Connecting with quinoa

betty ming liu Food, Health 13 Comments

quinoa & ingredients I grew up eating rice. But can’t do that anymore because of all the carbs. So what’s an aging, figure-conscious Chinatown girl to do? Think quinoa!

To be honest, quinoa — which is pronounced KEEN-wah — doesn’t taste anything like rice. But since it’s low-carb, high protein, gluten-free and reasonably priced, I wanted to love it — even though the texture is too pebbly for me.

After fooling around in my kitchen, I’ve figured out how to cook this great food item in a way that comes closer to approaching the mouth feel of rice. I’m sharing it here, along with  a few other fast ‘n’ easy ideas too.

So…what the hell is quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is mistakenly called a grain because that’s what it looks like. But it’s really a seed. Cooking plumps it to a nice translucence with an opaque, curly edge. There are three main types of quinoa, in three different colors, flavors and textures. The basic beige is most common and the blandest of the bland. Red quinoa is also delicious. All the quinoas mix well with other ingredients.


Black quinoa is interesting too. Both the read and black versions offer more crunch and a nuttier taste. They also need to cook a bit longer. Mixing up the colors can be tasty and fun too.

There’s an urban legend making the rounds about how quinoa needs to be soaked overnight to get rid of any potential bitter aftertaste. Not true! I have never soaked quinoa and it works fine. Another thing…the directions on the box always say to wash before cooking. But I never do. It’s not gritty. Just throw it in the pot!

Hey, you can make quinoa in 15 to 20 minutes!

There are cooking directions on quinoa boxes. What follows is my own, made-up recipe for creating a more rice-like texture.

How to Make Quinoa


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water for a nuttier texture or, 2¼ cups water for a thicker, rice-y feel.
  • ½ Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt


— Add all ingredients to a small pot. Turn flame high to reach full boil. Takes a few minutes.

— Once the water’s bubbling like mad, turn the flame down and cover. But leave the lid open just a crack so that steam can escape.

— Give the quinoa mix about 4 to 7 minutes to absorb the water. It will stop looking like soup and more like mush.

— Now firmly cap the lid closed. Cook on low flame for about 5 minutes.

— Do not open lid. Just turn off flame and let pot sit on stove for another 5 minutes — or until you’re ready to serve. The quinoa will keep cooking nicely in its own heat. I promise you, this is the softest, most tender quinoa you’ve ever had.

My quinoa recipes

You can use quinoa the way you’d use rice. You can also use it to make salads. Add a cup or two to soup. The possibilities go on and on. Fussy recipes bore me so what I’m presenting here is very simple. If you come up with new ideas, please do share!

— Quinoa straight up: serve straight out of the pot as a side dish to a main meat or vegetable.

— Sesame quinoa: add 1 Tablespoon (or more) sesame seeds and a dash of roasted sesame oil to a 1 cup cooked serving of quinoa.

— Quinoa salad: toss with beans, diced cooked carrots, diced celery, nuts, anything!

— Lentil quinoa soup, vegetable quinoa soup: add a cup or two to any soup you’re making. Turns it into an instant meal.

Comments 13

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  2. Quinoa is…meh. I’m impressed by its nutritional content and versatility, but not terribly impressed by its mouthfeel. Quinoa definitely has an exalted place despite how I feel about it, but for me it can never replace the saintly perfection of my favorite brown-and-wild rice combo. I do, however, still have about 3 pounds of it languishing in my cabinet at home (red, white and black mixed, courtesy of Whole Paycheck, of course!), so I just might take this recipe into serious consideration…if I’m ever to get rid of my excess quinoa, that is.

    1. Post

      yeah, i know what you mean about the taste. given a choice, i’d still rather have rice. but really, try adding more water and the olive oil while cooking. the sea salt helps the mouth feel too. now i actually enjoy quinoa.

      just keep an eye on it while cooking. every stove is different and you might need to add a little more water near the end.

  3. You can change the texture to be a bit fluffier by 1. toasting the quinoa in a hot pan first, just till you smell the nuttiness, and 2. Add boiling water to the quinoa instead of starting the quinoa cook in cold water, and 3. use the ratio of 1 1/2 to 1 water to quinoa instead of 2 to 1 – then cook for exactly 15 minutes, remove from heat, but leave covered. Love your blog Betty!

  4. I love quinoa! I’m a sauce-lovin gal and love the way quinoa just sops up every last drop!

    Quinoa has become quite popular but few people know where it comes from so I thought I’d send this article your way.

    Basically, quinoa is produced in 3 countries, one of which is Bolivia. 90% of their quinoa production is exported. Bolivian children are exhibiting signs of malnutrition as quinoa is being replaced with rice and noodles. I’m assuming the remaining 10% is barely affordable forcing locals to choose inexpensive alternatives. : (

    Sorry to rain on your quinoa parade but I think it’s important that people know
    where their food comes from and especially the impact it’s making in the world.

  5. Post

    ella, i’m gonna have to try your receipe — thanks!

    wendy, you read my mind. the new york times wrote about this issue too. i agree that it’s awful that bolivians can’t afford to have quinoa because we’re all buying up the quinoa.we need to be aware (at the very least). keep the links coming.

  6. I also have to lay off the rice these days and have turned to quinoa for a substitution. Instead of messing around with it in a pot, I make mine in my rice maker. Same proportions of rice to water (1 = 2) and it comes out perfectly every time.

  7. I tried quinoa for the very first time not too long ago and it was AMAZING! tossed in red curry sauce (not drenched, the plate wasn’t even wet really) and served alongside some snapper.

    I’ve never tried to replicate it before because the process of making quinoa seemed too bothersome, but I’m looking forward to it now that I know it’s so similar to preparing rice.

  8. Post

    i’m here to report that I’ve tried steph’s approach and….i’ll never make quinoa on the stove top again! the rice cooker is so easy. the only thing for me is that i prefer my quinoa on the dense, sticky side.

    to get that texture, i’ll add 2-1/4 cups water to one cup of quinoa. Plus, a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt. thanks so much, steph!

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