Friday, January 11, 2013

Pantry Staple - Quinoa

(quinoa tabouli, baked falafel and lemony cashew tahini sauce)

Of all the whole-food plant-based carbohydrate sources that are easily accessible this is by far my favorite.  There are so many things that I love about quinoa that is difficult to know where to start.

How do you pronounce quinoa?

I am including this at Dan’s request since we hear it pronounced incorrectly so often.  Quinoa is pronounced as Keen Wah.  I know that I hate to mispronounce words so thought you might like to know the correct pronunciation too.

(black quinoa at Wegman's)

What is quinoa?

While we consider quinoa a whole grain it is actually a seed. It is related to beet, chard and spinach and its leaves are also edible if you can ever find them sold in the US (I haven’t found them just so you know).  The quinoa we see most often is white though it also comes in orange, pink, red, purple and black.  Our local Wegman’s has had the black and red in the past and they taste the same in case you were wondering.  You knew I had to try them when I saw them right?  ;-)

What are the benefits of eating quinoa?

Quinoa is a terrific source of protein because it contains all 8 essential amino acids.  The essential amino acids are the ones our bodies are not capable of making from others.  If you enjoy quinoa like we do this is a great item to add to your diet.  Additionally quinoa is gluten-free and said to be the least allergenic of the “grains”.

This little powerhouse seed is also a good source of magnesium and manganese.  It contains B2, vitamin E, iron, phosphorus, copper, zinc and fiber.

(Mexican black beans and tomatoes over quinoa and topped with cilantro)

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa has an extremely mild flavor.  It is similar to eating rice in my opinion.  I use it in recipes where rice, pasta, or potatoes would be traditional.  It also makes a terrific substitute for bulgur in tabouli as I pictured at the top of the post.

Where do you buy quinoa?

I have found quinoa at Costco, Wegman’s, Giant, and our local health food store.  Costco sells a 3 pound bag of organic quinoa at the best price that I have found.  Quinoa is so common where I live that I half expect to find it at 7-11.  You might be surprised to find that your local grocery store carries it too in the whole grain section near the brown rice. If they don’t have it now ask for it at customer service. Grocery stores want happy customers sometimes you just need to ask.

(wild blueberry, oat, quinoa and walnut bars - an experiment I am working on)

How do you store quinoa?

Typically quinoa comes in bags. Until I open the bags I store them exactly as they come when purchased. Once the bag is open I pour it into a big glass jar with a tight lid to keep the critters out.  This is not completely necessary since quinoa is naturally coated in its own natural bug repellent which should be rinsed off before cooking.  However you know that I tend to be conservative when it comes to food safety. Quinoa should be stored the same way you handle brown rice and/or barley.

(lemon marinated veggies over cold quinoa topped with sliced almonds)

How do you cook quinoa?

Some brands of quinoa still contain their natural saponin (the bug repellant I mentioned earlier).  This saponin is a little bitter and should be rinsed off before cooking. To do this place the quinoa in the fine mesh wire strainer and rinse it with cool water while rubbing the quinoa between your fingers.  I do this for 30 seconds or so.  If you aren’t sure if you rinsed the quinoa long enough place one or two grains of quinoa on your tongue. If you detect any bitterness rinse the quinoa longer.  Once you have removed the saponin you are ready to cook.    For those of you who don’t want to be bothered with rinsing I have found that the organic brand at Costco does not need to be rinsed which saves a step.

To cook the quinoa, place twice the amount of water (1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water) in a heavy pan with a lid. Bring the water to a boil and turn the heat down to a simmer.  Cook the quinoa for 15 -20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  If you use an enameled cast iron pan to cook your quinoa it can be ready in as little as 12 minutes depending on the power of your burner so keep an eye on it.

If you want to add a nutty flavor to your quinoa you can toast it before cooking. To do this put the rinsed quinoa in a dry pan and cook it over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to turn brown. Now add the water and cook as usual.

Are there any specific seasonings that work well with quinoa?

Quinoa is so mild that anything will work with it.  I sometimes add a little nutritional yeast, turmeric, black pepper and bay to the cooking liquid to make a yellow quinoa which is similar to yellow rice.

(homemade vegan Italian sausage, peppers and onions over quinoa topped with my walnut parm)

What are some of your favorite uses for quinoa?

