12 things you should know about quinoa

quinoa roast cauliflower & quinoa salad

I’m always a little suspicious of anything that gets touted as a ‘superfood’. Which is why it took me a while to get around to trying quinoa.

My first encounter was with puffed quinoa as part of an exploration of new breakfast cereals. Not very inspiring unless you come from the school of thought that cereal should resemble styrofoam and be useful as a packing material.

But with my Dad’s gluten intolerance I decided to give the whole grains another chance. And I’m glad I did.

12 things you should know about quinoa

1. it’s delicious
No matter how ‘good for you’ a food is, I don’t include it in my diet unless it passes the taste test. Puffed quinoa won’t be starring on stonesoup anytime soon but the whole grains definitely make it. Slightly nutty and grainy, they’re something I could keep eating and eating.

2. it has a funny pronunciation
I always feel a tiny bit pretentious when I correct people but apparently it likes to be referred to as ‘keen-wah’.

3. it’s high in protein
A big positive for vegetarians as I’ve learned recently. It’s also pretty good on iron and fibre, which gets the nutritionists excited.

4. it’s gluten free
With my Dad being gluten intolerant, I’m always appreciative of new options to cook for him. He’s pretty keen on the rolled quinoa flakes for breakfast as well.

5. it needs washing before use
I read somewhere that the surface of quinoa contains a chemical called saponin that has a bitter soapy taste. Most commercial quinoa will already be washed and have the saponin removed but it’s a good idea to rinse it just before you use it in case there are residues.

6. it comes in different colours
Just like grapes, quinoa comes in different varieties. The most common is white, but there are also red and black. I’ve only ever come across the white variety.

7. it comes in different forms
Just like corn, it can be puffed or rolled into flakes or you can buy it whole.

8. it looks like a grain but is actually a seed

9. it has an interesting texture
The thing I love about quinoa is it’s texture. Something a little like barley with its chewiness, it also has a light fluffiness akin to well prepared couscous.

10. it’s better if you cook it
One of my first experiment with quinoa I just rinsed it in boiling water, tossed it in dressing and used it in a salad. It was edible but a little weird.

11. you can also eat the leaves
I’m yet to find a souce of fresh quinoa or it’s leaves but if you do apparently the leaves are edible. Something like chard or silverbeet.

12. it’s becoming more readily available
In Australia it’s even available in the ‘health food’ section of our supermarkets. Am sure any health food store worth its lentils would either already stock quinoa or be able to source it for you.

roast cauliflower & quinoa salad

[5 ingredients]
warm salad of roast cauliflower & quinoa

serves 2

Inspired by Cath Claringbold in the Good Weekend.

You could use all sorts of soft cheese in this recipe. Ricotta or goats curd would be lovely but I had some bocconcini that needed eating up and I really enjoyed it’s slightly chewy texture to contrast the cauliflower & quinoa. If you were wanting to go cheese free some roasted almonds would be a great substitution.

Wonderfully satisfying as a main course salad on it’s own, it would also work well without the cheese as a side dish to fish or roast chook.

I used tomato paste to flavour and slightly colour the quinoa but you could ditch it and replace the water with vegetable or chicken stock if you liked.

If you can’t find quinoa, you could substitute in your favourite cooked grain such as couscous, barley or brown rice. You’ll need to adjust the amount of water and cooking times though.

1/2 large cauliflower (approx 350g / 12oz)
1/2 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped
large handful bocconcini, torn into bight size pieces

Preheat oven to 200C. Cut cauliflower into bight size little trees. Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with some olive oil, season and roast, stirring occasionally until the cauliflower is golden on the edges and cooked through.

Rinse quinoa well and place in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water and the tomato paste. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed. Season.

Divide cauliflower between two warm plates, scatter over quinoa, cheese and chives.

roast cauliflower

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Claire June 7, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I haven’t gone down the quinoa aisle yet… but you’ve (re) convinced me on lentils, so I shall hunt some down. My other half is away at the moment, so it’s the perfect time to experiment! Plus, anything that roasts cauliflower is on its way to a winner anyway.

