Cooking with Quinoa: 5 Easy Recipes

It’s a seed, a sprout, a green, an herb—and an ancient staple that packs super nutrition, taste, and texture.

| June/July 2001

  • The quinoa plant produces prolific seeds that are high in protein. Black quinoa, left, has a more pronounced grain flavor and is a bit chewier. White quinoa, right, has a milder flavor. In the center are quinoa sprouts, which can be used in recipes just like any other type of sprout.

Most people think of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) as a grain, but it is also an ancient Peruvian broadleaf plant. Its prolific seed resembles millet, but is flatter and slightly smaller. Cooking with quinoa has become so popular with new converts that they have been known to eat it at every meal—and with good reason. Quinoa makes a great hot breakfast cereal and a fabulous luncheon salad. Its mild flavor complements almost any dinner combination you can dream up. So why haven’t you heard more about this great “new” food?

Recipes: Basic Quinoa
Quinoa-Stuffed Yucca Blossoms
Toasted Almond and Citrus Quinoa
• Quinoa Pancakes
Quinoa-Stuffed Sole 

Until the Incas were conquered 400 years ago, their staple food was quinoa, but as their rulers enforced Spanish law, they also enforced European foods. Quinoa became the covert food of the peasants, and remained obscure until only a few decades ago when it was brought to the United States.

Quinoa is still not popular with the upper classes in South America. It is, however, garnering rave reviews in the United States, where its unique texture and varied colors are prized by top chefs, and its outstanding nutritional content is welcomed by all.

If you believe, as many herbalists do, that indigenous foods tend to supply the specific nutrients necessary for indigenous people, it makes sense that quinoa, which originated in the high Andes, has a reputation as an endurance food. Natives believe that it oxygenates the blood. High in calcium, phosphorus, iron, most B vitamins, zinc, and lysine, quinoa provides all eight essential amino acids. It has more protein than any grain, making it a great addition to meatless meals. Quinoa is more expensive than most grains, but it expands up to three times its volume when cooked. Best of all, it absorbs pungent herbal flavors gracefully.

A cook’s ways with quinoa 

In the kitchen, quinoa can be used much like rice, but it is not as susceptible to overcooking. In fact, it’s fairly durable. When cooked quickly, the inside of the grain softens while the outer husk remains firm. This gives the seeds a texture my daughter, Jessica, refers to as vegetable caviar. When quinoa is simmered slowly with more liquid, it takes on the texture of cooked cereal, perfect for a high-energy breakfast or for use in puddings. When toasted, it takes on a nutty flavor.

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