Cooking With Quinoa

Quinoa is what we now know as a “superfood”, but the Incas started cultivating this seed for food as long as 4,000 years ago. Our word quinoa is actually the Spanish spelling of the Incan word kinwa.

Considered as a sacred crop by the Incas, it was known as the “mother of all grains” and the emperor ceremoniously sowed the first seeds of the season each year using “golden implements” reserved strictly for that purpose.

Cooking with Quinoa |


Not only was it a regular part of everyone’s diet, but Incan warriors were given balls of quinoa (held together with fat- yuck!) to eat on long marches and before battle to increase their stamina.

Obscure South American Origins to Worldwide Renown

Sadly, after the Spanish conquest, the grain all but died out during the 16th century as the Spanish attempted to eradicate every element of the Incan culture to better assimilate the conquered people.

Only a few areas of wild quinoa survived throughout the following centuries to be gradually rediscovered and re-cultivated by the Andean people living in the country and needing additional avenues of sustenance. It doesn’t hurt that the plants have these really pretty flowers on them.

By the 1900s, it was once again a pretty common food wherever it grew indigenously. In fact, an obscure American research paper written back in 1955 makes the assertion that “while no single food can supply all the essential life-sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other food in the plant or animal kingdom.”

In the 1970s, the grain really started to make a comeback, spreading from the poor countryside to the cities of South America.

Beautiful, tasty, and healthy - The Quinoa Plant

Over the following decades, it gained in popularity outside of those countries, and after the dawn of the new millennium, quinoa saw a major boom as a new health food in the United States and in other parts of the Western world.

In fact, 2013 was the “Year of Quinoa” as declared by the United Nations to raise awareness of the nutritional, economic, environmental and cultural value of this food source.

Quinoa: It Does a Body Good

So, why is this grain such a health superstar? There are actually many reasons why, and I’ll go over the most important factors here, but let me state first that it is what is known as a pseudo-cereal. This means that it is cooked and eaten like a grain product, but the plant is actually related to beets, chard, and spinach rather than true cereal crops such as wheat and oats.

In fact, the leaves are also edible and are pretty common as food in some parts of South America (not so much here in the United States, though).

The Healthy Quinoa Plant |

Now, onto some of the biggest reasons you should consider adding this into your diet. First and foremost, while quinoa is a pseudo-cereal and thus a carbohydrate source, it is also a complete protein.

This means that, like other protein sources such as beef and chicken, this mighty seed has all nine essential amino acids. These are the only amino acids (essential nutrients that the body needs to function well) that the body is incapable of producing on its own and needs to get through the food we eat.

For the purposes of weight loss, this fact carries a different meaning as well.

First, the outrageous 8 grams of protein per cup of the cooked seeds mean you feel fuller faster and longer, helping you to consume fewer calories during the meal and later during the rest of your day.

Second, it gives you both a protein and a carbohydrate serving at the same time. This is helpful if part of your weight loss plan includes keeping up with protein and carbohydrate servings allowed at each meal.

Now, if you read my article on green tea, you read all about polyphenols and flavonoids, which are wonderful nutrients produced by plants that have a myriad of healthful benefits.

Well, quinoa is a plant, so it too has some super helpful flavonoids, namely quercetin and kaempferol. These two in particular have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, and anti-depressant qualities. They also seem to help regulate blood pressure and lower the risk for developing type II diabetes.

Different Colors of Quinoa Seeds |

Finally, quinoa has greater than 20% of the daily recommended amount of the B vitamins B6, riboflavin, thiamine, and folate, as well as similarly high levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.

It also has 10-19% of the daily recommended amount of niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, and potassium.

Lastly, for a plant product, it has a ridiculous amount of calcium (47 mg per100 grams), making it a great source of the nutrients for vegans.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into what each of these vitamins and minerals does for your body, but feel free to read up on them yourself and be further amazed at all the good this plant can do for you.

Good to Know

There are a few other interesting notes regarding this amazing food that I want to share with you as well:

  • It’s pretty cool that NASA has proposed quinoa as an ideal food for astronauts during long-term space flights.
    It makes an excellent drink. In South America, they make a beer called chichi that is made with fermented quinoa.  I guess that’s what you’d call a healthy buzz!
  • There is wide range speculation now that the Natchez Indians of Mississippi may have cultivated their own variety long before the emergence of maize as the most common crop grown by Native Americans.
  • Back in the day, the indigenous tribes of the Andean region in South America would make poultices using quinoa to help heal broken bones. I suppose the belief that the plant would be beneficial for that purpose lies  in the fact that it has high levels of phosphorus which is good for keeping bones healthy and strong.
  • This final point perhaps has the most significance for us as a world today: quinoa is extremely drought tolerant. In fact, when all other crops begin to fail as result of drought, this plant perversely starts to thrive and may even produce more seeds than before. This crop can survive on as little as 3-4” of rain a year. This has great promise for areas that are prone to famine due to drought, such as many parts of Africa.
  • One crop can produce a large harvest in a small area. Fixed resources such as land and water may have the ability to product more food.  This has huge import in terms of food security for the future.

