Posted April 5, 2010

About six years ago, when Patricia Green was hunting for a way to punch up the nutrition in the meals she cooked for her family, a vegetarian friend suggested quinoa.

At the time she knew next to nothing about the mysterious Peruvian native grain, which is essentially a seed. She soon learned that getting the superfood into her family’s daily diet was as easy as cooking rice.

“Once I started using it, I realized how versatile it was,” she said last week from her home in Alberta, Canada.

Over the past three years, Green and her sister, Carolyn Hemming, developed a quinoa cookbook, “Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood” (Whitecap Books). The book was recently released in Canada and will be available in the United States next month. Green and Hemming talked about quinoa and about their book in a phone interview last Wednesday. Hemming is a marathon athlete who lives outside Toronto. Green is an “outdoorsy” mother of two girls — ages 8 and 10 — who also works for an organic food company. Many of the book’s recipes were tested and approved by children, including Green’s two daughters, who at first were cautious about the Q-food. Quinoa, by the way, is pronounced KEEN-wah.

The cookbook idea sprouted because at the time Green couldn’t find recipes for quinoa. She came up with her own, often incorporating the grain into the family’s favorite dishes. She developed more than 170 recipes, including appetizers, snacks, main courses and even baby food.

In the course of unraveling the story behind quinoa, the sisters talked to quinoa scientists from Colorado and growers and distributors in Bolivia. Although quinoa is a recent discovery for North Americans, it has been grown in the Andes of South America for more than 5,000 years.

It was “revered as the mother grain of the Incas,” Green said.

Quinoa is known as a superfood because it is packed with protein and contains all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, which is absent from most grains. It is low on the glycemic index, high in fiber and gluten-free. Quinoa provides more iron than most grains, high levels of potassium and B vitamins, and it is easily digestible.

“The Incans fed it to their children, who experienced extremely low rates of infant mortality. Their children were strong and healthy,” Green said.

When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, “they called quinoa ‘devil food’ and tried to eradicate it,” Green said. They also saw “how strong it made the natives. The Inca warriors made war balls of animal fat mixed with quinoa to sustain them for weeks in war,” Hemming added. The Spaniards banished quinoa crops, favoring barley, potatoes and corn. After that, “the only quinoa was grown in little pockets in the mountains.” The people “were able to preserve it,” Green said, “which is why we have it today.”

The plant comes from the “goosefoot” family, which is related to lambs quarters, spinach and chard. Its seeds are grain-like in texture and as easy to cook as rice and can be substituted for — or blended with — rice or pasta in many dishes.

Today, most quinoa is still grown in the Andes Mountains in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. It is grown on a much smaller scale in Canada and Colorado, with mixed results. Quinoa grows in drought conditions, but it likes cool nights and warm days. “You have to have a dry year to have a great crop,” Green said.

Most quinoa sold in local grocery stores comes from Bolivia. You can find it in health-food sections in bulk and in boxes in most supermarkets. It comes in many colors, but the most prevalent is white, or golden. I found both a red and a black quinoa in the health market at Hy-Vee. The cost varies from $3.99 a pound for bulk — at Gerbes and Hy-Vee — to $6.99 a pound for organic, free-trade black quinoa. Store quinoa like rice, covered in a cool, dry place.

White quinoa tends to be milder and buttery, and the darker colors seem a bit nuttier, more like wild rice.

Leigh Lockhart at Main Squeeze Natural Foods Cafe serves quinoa in summer salads, winter soups and on vegetable plates. “It’s very forgiving,” she said. “I like it better than bulgur for tabbouleh.”

It’s hard to mess up quinoa, which cooks in about 15 minutes — one cup of quinoa to two cups of water. If you overcook it, it will just be softer and fluffier; if you undercook, it will be al dente and nuttier. Just make sure you rinse the seeds before cooking it. Quinoa seeds are coated with bitter saphonins that protect the seed from predators in the field.

To remove the saphonins, pour the quinoa into a fine strainer and run water through it until the water is no longer sudsy. Some boxed quinoa comes prewashed. I rinse it anyway, just to make sure any bitter residue is washed away.

The secret to getting more flavor into this fairly bland food is cooking it in stock. It also can be toasted in a skillet for five minutes before cooking to boost flavor. Hemming — who, as an athlete, often eats on the go — likes to add quinoa to smoothies for a protein boost. Green adds quinoa to her children’s yogurt. Try quinoa as a hot breakfast cereal. It can be added to pancakes, cakes and crepes. Add it to chili, meatballs or veggie burgers.

Among Hemming and Green’s favorite recipes from the cookbook is a gluten-free fresh cucumber and dill toasted almond salad.