FOODESSA June 7, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I enjoy cooking often with this very tasty and yet incredibly nutrional grain. The red variety is my favourite. I have yet to post a recipe with it though. As soon as I do…I will certainly mention your blog so that they can come read your 12 great things people should find out about this grain.
Thanks for sharing this interesting info and recipe.
Flavourful wishes, Claudia

Wei-Wei June 7, 2010 at 8:22 pm

You make me want to try to hunt down quinoa in China! Gosh, it was hard enough hunting down CHICKPEAS! (Yes, chickpeas.) I’m trying to hunt down lentils, too. :(


Johanna June 7, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Oh, I love quinoa. I’m an gluten intolerant myself and is glad that there is at least one ‘grain’ I can eat, since it’s always cous-cous this and bulgur that. Love your blog by the way!

tracyinbarcelona June 7, 2010 at 11:07 pm

This sounds great! I love quinoa cold or room temperature in a summer salad tossed with roughly chopped arugula, cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I also recently heard it’s pronounced keen-wah, but I have a hard time switching from keen-o-a…

Heather (eatwelleatgreen) June 7, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Quinoa is special because it’s a complete source of protein, not like a lot of vegetarian proteins that require combinations of foods for completion.

That’s news to me about the green leaves. I’d love to try it but from what I’ve seen, all the quinoa in Australia comes from South America, so I don’t like my chances.

I’ve been using quinoa more and more in my cooking. This dish looks like another to add to my list, thank you.

Amy June 8, 2010 at 12:19 am

Sounds and looks great! The market near me carries quinoa in their bulk bins and I’ve tried it, but didn’t have any really good recipes for it before. Question: What kind of cheese is bocconcini? I’ve never heard of it. Wondering what might be a good substitute?

caroline June 8, 2010 at 12:26 am

hi, thanks for this post. Cooking with quinoa certainly is a curious thing, and after some experimentation I’ve settled upon rinsing, followed by slightly dry-toasting in the saucepan before adding more water to cook. Also, white quinoa seems to particularly like spices such as tumeric, fresh ginger and garlic, whole brown mustard seeds and panch phora thrown in while cooking… and carrots roasted with sumac and lemon juice :>

In contrast, I have yet to find a more-than-palatable idea for red quinoa (it’s a bit weird plain, and with berries etc, and used as the white variety), so I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts on it!

Jean Sarauer June 8, 2010 at 1:24 am

I bought a bag from a natural food store and got hooked. I mainly use it as a base for veggie stir fries, and it’s been a big hit with the rest of the family. The protein benefits are also a big plus for me.

G June 8, 2010 at 3:23 am

What a coincidence – just made up some quinoa last night. Nothing fancy just cooked with chicken broth and added some toasted almonds and served it up as a side dish.

I usually just cook it with water as a base for lunch salads. Just use any combination of veggies and dressing that you’d use for your fav couscous salad. I find that salads with quinoa (higher protien more interesting flavour/texture) are better for lunches than couscous salads so I don’t even bother buying couscous anymore.

Be sure to check the label though – even though quinoa is gluten-free some are made in facilities where they also process wheat products.

barbara June 8, 2010 at 6:47 am

My husband is not a big fan of quinoa and I love it. He’s away for 4 days and I’m planning on eating lots of quinoa this week. I buy the red and black variety at Woolworths. I found the black goes well with some grated cheese added.

Bria @ West of Persia June 8, 2010 at 7:34 am

Lovely recipe. I have a lot of quinoa on hand that I really need to cook more often. Thanks for the inspiration.

amber June 8, 2010 at 8:05 am

I used to start work at 8.00 am every day, and I found, having eaten breakfast before 7.00 am, that I would get so hungry at work pretty early. I went through all sorts of toasts and cereals, but quinoa seemed to work well for me. I used to cook some before bed and then eat it drizzled with maple syrup and some milk or cream in the morning. It would help keep me feeling fuller for longer (probably because it’s high in protein). So I can vouch for the whole grain making a very satisfying breakfast. The flakes I find quite chalky and bitter? I really like the grains prepared with lemon, but I haven’t bought any for ages. Must give this salad a try!