At our house quinoa is used most often as a stand in for rice. I like to serve it under soups to add body, calories and protein for Dan.  It also makes a terrific base for cold veggie salads similar to a rice salad.  We like it to have it stuffed into peppers again like you would use rice.  Another favorite at our house is spinach, cilantro and lime quinoa.  I cook the quinoa with frozen chopped spinach.  Once it is has finished cooking I allow it sit 10 minutes (to give the grain a little time to steam and separate) then fluff it with a fork. Now I add the chopped cilantro, lime zest and lime juice and fluff that in.  If you like Mexican food this is a great side dish.

(Mushroom quinotto from the blog)

Quinoa can be used instead of rice to make risotto.

If you have any leftover quinoa in your refrigerator you can use it to make a nice hot breakfast cereal. Simply combine cooked quinoa, non-dairy milk, cinnamon, vanilla, stevia and any dried or fresh fruit you have and cook it until it is warm. Top your quinoa with nuts or seeds and you have a quick, tasty and nutritious breakfast.

Happy thoughts:
  1. Dan’s temperature was lower this morning but is still elevated. Fortunately it was easy to convince him to work from home today. I like knowing how he is doing and having him here makes that much easier.  Looks like I will be getting my stairs in today going to the third floor all day to check on him and make sure he is staying hydrated.  J
  2. I slept so much better last night and woke up feeling refreshed.  Getting enough good rest really makes all the difference in my mood.  I know that it is also good for my health. I hope you are also getting enough sleep. Remember our bodies repair themselves while we sleep so this is as important to your health as eating right and exercising.
  3. Yesterday I made a terrific salad, which I forgot to photograph, for Dan’s lunch.  I topped shredded romaine with cold sweet potato chunks, roasted mushrooms, and artichokes.  I made a quick sweet miso dressing by combining yellow miso, red wine vinegar and stevia.  Then I packed raw sliced almonds for Dan to add after he dressed the salad.  I always pack the salad, dressing and nuts or seeds separately to keep things fresh and crunchy.  This was fast and Dan really enjoyed it so I thought you might want to try it too.
  4. Breakfast this morning was a tasty green smoothie.  This one contained:  raw kale, frozen banana, frozen strawberries, vanilla, cinnamon, stevia and hemp seeds.  In spite of the scary green color it tasted terrific. I love when healthy stuff also tastes good.  I clipped the picture in below.
  5. Just saw on the weather we are now expecting our high to be in the 70s on Sunday.  That gets both a woo hoo and a happy dance.  I am so excited!  Can’t you just hear the Pointer Sisters belting out that song now?  Here is a link in case you don’t remember it or it was before you time. The constant upbeat tempo of this song makes it great for cardio in my opinion.
  6. Speaking of excited my last happy thought goes out to my friend Matt who is on day one without cigarettes.  I am so proud of him for quitting. You rock Matt!  ((sending hugs your way))  I also am thrilled that he had tofu spring rolls and veggie pho for lunch on Thursday.  *she quietly whispers in her sexiest voice....come to the dark side with me, its nice here.*  ;-)  I crack myself up. LOL

Signing out:

Thursday is another busy day for me.  I am seriously looking forward to tomorrow and being closer to the weekend.  Can’t wait for some downtown to relax and regenerate.

I hope you week is going well so far. We have almost made to the weekend.  J  Ciao for now.  Hope to hear from you soon.


  1. "Come to the darkside" lol I love it. On day 2 wo cigarettes thanks for the encouragement. Was at the store just the other day wonder what qi- noah was thanks.

    1. Yay Matt,

      I just love it that you are giving up smoking. You rock!

      Love your sense of humor. ;-)


  2. Great timing -- I was just wondering the other day whether red quinoa tastes any different, since it was specified in a recipe.

    1. Good evening Statch,

      So glad I could help. :-) I am sure you can find the red and black quinoa at Wegman's, Roots and Mom's which I assume are somewhere near you. However I also think the white will work just fine.

      Hope you have a marvelous weekend,

  3. Another enjoyable blog post with such nice dishes! :) I too like quinoa, and we are looking forward to a warm weekend as well. God bless! :)

    1. Good morning Angel,

      Thanks sweetheart. Quinoa is the best isn't it? It really is my favorite healthy "grain" dish.

      I hope we both get the marvelous weather that we have been promised this weekend.



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