Quinoa, A Million Ways

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I’ve meant to write a post about my super simple “recipe” for quinoa for ages now. Not because there’s any lack of wonderful quinoa recipes and blog posts online, but because I’m always recommending quinoa to people for its adaptability, healthiness and general quick-and-easy tastiness. It would be nice to be able to point to a set of instructions online rather than bore friends and family with my usual confusing and wordy explanation. So here it is.

My quinoa won’t win any awards for being photogenic (you’ll notice I don’t have a picture for this post, although that has something to do with the Mini Foodie monopolizing my time and my photographic skills at the moment), and sometimes it doesn’t come out the ideal al dente texture. But I can have a healthy and satisfying one-pot meal ready in 45 minutes start to finish with only 10 minutes of my attention needed, less if I make plain quinoa with veggie stock in the rice cooker and top it with things as I eat each serving. (I’ve been doing this since our Mini Foodie came so I don’t have to be worried about needing to tend the pot when the timer goes off.)

With its complete protein so rare in the plant world, quinoa is the perfect side dish upgrade for vegetarians, vegans or anyone who would like to pack a little more protein in where they’d normally use rice or even couscous. It has a nice and nutty but not overpowering flavor and a pleasant texture, which makes it easy to tailor to whatever cuisine you’re craving. I’ve made butternut squash quinoa, Indian curry quinoa, Mexican quinoa, Italian quinoa, even a Thai curry quinoa that was surprisingly delicious, all from things I had in my pantry.

These are some of my favorite combinations:

  • Butternut squash soup, raisins and curry powder, served with diced crisp, raw apple on top.
  • Roasted red pepper soup, canned black beans, frozen corn (especially the fire roasted stuff from Trader Joe’s), cumin, salsa.
  • Roasted red pepper soup, canned garbanzo beans, whatever fresh or frozen veggies I have lying around, thyme or basil.
  • Vegetable stock and soy sauce, topped with anything remotely stir fry-esque.
  • Cooked with vegetable stock and topped with pico de gallo, roasted red pepper strips and avocado slices, or simply a mild but flavorful hot sauce from Chris’ collection.
  • Cooled, with an olive oil vinaigrette, diced celery and peas.
  • Whatever I see when I open my cupboard doors. This is a great way to try out the flavors of a recipe you’ve read about but don’t have the ingredients, time or inclination to go to the trouble of making.


1-2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil (optional if you aren’t cooking any fresh vegetables, including the onion)
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (optional)
2 cups quinoa
4 cups liquid (one tetra pack carton of soup or stock, I use low sodium ones then salt to taste)

Add-ins of your choice (optional): fresh or frozen vegetables, canned beans (I use frozen ones from Whole Foods now to avoid the BPA in can linings), olives, diced peppers, curry paste, fresh or dried herbs, spices, ground pepper, hot sauce, prepared simmer sauces, etc.
Salt to taste


1. Add the olive oil or butter (if using) to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion (if you’re using it) and saute until translucent. Add the garlic (again, if using) when the onion is nearly, but not quite, cooked.
2. Toast the quinoa in the pot at this point, or in a dry pot if you’re not using the oil/butter and onion/garlic, until you can smell a light toasty, nutty aroma.
3. Add your cooking liquid and bring to a boil. Add anything else you want to put in at this point, except the salt, which I generally add at the end of cooking if I’m using a prepared stock or soup to avoid over-seasoning.
4. Stir and cover. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 25 minutes.
5. Remove the lid and stir the quinoa. When the grains are fully cooked, they will turn translucent, with the curling tail of the germ visible. If the quinoa is not translucent or the mixture still looks wet (it most likely will if you’ve added beans or vegetables to the pot), cover and cook for 10 more minutes (20 if it’s really wet). Repeat until you’re happy with the result.
6. Fluff the quinoa, salt to taste, and serve.

One thought on “Quinoa, A Million Ways

  1. Jaeny

    I definitely love quinoa too, compared to rice it has a faster cooking time and it can go with anything, from soups to salads, to homemade bread. If you are on a wheat free diet quinoa would still go perfect with baked goods.

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