Lisa (bakebikeblog) June 8, 2010 at 8:19 am

I REALLY like quinoa – and have been using it for a while now! I am glad to see that it is becoming more readily available!

Emily June 8, 2010 at 9:50 am

I am a fan of quinoa, largely because I don’t eat wheat, so it’s a great alternative grain for me (though as you say, it is actually a seed not a grain).

I have tried all the types of quinoa but I like the white the best. I had assumed that red or black quinoa is better for you, but I did some research and I think they are all the same.

I eat quinoa as an alternative to couscous, in salads and as a porridge for a warming winter brekky, with plenty of natural yoghurt, fruit and honey. Yum! A couple of recipes for quinoa are on my blog…

Dee June 8, 2010 at 10:29 am

My whole family loves quinoa. I usually make a pilaf as a side dish – onions, garlic in a little olive oil, add quinoa to toast, pour in chicken stock. I’ve used it for salads, too.

We usually get white. Tried the red and wasn’t crazy about it.

My niece has celiac and loves guinoa pasta. We can get it in the grocery store health food section.

Bronwyn June 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

Love quinoa – having it for lunch today actually! So easy to cook up the night before and mix with roast veg/salad ingredients for a work lunch. As my husband is gluten intolerant, I use quinoa in recipes such as tabbouleh or where bulgur/cous cous is required (and sometimes barley too). Great to use in a quick vege pilaf at night when you can’t be bothered cooking much. Hulled millet works in the same vein too and is just as easy to cook (doesn’t need pre rinsing). Both white and red quinoa is readily available now at Woolworths under the Macro label although it is expensive – I find white quinoa cheaper at my local organics store in the bulk bin sections.
Seed is easy to source in Australia if you’ve got the space and want to grow it yourself in order to try the leaves.

Alex June 8, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Cauliflower. I love this stuff. The photo is making my stomach rumble and it is still 1 hour until lunchtime here at work.

Quinoa greens are actually VERY VERY easy to grow – I tossed some of the seeds into the vege patch ‘just to see’ when I was still living in Sydney and again when I moved over here. I live in Norway , near the ocean,where it is not too cold and was able to pick off the leaves to eat very soon. The plants sprouted within a week!!! Birds were a problem though – they liked the seeds ALOT!!! The plants produced alot of beautiful flowers and then alot of seeds – and look a bit tall and straggly though so next time I will put them in pots and start them off indoors and then train them as I would tomato plants. I would recommend using alot of leaves in one go to stop the plant from getting so tall annd out of hand and not be so gentle with the plant – it really takes off, even if you go on holiday and forget to get someone to water it. The leaves are great in salad or for brekkie with black pepper and a nicely poached egg. YUm. Still hungry – must get off this page with the photo of a plate of food.

Mark @ Cafe Campana June 8, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Mmmm interesting. I’m still a little sceptical, it seems confused its not a grain but a seed but is cooked like a grain. I may have to give it a go.

Jennifer in NYC June 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm

What a timely post!

I got into the swing of summer by preparing a cold quinoa salad for dinner last night. I mixed in plenty of fresh veggies, diced leftover chicken and made a great mustard vinaigrette. Yum!

jules June 9, 2010 at 5:49 pm

thanks for the comments everyone

will keep the cold salad idea on hold for december down here – thanks jennifer

mark – think of it like rhubarb that’s really a vegetable but we use it like a fruit – the important thing is that it’s delicious and good for you

alex – love that you’ve grown your own – who would have thought – definitely on the list for when I get my own veggie garden happening – can’t wait to try the leaves

will keep an eye out for quinoa pasta dee – thanks

I’ve been shopping at woolies in cooma and they haven’t expanded to the red and black but will keep an eye out. love that you’re making the most of your husband being away!

