Food Spotlight: Quinoa


While it is not commonly found in most people’s kitchens, it should be. Quinoa is rapidly gaining attention as an amazing way to include fiber and protein in your diet. So what is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and why should you include it in your diet? I’ll tell you!

Quinoa is an amino acid-rich seed that is considered a grain by most people. Actually, quinoa is  a relative of leafy green veggies like spinach. While it has been around for thousands of years, it  has recently been rediscovered and is  being called  an ancient “grain”. Quinoa has a creamy yet slightly crunchy texture  and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked that I quite enjoy in multiple types of dishes. You can find quinoa in  the local health food stores throughout the year (but I’ve also gotten it at WinCo in the bulk section as well as  at Costco).

As I said, quinoa has been around for thousands of years. It originated in the Andean region of South America, where it was successfully domesticated 3000 to 4000 years ago for human consumption. It was called “the gold of the Incas” as they were the first to notice that  eating quinoa substantially increased the stamina of their warriors. As such, they  thought it sacred. In fact, each year at planting time it was traditional for the Inca leader to plant the first quinoa seed using a solid gold shovel!

The reason it kept their armies marching is the high nutritional value that quinoa offers. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa’s amino acid profile is well balanced, which makes it a good choice for vegans concerned about adequate protein consumption. Quinoa is especially abundant  in lysine, which is an amino acid essential for tissue growth and repair.

As if the high (and complete) protein that quinoa brings to the table isn’t enough, it offers a host of other health-building nutrients as well. Because quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as  magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, research is being done to see if this “grain” may be of value for people who experience migraine headaches, have diabetes and/or  atherosclerosis.


Most boxed/pre-packaged quinoa has already been pre-rinsed for convenience. The cooking instructions on the box will only  suggest a brief rinse before cooking, if it mentions it at all. But, if you get your quinoa out of the bulk section of any store, I promise you it has not been pre-rinsed.

Quinoa has a soapy type coating on the outside of each seed called saponins. If you’ve gotten your quinoa out of the bulk section  your first step is to remove the saponins so that it does not taste bitter. There are two ways to go about it. You can either soak the grain in water for a few hours, change the water and re-soak or rinse the quinoa in ample cold running water for several minutes in either a fine strainer or a cheesecloth. If you choose to rinse them under running water, use your hands to  rub the seeds together, this will help remove the saponins quicker and more efficiently. Removal of the saponin helps with digestion, and trust me you’ll want to remove it, as the soapy nature of  saponin makes your body react much as it would to a laxative… Okay, consider yourself warned.

One  way to cook quinoa is like you would brown  rice; bring two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, cover with a lid  at a low simmer and cook it for 10 – 15 minutes (or until the germ separates from the seed). Another way to cook it would be to use a rice cooker,  just like you would for rice (both cooking cycle and water amounts).

Once you’ve cooked it, fruits, vegetables, lean meats  and seasonings can be added to make a wide range of dishes. Just like you can with rice, chicken, beef or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking to add flavor. You can also serve quinoa as a high-protein breakfast cereal  mixed with honey, almonds, and/or fruit, which is one of my favorite ways to eat it.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 cup  green onions, green and white parts diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • Pepper


  1. Place quinoa in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring  almost constantly until the seeds turn deeper in color, about three minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa and a 1/4 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and fluff with a fork.
  3. Combine olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, lemon juice, tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, garlic and parsley. Stir in cooled quinoa. Season to taste with a little bit of additional salt and black pepper, if desired. You can serve it immediately if you’d like to but it’s better if you let it refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors  blend.

This is a super yummy salad that can be eaten on it’s own, but it’s also good served with grilled chicken and steamed asparagus. If you serve it as a side-dish, this recipe will feed between  6  and 8, if you eat it all by it’s lonesome your looking at more like 3 or 4. Okay, now go try it and tell me what you think of it!

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