Quinoa: An amazing little seed

August 3, 2018

Last Saturday, the Historic Lewes Farmers Market invited me to present a cooking demonstration. Because my portable cooktop requires electricity (perhaps I need to get one that uses a miniature propane canister), I had to modify my approach to avoid the requirement for any actual cooking. I elected to make two quinoa salads.

For those of you who may not be familiar with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), allow me to introduce you to an amazing little seed. Labeled an "ancient grain," quinoa is a member of the goosefoot family which includes vegetables related to chard and spinach. While not botanically a grain, it's often treated as one in recipes.

Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru over 4,000 years ago. It was a sacred crop to the Incas, who called it the mother of all grains. According to legend, the Incan emperor would ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every year with a golden implement signifying the importance of this food source. Nutritionally, quinoa is quite remarkable. High in protein, low in carbs, gluten free, rich in fiber, quinoa is one of the only cereals considered a complete source of protein, as it includes all nine essential amino acids. This tiny seed also provides magnesium, potassium and other micronutrients.

When cooked, quinoa has a fluffy texture with subtle nutty hints of flavor. You can find three different types of quinoa for sale: white, red and black. White quinoa (more of a tan color than a true white) has the most delicate taste and lightest texture. Red quinoa (which becomes brownish when cooked) has a nuttier flavor and slightly chewier texture. Black quinoa is a bit earthier. Rainbow or tri-color quinoa is a packaged blend of different-colored quinoa, which is pretty on the plate, but tricky to cook because each type needs a different cooking time. Quinoa cooks like many grains, boiled in a liquid at a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid (water or broth). White quinoa is ready in 15 minutes, red in 20 and black takes almost 25 minutes.

Depending on the recipe, you may want to select a specific color: white is a good substitute for rice; red and black hold their shape better in salads. All of them share the same nutritional profile and have only minor differences in taste and texture. Quinoa has become quite popular and can be found in most groceries and specialty markets.

Before I left home on Saturday morning, I cooked two batches of quinoa to bring to the demo. I packed a box with olive oil, vinegar, lemons, limes and several spices. Once I arrived at the HLFM, I visited a number of growers to collect the items on my shopping list: heirloom tomatoes, corn on the cob, sweet peppers, summer squash, baby cucumbers, red onion and fresh basil.

Once the demo was underway, I spent most of my time chopping and talking. For the first dish, I cut the kernels from the corn cob directly into the mixing bowl, adding red peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, onion and the cooked quinoa. In a glass measuring cup, I whisked together a Mexican-influenced vinaigrette seasoned with lime juice, cumin and chili powder.

For the second salad, I combined tomato, cucumber, squash and shredded basil with the quinoa and tossed it with a lemon-Balsamic dressing. After tasting samples, the audience asked for the recipes – they seemed to enjoy their introduction to quinoa. Here are the instructions for both salads; feel free to substitute or add ingredients to include whatever fresh summer produce you may have on hand.


1 C dry quinoa
2 C liquid*

Bring the liquid to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa and reduce heat to very low; cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Yield: 2 C cooked quinoa. *Note: select water, broth or stock, depending upon recipe.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

1 ear of corn
1 C halved cherry tomato
1 small red onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 C cooked quinoa
1/4 C olive oil
2 T lime juice
2 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t chili powder
1/4 t garlic powder
salt & pepper, to taste
chopped cilantro (optional)

Husk the corn, remove the silk and cut off the kernels directly into a serving bowl. Add the tomatoes, onion, pepper and quinoa; toss gently to combine. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over quinoa and toss gently to distribute. Adjust seasonings and garnish with cilantro (if using). Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Balsamic Quinoa Salad

2 C cooked quinoa
1 C chopped tomato
2/3 C chopped cucumber
2/3 C chopped summer squash
2 T shredded basil leaves
mini mozzarella balls (optional)
1/4 C olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
2 T Balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste

Combine the quinoa, tomato, cucumber, squash, basil and mozzarella (if using) in a serving bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture and toss gently to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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