good point about checking the label re potential for gluten contamination

caroline – like the dry roasting idea thanks. haven’t had any experience with red quinoa myself. although if it doesn’t taste great on it’s own maybe it needs strong flavours to contrast / mask

thanks claudia – look forward to reading your quinoa post

Maija Haavisto June 10, 2010 at 3:10 am

Quinoa also makes for a nice porridge or pudding (similar to rice pudding, but much healthier).

Heather: The complete protein thing is actually a myth that was proven wrong decades ago.

RisaG June 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

I adore quinoa. I was a vegetarian many years ago and that is when I started using it. I didn’t know to rinse it in those days. It tasted awful. Since I found out you should soak it, it is so much more wonderful. I try and cook it every other week instead of rice. I have found a company that makes a mixture of quinoa and that I can find at my MIL’s supermarket. It is like Rice a Roni but healthy.

I also used to bake a bread that had some cooked quinoa in it. I have tom search out that recipe.

Thanks for the great article and interesting recipe.

Emily June 10, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Thanks for this post… I recently bought quinoa and have been trying to learn more about it before I experiment!

Alex June 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I know this has nothing to do with quinoa – but it is confirmed! I am going to Barcelona tomorrow. I lov emy job :-) I can’t wait to start eating jamon – I have just reread your other Barcelona posts for further insipration. I can’t wait. Last time I was in Spain I took my rolley-bag suitcase with me to the Jamoneria and the butcher and I tried out as many legs of jamon iberico as we could unti we found one that fit into my bag (on a diagonal).

I am staying right near the Boqueria market and intend to eat as much as posible. Chorizo, tomato and sardines are some of my favorite foods. Packing the runners and togs so I can fit in as many delectable treats as possible. I am so excited. Jules, while you were in Barcelona, did you find any places that vacuum pack jamon so I can it back with me (obviously not back to Australia)??? My husnabd refuses ti let me take a whole leg back this time. He got a fright when he opened my bag and found a leg last time.

Jessica June 10, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for all the info on quinoa! I’ve only cooked with it a few times, but am always on the lookout for new recipes!

tigerfish June 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I am into my recent exploration to quinoa too :) ….I usually combine them with millet (another seed?) and cook them in a congee. Seen red quinoa recently too….trying soon. Thanks for sharing all you know abt quinoa. Love it!

jules June 10, 2010 at 6:21 pm

very jealous that you’re heading to barcelona. there’s a place called jamonismo that do vacuum packed jamon and it’s excellent. I wrote an ebook that’s a food lovers guide to barcelona – you might find it useful http://breadshoes.com/2010/05/barcelona-for-food-lovers/ lucky lucky you.

great idea to use quinoa as a pudding. will have to try that. thanks!

Alex June 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Thanks! Just bought the ebook – it is definitely very useful. I tend to plan trips around meals as well and given I know I only have 7 days in Barcelona was starting to stress I could not fit everything in. This gives me a chance to stay focussed when things get a little out of hand….and I can show the husband that icecream for dinner is a reality for other people as well :-)

Thanks for the advice on the jamonismo shop – I just looked them up online and see that it is possible to arrange tastings. I think I will have a very very full week ahead of me.

Shari June 11, 2010 at 6:35 am

Trader Joe’s carries it in the states.

Kate June 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm

this is a great idea i love quinoa!!!!!

Denise K Zimmerman June 12, 2010 at 6:40 am

I am one that likes to try new things. Especially when it comes to new light easy prepared foods.

Forager June 14, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I was introduced to quinoa in South America where it’s a staple. I had it in both soups and on its own like a cous cous but the Andean ability to cook was a bit lacking and your recipe looks much more delicious than the things we ate!

Wendy (The Local Cook) June 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm

LOVE quinoa. Especially after I learned you’re supposed to rinse it off LOL.

