How to Cook Quinoa
What is Quinoa?
The quinoa we cook with is a seed. The plant itself is related to spinach and beets. We use quinoa in a similar manner to grains and cereals, so there’s a common misconception that it’s a grain.
Traditionally, it was one of the main foods used by the Incans, along with maize. Peru and Bolivia still remain the largest commercial producers of quinoa, with the United States, Ecuador, Argentina and Canada contributing about 8% of global production.
There are numerous varieties of quinoa, but the most common you’ll see in your supermarket is white. You may see red or black quinoa, or a mix of all three. Red quinoa is common in salads because it retains its shape well. I like using white for porridges so they can get a softer consistency, more akin to oats, and red or black for salads.
Quinoa flakes and flour are also common in supermarkets, and are good alternatives for those with gluten allergies or intolerances.
Taste-wise it has a delicate, almost nutty flavour. The texture can be crunchy or soft, depending on how long you cook it for.
Why Should I Eat It?
As I mentioned in my Quinoa Porridge blog post, it’s a complete protein. It contains all nine essential amino acids which the human body can’t create on its own so we need to get them from food sources. Getting the right protein, not just enough protein, is important for everyone (not just vegans and vegetarians). Compared to other plant-based foods, it’s higher in protein than other grains, but a bit lower than most legumes.
It’s a health food, not a health food fad. It’s low in cholesterol, sodium, and fat. It’s a good source of magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese. Compared with other cereals and grains, it’s a good source of iron, zinc, B vitamins, dietary fibre, and minerals.
It’s gluten free. So if you have an allergy or intolerance you can safely replace your usual grains or cereals with quinoa. And if gluten isn’t a problem, it’s great combined with other cereals.
It’s incredibly versatile. You can use it in sweet or savoury dishes, for breakfasts, lunches or dinners. You can use it in dishes that are traditionally Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, or even Italian, and combine it with legumes and other proteins.
Where Can I Buy Quinoa?
When I first started buying quinoa about 10 years ago, I had to go to the health food store. And even then it was hit and miss whether it would be stocked.
These days you can get it from supermarkets like Walmart, Loblaws, Woolworths or Coles. If you’re in Canada, you can get organic quinoa from Truly Organic Foods or Noah’s Natural Foods.
We’re visiting Chiang Mai in Thailand at the moment and I’ve only seen it at Rimping. As an imported food, it’s rather expensive coming in around $10 or $11 for a packet – the same price as it is to get Macro Organics Quinoa from Woolworths in Australia.
You may be aware about ethics and sustainability issues surrounding quinoa that were debated in the media around 2013 — see It’s Okay to Eat Quinoa and Is It Ethical For Rich Countries To Eat Quinoa as examples. If sustainability and human rights are important to you, you may want to consider doing your research, and buying fair trade or locally sourced quinoa (if you are in Canada or America).
How To Cook Quinoa
The seed coating around quinoa is rather bitter, so it needs to be rinsed before use. Almost every packet of quinoa you get these days says on the instructions that it has been pre-rinsed, but I give it one final rinse.
Using a fine-meshed strainer, run cold water over your quinoa and rub it gently to loosen and remove any last bits of bitter coating. Drain the water out.
You can cook quinoa with water or stock, depending on what flavour you want. Just don’t cook it with milk, I’ve made that mistake and the milk burns quickly.
And if you’re using your quinoa for a savoury dish, you may like to toast your quinoa (before the rinse) in a pan for a minute or so, until you get that delicious sesame smell in your kitchen. Some people use a smidgen of oil, some people just dry toast it (which I’m a fan of).
The traditional ratio for quinoa cooking is one cup of uncooked quinoa to two cups of liquid. I use a little less: about one cup of uncooked quinoa to 1 and ¾ cups of liquid. I’ve found I have next to no water to drain at the end, and no soupy mess if using stock.
Add your quinoa and liquid to a medium sized pot, and bring to a boil for 2 – 3 minutes. Once it starts to boil, cook it on low to medium heat (depending on your stove top) for about 15 minutes. You can generally tell when it’s ready because it develops a little white ‘tail’ on each seed, but I do eat a forkful at this stage to see if it has a nice balance of softness and crunch. If it’s not soft enough, I keep it on for another five minutes.
I’ve met some amazing food bloggers through Food Bloggers of Canada, and wanted to share some of their creative and tempting quinoa dishes with our friends. I know you’ll love these recipes. 🙂
Kim and Hector from Our Fresh Kitchen make Quinoa Egg Muffins.
These tasty breakfasts are handy when you’re on the run, and pack a powerful protein punch. And they only have 150 calories each!
Carole at The Yum Yum Factor makes a breakfast that rivals Eggs Benedict.
Her Edamame Quinoa Cakes with Egg and Spicy Avocado Sauce are not only delicious, but they’re GMO free. She uses edamame from a local Ontario farmer who grows his soy beans 100% naturally.
Holly Botner has a fantastic and unusual dish – Barberry Quinoa.
Prior to reading her blog, The Jittery Cook, I’d never heard of barberry! It’s a small, tart, crimson dried berry. It’s rich in Vitamin C and has great health benefits.
And it’s full of delicious veggies for when you want to entertain vegetarian friends, or even just have a healthy dinner.
It’s vegan, gluten free, and the herbs make this sound so delicious and fragrant.
I’ve said before that Shauna from Satori Design For Living creates dishes that have made me rue being vegan on occasion!
This Coconut Quinoa Pudding is as tempting as her other dishes.
This will appeal to vegans, veggies, and anyone who enjoys a light, yet substantial salad in summer time.
Louisa can be contacted via Twitter.
Like Jeanne at The Lovin Forkful, I love a good salad.
Her Chickpea and Quinoa Salad is another great meal for summer, for when you want a protein punch with your salad.
She makes her peppers with meat, but suggests leaving this out for a tasty vegetarian friendly dish.
Her toughest critics (her two boys) have given this the thumbs up, so it’s even child approved!
I love modern takes on traditional cuisines, like this Korean dish where rice is replaced with quinoa.
It’s a delicious gluten free and versatile quinoa dish that you can make with pretty much any vegetables you have in your kitchen.
These Quinoa and Wild Garlic Cakes with Salbitxada Sauce by Kris at 80 Twenty look divine.
Even healthy things like quinoa can be used to create tasty and tempting fried goodies!
I love how her household has dubbed quinoa “special rice”. 🙂
Joyce is online on G+.
The combination of quinoa and chickpeas packs a powerful punch nutrition wise.
Two Quinoa Recipes, and a quinoa growing experiment in BC. I won’t ruin the surprise of whether quinoa can flourish in British Columbia, so read on!
Margaret from Kitchen Frau’s delicious quinoa recipes are a Quinoa Onion Frittata and a Honey Vanilla Quinoa Pudding.
What’s your favourite way to eat quinoa? Do you cook with quinoa flakes or flour? And feel free to share your own quinoa recipes or links in the comments!
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