So, How Do You Cook It?

First, though most quinoa you can buy in a store these days has been pre-rinsed, it is recommended that you rinse before cooking. The seeds have a protective coating of naturally produced chemicals called saponins which serve as a natural pesticide.

This coating is still on them when they are harvested and can be pretty bitter and unpleasant to eat. Rinsing them removes that coating. While most store-bought is already pre-rinsed, as I said, it doesn’t hurt to make sure.

Preparing Quinoa |

Now, in its most simplistic form, cooking quinoa could not be any easier. In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 2 cups of water (or chicken or vegetable stock for more flavor) for every 1 cup of quinoa with a teaspoon of salt.

Then, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking for 15-20 minutes. You’ll know it’s done once all of the liquid has been absorbed by the seeds. Similar to couscous, give the quinoa a quick fluff with a fork, and you are good to go.

 You will see a little white “tail” protruding from each seed, which is the “germ” or plant portion of the seed. This is normal and expected. Also, perfectly cooked quinoa still has a slight crunch to it, so don’t be alarmed by this and start thinking that it’s not cooked all the way.

Again, this is normal and expected.

I did say that this is the most simplistic way to cook this superfood, but most of the time this is not straight up, bare quinoa that ends up on my plate. It’s perfect as a base for our protein-rich lemon chicken quinoa bowls and lemon and herb tabbouleh!

Also, it can be ground into flour – either at home or bought pre ground.

Let me share a few more of my favorite recipes with you.

Quinoa “Oatmeal”

Enjoy a protein-rich start to your day with quinoa “oatmeal.” With just a handful of ingredients required – quinoa, coconut milk, honey, vanilla extract, almonds, and strawberries – this is a delicious alternative to oat-based breakfast cereals!

Make the Best Quinoa Hot Breakfast Cereal |

Quinoa “Oatmeal” – Get the Recipe Now
Pork Chops and Quinoa Skillet Recipe |
The Best Skillet Pork Chops with Quinoa
Votes: 4
Rating: 4
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
Need an easy meal with a meaty main? Our skillet pork chops with quinoa is a tasty mix of healthy ingredients, all made in one pan.
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 5 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 5 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Pork Chops and Quinoa Skillet Recipe |
The Best Skillet Pork Chops with Quinoa
Votes: 4
Rating: 4
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
Need an easy meal with a meaty main? Our skillet pork chops with quinoa is a tasty mix of healthy ingredients, all made in one pan.
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 5 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 5 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 4 bone-in pork chops
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 small serrano peppers finely chopped (or any other pepper of your choice- jalapeno, Anaheim, or poblano)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup dry quinoa rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
Servings: servings
  1. Heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Melt the coconut oil in the skillet.
  2. Season the pork chops on both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Place in the heated skillet and brown on both sides. Remove to a separate plate.
  3. Add the onion and peppers to the skillet. Saute for 5-10 minutes, until they have softened. Add the garlic and saute for another minute.
  4. Return the pork chops back to the skillet. Spread the quinoa on the pork chops. Pour the chicken stock over the quinoa and pork. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Place one pork chop and a large spoonful of quinoa in 4 separate bowls and serve.
Recipe Notes

Recipe by Ashley Martell. 


A collage of of different types of pancake recipes | Foodal
Quinoa Casserole
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
A collage of of different types of pancake recipes | Foodal
Quinoa Casserole
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
  • 2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning
Homemade Taco Seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Remaining Ingrediants
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or salsa
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper finely chopped
  1. Place the ground beef or turkey and taco seasoning in a pan over medium heat and cook until the meat is cooked through.
  2. Drain the meat and set aside. In the same pan, add a spoonful of coconut oil and sauté the onion and jalapeno 5-10 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and spinach and sauté until the spinach has wilted down.
  3. Add the cooked vegetables to the meat and stir to combine. Then, add the cooked quinoa, salsa, and 1 cup of shredded cheese.
  4. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Enjoy!
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About Ashley Martell

Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.

28 thoughts on “Cooking With Quinoa”

  1. I have heard of quinoa and its reputation for being a healthy food. I don’t usually see it stocked in supermarkets where I’m from but I guess I could try it if I find out they have some. I eat oatmeal everyday and lately I’ve been trying to switch up my oatmeal recipes so that get bored. I might try that quinoa oatmeal once I get the chance.

    • Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve heard a lot about the quinoa craze recently but I haven’t seen it sold anywhere. I live in Vietnam though so maybe that’s why..

