orzo or larger couscous. It wasn't mushy, like rice can be, but it wasn't hard.  It almost had a bit of a "pop" when I bit into it.  It was love at first bite and I ran out to buy a bag.

But I was still hesitant to make it.  I'm not the best with sides.  Rice or potatoes is the best starch you'll get from me.  I'm always saying how I need to find new dishes to make.  So, after a few weeks on my shelf, I took it down to figure out how to make the dang thing.

I first followed the recipe on the side of the bag.  I'm actually going to list the recipe here as a good "base" recipe to start with.  It's my go-to recipe when I'm making it for lunch and then will switch out some of the ingredients.  That's the beauty of quinoa; you can make it sweet, savory or a combo of both.  It takes on whatever flavors you're in the mood for that day.  Want it Italian?  Add chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, garlic and some Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Want it Mexican?  Add onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and cilantro.  I love adding chickpeas one day, zucchini another day.  I just had it for lunch with mushrooms, carrots and onions.  I've made a sweet morning breakfast deliciousness that my friend Heather sent me once and it was awesome.  Look for later in this post for that recipe, too.

One of the things to know about quinoa is that nature provides a bitter protective coating on it to keep the insects away.  Great for the survival of the plant, not so good for our taste buds.  So you must rinse the quinoa in cool water until the soapy coating comes off.  It takes only a minute.  You can also find some brands that already rinse their quinoa, which is a great step-saver.  I buy Earthly Delights from Costco , which rinses theirs.

To cook quinoa, it's very similar to cooking rice.  It's a 2 to 1 ratio, meaning 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup quinoa.  Bring the quinoa to a boil and then reduce and cover for 15-20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.  Let stand for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork and enjoy the deliciousness!

One trick to knowing if your quinoa is done is this nifty little "tail" will uncurl from the grain.  Not sure why it's there, but if you don't see it, it's not done.

So, give quinoa a try and find a new healthy way to have a protein packed meal!

Quinoa Pilaf

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse quinoa, if not pre-rinsed.  Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook onion for 5 minutes or until translucent.  Add carrot and cook 3 minutes more.  Stir in quinoa and broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes to 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and fluffy.  In a bowl, toss quinoa with walnuts and parsley.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Heather's Breakfast Quinoa

2 cup almond milk
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
zest of med orange
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh berries, such as blueberries and raspberries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Combine everything, but the fruit and honey in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Let stand a few minutes...then add your fruit and drizzle with honey.  Top with almonds, if desired.


  1. Thanks for the recipes! I bought some quinoa a while ago, but I haven't found a recipe I wanted to try. I will definetly be trying these, thanks!

  2. Whoa! I'm famous!! I hope whomever I "stole" that recipie from won't be sad. :) Yummy!!

  3. The Pilaf is more my style, sounds great!

    And the blog makeover looks fabulous!! Love it!