Our own quinoa experiments yielded tahini tofu with black quinoa, reminiscent of the Lotus Plate, a former standard at the Main Squeeze. If you like the flavors of Morocco, try a lemony Moroccan-inspired cauliflower tagine over white quinoa, one of my new family favorites. The squash and red pepper quinoa recipe could easily be altered using vegetables in season.


2 cups water or stock

1 cup quinoa

Rinse quinoa thoroughly, either by using a fine-mesh strainer or by running fresh water over the quinoa in a pot. Drain excess water. Place quinoa and water or stock in a 1-1/2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when all the “grains” have turned from white to transparent and the spiral-like germ has separated.

Makes: 3 cups.


3 cups cooked quinoa (see recipe for basic quinoa)

1 pound firm tofu

12 ounces fresh baby spinach

3 green onions, thinly sliced

For the tahini sauce:

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup water; use as needed to thin sauce

Prepare the sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding enough water to yield a thick but pourable sauce.

Transfer the sauce to a large saucepan, and add the tofu.

Stir in the tofu until well-coated with tahini sauce. Stir in the cooked quinoa.

For serving, lay down a bed of fresh spinach and scoop the tofu mix over the top. Garnish with fresh scallions.

Note: We used the seasoned tofu that Leigh Lockhart sells to go at Main Squeeze; it’s reliably firm and flavorful. In fact, this recipe is based upon an old favorite from her past menu: the delicious Lotus Plate. This dish is even more satisfying when you mix short-grain brown rice with the quinoa.

Servings: 2-4 servings


1 cup quinoa

2 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons peanut oil or olive oil

1 large onion, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small preserved lemons, seeds removed and chopped (see note)

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into bite-size bits

1/4 cup yellow raisins

1/4 cup blanched, cut almonds

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Rinse quinoa well in wire-mesh colander, cook separately in a 2-to-1 ratio of liquid to grain. We used a vegetable stock for our liquid.

In another large saucepan, heat oil and saute onions until soft. Add the garlic, preserved lemons and all spices, stirring to bring out aroma. Stir in the raisins and nuts, then add stock. Stir in the cauliflower and cover, cooking until tender, about four minutes. Stir in cilantro, and cook one minute longer. Serve immediately over bed of cooked quinoa.

Note: Jarred preserved lemons are available in specialty food shops, such as World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods.

Servings: 3 to 4


1 butternut squash

Enough olive oil to coat

Sea salt

2 cups of organic red quinoa

4 cups of mushroom stock or chicken stock

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 red peppers, sliced thin

1 package of firm tofu, drained of liquid (see note)

5 garlic cloves, minced finely

1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon grated or powdered ginger

Cumin, to taste

Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cut the butternut squash in half. Brush olive oil onto the cut surface. Place in a 375-degree oven and bake until the squash is soft enough to cut through with a fork, 45 minutes to an hour.

Boil the stock, then pour in the red quinoa and simmer with the lid on until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Set a skillet on high heat. Add one tablespoon of the oil. When it’s hot, add medium-thick slices of tofu. Sprinkle on turmeric, ginger and cumin, and then the minced garlic.

Sear the slices on both sides until they are well browned, about five minutes. Set the slices aside.

Pour remaining oil in the same pan. Quickly saute the red peppers and then the butternut squash with more turmeric, sea salt and cumin.

Serve the tofu and vegetables on a bed of the red quinoa. Enjoy it while it’s hot.

Notes: I used silken tofu because that’s what I had in the refrigerator. It cooks more like scrambled eggs. If you want a meatier bite, use a firm tofu. This dish would also be nice topped with toasted pine nuts to offset the soft tofu and squash. Other vegetables would be good in this as well. Cubed leftover chicken could replace the tofu.

Servings: 4

— Adapted from the Gluten-Free girl and the chef blog


1/2 cup sliced raw almonds

1 cup white or golden quinoa

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or white rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups chopped English cucumber

1/2 cup sliced green onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and bake on the center oven rack for five to seven minutes, until the almonds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Place the dry quinoa in a large saucepan and heat the quinoa on a medium setting. Shake the saucepan from side to side occasionally to turn the quinoa and toast it evenly (Note: if you use a saucepan with a larger bottom, it will toast faster). Toast the quinoa for three to five minutes, until fragrant but still white or golden in color. Add the vegetable or chicken stock to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off but keep the covered saucepan on the burner for an additional three minutes. Remove the saucepan lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork and allow to cool completely.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and salt. Add the oil mixture to the saucepan of cooled quinoa and mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, toss together the quinoa, cucumber, green onion and dill. Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Best if enjoyed immediately but can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to four days.

Servings: 4 to 6.

— “Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood,” by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

Reach Marcia Vanderlip at 573-815-1704 or e-mail

Date: Mar 3, 2010

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