Eat Your… Quinoa


Anyone following the schedule that I outlined in the introductory article should know that this week’s topic is supposed to be couscous. But… I was on vacation last week and forgot to buy some couscous… oops. So today is quinoa, next week is couscous, and the final week of August is teff.

Although this month’s mini-series of articles focuses on grains, quinoa is not a true grain. It is the seed of Chenopodium quinoa, a member of the goosefoot genus, and is related to beets, spinach, swish chard, and lamb’s quarters. Young quinoa leaves are also edible and can be cooked similar to spinach, however large quantities can be unpleasant due to the natural occurence of a mild toxin.

Vegetarians take note: quinoa is 12-18% protein, and packs all nine essential amino acids (a “complete protein”) including lysine, an amino acid that is essential for tissue growth and repair. 1/4 cup uncooked quinoa contains nearly 50% of the recommended daily intake of manganese, and 20% for magnesium and iron.


Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains of South America at least as far back as 3,000 B.C. in what is now present-day Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. The Incas regarded it as a sacred grain, using it in important religious ceremonies, to feed the Incan army, and as a staple crop throughout much of their empire.

Since the late 1980s, quinoa has been available in the United States. Fifteen years ago it would have been difficult to imagine its acceptance into mainstream cooking, but quinoa can now be found at nearly any natural foods store (or a larger grocery with a bulk item section).


Like most staple crops, quinoa has an ability to be many things for many people. It can work well as a breakfast porridge, ground into flour, fermented for alcohol, or as an additional dimension in soups or cold salads, just to name a few. My personal favorite is as a substitute for rice partnered with a stir fry. I find that the texture and subtle “earthy” flavor compliments saucy, spicy, Asian food quite well.

Recently, a fried of mine surprised me by using quinoa in a dessert. Think baked blackberry oh-my-god-is-this-really-quinoa? cobbler. Crazy and delicious!

The point is, you won’t know what to do with quinoa until you try it.

Quinoa recipes on Google Base

Cooking Tips

Thankfully, cooking quinoa is not much different than rice.

For 1 cup uncooked quinoa:

1. Soak uncooked quinoa seeds in water for 30 minutes

2. Stir the seeds a bit, then drain off water.

3. Rinse seeds again under running water, then drain.

4. Put rinsed seeds into a pot and add 1-1/2 cups water (1:1.5 quinoa:water ratio) and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

5. Remove from heat, let sit 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Quinoa Seeds

See you next week!

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Now Playing: The Chronic by Dr. Dre.

Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).