Quinoa: The Inca’s Mother of all Grains Comes to Your Home Kitchen

Quinoa in flower (photo by Christian Guthier via Flickr)


Most of you already know, it’s pronounced KEEN-Wah, grows in the Andes, and is high in protein.  What didn’t you know? Did you know that quinoa has been cultivated for some 6,000 years, that the Incas considered it “the mother of all grains,” and that Peru and Bolivia are still the world’s leading producers? In the past twenty five years quinoa has come from being almost unknown in North America to being almost mainstream (I’ve bought organic quinoa at Costco). I attribute that in part to our obsession with protein–quinoa contains all the essential amino acids, and is 12-18% protein.  It’s also a source of phosphorus, magnesium and iron, and is gluten free. Additionally, it’s quick cooking and easy to eat. In short, I predict a brilliant future for quinoa in North America. It’s major downside, that it is naturally coated with a bitter and slightly toxic substance called saponin, has mostly been eliminated by thorough washing before being marketed.  Still, a good rinse before cooking is usually advised.  Most commonly, quinoa is cooked like rice: two parts water to one part quinoa, bring to a boil, cover, turn down to a slow simmer and simmer for about twenty minutes. When cooked, the grains open up and acquire a tiny, white ring around them. Well-stocked natural food stores sell quinoa flakes and flour as well as the whole grain. You will happily eat quinoa as a simple cooked grain, or with a sauce, but if you want to dress it up a little, try my recipe for Quinoa-Potato Sauté with a garnish of toasted pumpkin seeds (a marriage of three Latin American natives) …



(4-5 servings)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked 20 minutes in 2 cups water

1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

2 medium potatoes, cut into small dice

1/2 medium carrot, diced

1 small stock celery, diced

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 teapoons umeboshi vinegar or to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds as garnish

1. Cook the quinoa as usual.

2. Heat a roomy sauté pan, add a little oil and sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, adding a little pinch of salt. Add the potatoes and carrots and sauté 3-4 minutes more.

3. Add the celery and parsley and continue sauteéing on low to medium heat, stirring frequently another 10 minutes or so, or until everything is tender and ligthly caramelized.

4. Add in the quinoa and sauté everything another 3-4 minutes, season with soy sauce, umeboshi vinegar and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Red quinoa (left), white quinoa (right), both slightly enlarged


One response

  1. Nice to see Quinoa getting its place on your blog, Gary.
    I’m reminded of the day a neighbor invited me in for lunch.
    Soup was served. I thanked them while I enjoyed the light broth.
    Seeing the Quinoa floating in the soup, I got an earful from my host.
    Adriana comes from Lima, Peru, and is back there now.
    She explained to me that Peruvians cook quinoa in soup, a small amount of grain, in a lot of water. Her husband remarked that he has seen many friends cooking it like oatmeal, or rice. I suppose we have barley soup as a model. Anyhow, their light soup made for a great lunch, and conversation.

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