  2. These are great recipes and tips. I’ve only tried making quinoa as a side dish once and I overcooked it because it definitely did not have any crunch to it. It turned out rather mushy. I’m an going to try the Quinoa Casserole. It sounds delicious.

  3. I’ve never tried Quinoa before, as it’s not massively popular here in the UK. It is available in the supermatrkets though, and seems to be reasonably priced. It certainly seems very versatile – I had no idea it made a great breakfast food!

  4. The only thing I knew about it, before reading your article, was from what part of the world it came from. I love reading a little bit of history behind ”ingredients”, the back story adds that much more it. Unfortunately in my part of the world quinoa is nowhere to be found, I guess experiencing it will have to wait.

  5. I had no idea NASA was considering quinoa as a space food so to speak. That’s a great idea. Hopefully they work out a way to make it taste a lot less like space food or MREs.

  6. One of my flatmates was vegan and cooked quinoa all the time and it does take a while, but it is so healthy. I can never pronounce it properly, but I have used it in salads. You can get very creative with it, but it’s good for people who need a gluten-free food and don’t want to have rice all the time.

  7. Thanks so much for including a great-looking recipe for quinoa oatmeal! I’m going to have to try that out this weekend. I actually have a bag that I bought from the bulk bin at the local produce store, and I’ve been just looking for the right thing to make. I’m a vegetarian, and the complete protein aspect of this superfood is phenomenal. I knew it was good for me, but I didn’t realize just how good. I am trying to lose weight, and find myself hungry a good bit. Using quinoa for a more filling meal will be helpful.

  8. This is some interesting and helpful information about quinoa. I eat it occasionally, but the way you related all the nutrients, it makes me want to eat it more. I am so shocked to know it isn’t a grain, and is related to my favorite beets. I also enjoyed learning the origin of the grain. I appreciate the recipe showing the ratio of water to grain, for proper cooking. I am a vegan and it is good to know this is another something I can consume to get my protein.

  9. That Quinoa Oatmeal in a bowl looks delicious {recipe noted down}…too bad quinoa isn’t readily available in our locale {grocer’s} and am sure even if the grocer was to order…and sell, it would cost an arm and a leg…and to think those Incan warriors ate quinoa balls held with fat…i must say, more power to them…i’d need some umpteen hours in the bathroom if i were to indulge in ‘quinoa balls’ 🙁

  10. I am pinning this right after I finish this comment. I have eaten quinoa at restaurants but I have never ventured to make it myself at home. I often wondered if that “sprout” protruding out was normal so I am happy to read that it is. Learning the history of it kind of makes me fall even more in love with quinoa. I had no idea that it goes back to the Incans and was practically extinct. I am married to a Filipino man that loves his sticky white rice. I’ve tried to switch him to brown rice but he has resisted. I’m going to try quinoa next and hopefully strike a chord.

    Really great post. Thank you for the history and the tips!

  11. I’ve never had quinoa, or even had it around the house, but I’ve always heard that it’s a really healthy food to eat. I always thought it was a food that would be good when topped with beef or chicken, almost as a substitute for rice. Seeing it here used as a cereal must mean it’s an extremely versatile food, so I might have to pick some up next time I’m at the grocery store.

  12. You know, I always thought it was pronounced quin-o-wa. Whoops, now I know better! I try to avoid most carbs usually, but if quinoa has so much protein to go along with it, it would make a good occasional addition to meals. I awlays assumed it was about as healthy as white rice, but it looks like it’s got a lot of good nutrients. And that oatmeal recipes look delicious… I might have to see if I can my hands on some quinoa.

  13. I’m like most people here. Quinoa is not readily available here in the PH. The only store I know where this is carried is at Healthy Options. THey’re indeed a bit pricey. When I heard of their health benefits, I immediately searched where I could buy it. But when I saw them at HO, I got discouraged because of its price.

  14. My family and I recently began to eat more cleanly to be healthier and lose some “happy pounds.” I had heard of quinoa a lot recently and a few weeks ago decided to give it a try as a substitute for the less healthy rice and pasta which have been a staple in our home. My husband, although dubious at first, really enjoyed a quinoa strawberry vinaigrette mason jar salad we ate for our first quinoa meal. Then more amazingly my very picky two year old ate quinoa broccoli cheddar bites without so much as scrunched up face ( a true feat believe me.) The quinoa casserole above looks amazing and we will definitely be trying it this week one night! The oatmeal looks great as well but wonder if it is possible to do a kind of overnight “oat” type dish with it? In my family morning are so crazy that its easiest to prep breakfast the night before so i may have to experiment with cooking it at night and seeing if it holds up well till morning.