Emily June 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I bought Red Quinoa from Woolworths last week – in the new ‘macro organics’ section :)

I’ve yet to try it, and was actually searching for white quinoa! I’m also yet to try cooking with it, bought it on a bit of a whim after reading about all the benefits! Best looking recipe I have found for red quinoa so far is red quinoa and black beans over at epicurious… I’ll let you know how my experiments with it go!!

José Raeiro June 22, 2010 at 8:50 am

It was also researched as a possibility for astronaut food on long term missions due to its unique high protein content. http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19940015664_1994015664.pdf

jikaus June 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Does anyone know what happens to quinoa when it is cooked or toasted on high temperature? Does it lose some of its nutrition or not?

Terry Elisabeth July 4, 2010 at 9:44 am

This looks so good. I should make it for lunch at the beach tomorrow !

Carlin July 20, 2010 at 1:57 am

You should seek out the red and black varieties as they are far more flavorful and, I hear, more nutritious. Cooking quinoa does make it more palatable but also reduces it nutritive value. So cook as little as possible!

Caz August 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Argh! I’ve been pronouncing it kwanoah. I keep trying to think of it as keenwah but it’s not working. I’ve been using it instead of rice in my creamed rice recipe. Took a little while to get used to but before long I was downing bowls of the stuff.

Gillie August 31, 2010 at 10:05 am

I have been throwing a small handfull of the whole white variety into my porridge before I microwave it in the morning. Love the nutty flavour it adds. It retains most of its crunch, just softening slightly. I have found that I have felt more full for longer. I think this recipe might have inspired me to use it in a savoury context. Can’t wait!

Karen September 15, 2010 at 2:03 am

I was curious does anyone have a good way to wash quinoa? The biggest reason I haven’t used it since the first time I cooked with it, was it just is impossible to rinse. I put it in the strainer (like you use for straining pulp out of OJ….so quite small), but even still quinoa are so tiny they would fall through.

I’d love to try this recipe!

jules September 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Hi Karen

I use a fine sieve and it works fine. Hope that helps!

zim'ster September 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

hey thanks for the posts and the lovely pictures that you kindly added along with your recipes. The facts about the Quinoa are very interesting and its good to see something as nice as what you have written about…..i really liked it. And being gluten intolerant myself i am trying to incorporate it into my diet, as i did try it once and Loved it. So thank you for the post that you have created.

Operation Jam Jar September 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I love quinoa!

I pronounced it wrong in a health food shop just last week, how embarrassing.

It is great to use instead of rice to go with a stir-fry or curry.

Karen November 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I make a morning porridge with white or red quionoa. I cook a batch of quinoa on Sunday and then every morning take about 1 cup of quinoa, 1 cup of thawed mixed berries, warm that up together in the micro for a minute and then add a few dashes of rice milk. Makes a great porridge that really carries me through until lunch time. And if anyone has problems with regularity – eat quiona! It really helps regulate your digestion. At least that is what I’ve found.

jules December 1, 2010 at 7:12 am

thanks for the breakfast suggestion – sounds delicious

suzanne December 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

Heard a lot about Quinoa puffs, so thought I would try them, just bought Naturefirst Quinoa puffs from Woolies and to be honest have no idea on how to cook them or even if I have too..
Could anyone help me ?

jules December 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Hi Suzanne
I haven’t eaten quinoa puffs but they are cooked – kinda liked rice bubbles or puffed wheat. So you can eat them as is. Not sure what else you’d do with them – you could try in a savoury salad – might be nice if they soak up the dressing.

Beryl January 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I have not bought quinoa as yet, just thinking about it and decided to learn more about it. After reading the posts I can’t wait to buy some and try it. If the seeds are so small they slip through a strainer – perhaps using those coffee thingo’s that fit in the pots when making coffee…or use a Muslin cloth! now I’m just going to have to try it out myself to find out huh?

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