  15. This is pretty awesome! I never knew that the Incas used it. As a history buff, this is a cool fact I’ll share with all my friends!

  16. Quinoa is one of those things I keep meaning to try, but have never gotten around to it. I love your recipe for quinoa oatmeal, and it is this that has finally prompted me to put it on my shopping list at last.

    I have a blueberry and pistachio thing going on in my house at the moment – cakes, biscuits, and now oatmeal, we can’t get enough of it. Hopefully the blueberry, pistachio and quinoa oatmeal will be a winner too.

    Thank you for sharing.

  17. I’ve heard of quinoa, but I didn’t know all these interesting facts about it (nor did I know how to prepare it, so thanks!).

    I’ve seen quinoa burgers and always though about trying them.

    The fact that it is practically drought proof is pretty amazing. We need to be growing lots of this stuff. There are too many hungry people out there, and that number will only grow over time.

  18. Quinoa is something that people tend to pronounce wrong and then prepare wrong. It’s somewhat challenging to cook perfectly, but it’s the perfect addition to various meals. I’d say I have quinoa five or six times per month, which isn’t much, I’ll admit. It’s a great little food that can be quite filling considering what it’s actually comprised of. I’d say I incorporate it into my dinners more often than other meals.

  19. I’d really love to start cooking quinoa more often, as it really sounds like one of the perfect foods for my needs. However, it’s a bit pricey in my area. I will definitely give it a try at some point, but at the moment it would probably be an occasional splurge. The quinoa oatmeal recipe sounds great, and I like the idea of the quinoa casserole as well.

    As for mispronunciations, I always end up thinking of a certain failed reality show… queen-o-la!

    • I agree with you, it’s expensive in my area as well, but I’ve always been tempted to give it a try. I just never really knew how to cook it or what types of dishes it would go well with. I’d always thought of maybe doing a nice healthy stir-fry and having some quinoa to go along with it. I like the idea of the oatmeal. I’ll have to give that one a try.

  20. I’ve heard so much buzz about quinoa that I was burned out on it, but your pictures drew me in. Quinoa actually sounds like it has a lot of what I need in my diet, so as much as I hate to jump on the bandwagon, apparently I’m going to have to. Your recipes sounds yummy, and I think once I get my hands on some quinoa, I’ll give them a try.

  21. I might possibly be living under a rock but the first time I ever heard of quinoa was when I went over to Canada last summer and worked in a bar where it was on the menu. Since then the world has suddenly been overcome by all things quinoa. For a product that I would never had seen in a supermarket to it literally having as much space on shelves as rice or couscous. I personally love it.

    However I must say that the first few times I prepared it, well lets just say I thought I knew better than the packet and let it overcook. Which in case you were wondering is actually VERY VERY easy to do! If the packet says five minutes you count the five minutes because from my experience it can be easily ruined.

    I love using it in simple salads or even just using it as a substitute for couscous from time to time. However the looks of the oatmeal looks like something new and interesting though and I am genuinely looking forward to trying it out!

  22. I just got a free sample of quinoa and would like to make the oatmeal, but–apologies for being a heathen–do you have instructions for making it in the microwave? (Please don’t hate me but it is just so much quicker and easier to microwave something on a work morning, and oatmeal is not nice if you prepare it ahead of time).

  23. Quinoa has helped me lose a lot of weight in the past months. In my country, we always eat rice for every meal of the day which was not really helping me achieve my fitness goals. I decided to replace my rice with quinoa, and I am so happy I did. It just makes me fuller for a longer time, and it helps me reach my daily required protein goal. After incorporating this to my diet, and of course eating healthier all throughout the past months, I managed to lose 15 pounds. I would definitely recommend my fellow rice lovers out there to try this miracle grain.

  24. Okay, so this is my favorite article out of everything I have read today. I’ve seen quinoa rise on popularity, and I had no idea why. Now I do! Looks like I have to go find some in the store now.. I will be saving this article on Pinterest! I had no clue it was so healthy. I honestly thought it was just another fad with the food gurus. Great post! And I love all of your information.

  25. I was introduced to quinoa a few years ago and it has completely replaced pasta in my diet. It’s a great protein and carbohydrate source and I even prefer it to brown rice. It also fits in with high alkaline diets and I recommend anybody looking into clean eating to move towards incorporating quinoa and amaranth into their diets.

  26. I’m really interested in this stuff, but re-reading this article makes it clear why the product is a bit on the pricey side (although I’d say it’s well worth it). It’s not readily available at my local store. I’ve heard that the big Walmart supercenters might carry it though, and of course, it can be ordered online as well. I’m going to find some so I can try out these recipes.

    Has anyone heard of a flour made from this grain? I swore I heard something about that, but I’m not real familiar with this stuff. Still learning (so glad for the reference here on a trusted site).

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