Quinoa for Beginners

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a seed-based Super Food which is excellent for your digestive system and energy.  It originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru and was initially domesticated for human consumption about 3000 years ago. In recent years it has become globally recognised and the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

Still, despite its launch into the mainstream, there are many people who don’t understand much about Quinoa’s origins, and it’s food properties. Compared with more common regularly occurring cereals, Quinoa is highly nutritious and contains essential amino acids like lysine as well as calcium and iron.  Despite what you may think it is not a grain, but a seed and it’s cooked like grains, but it is a relative of spinach. Harvesting Quinoa involves removing the saponins and then storing the seeds, which is the part that’s eaten and cooked like rice. For this reason, you will often find it featured in gluten-free recipes.


Quinoa is a rice substitute, and there is even quinoa flour. Leaves of the plant are also edible but rarely available commercially in Australia.  There are more than 120 types of Quinoa available, although three types are most common in supermarkets.  White is the most widely available and used in the widest varieties of dishes.  Red is used in salads a lot and holds shape better once cooked, while Black has a more earthy flavour.  You may also find quinoa flakes and flour in your supermarket which make suitable substitutes for various grains. 

Cooking Quinoa

The easiest way to cook Quinoa is in a rice steamer.  Cook it like rice, but to add some flavour you might add some organic stock (vegetable, chicken or beef as desired) to give the dish a lift if you are eating it on its own. If you are serving it with another dish like curry, then there is no need to add any flavouring to the water.

Allow the Quinoa to cook like rice in a rice cooker until all moisture has either absorbed.  You should see the grains expand (like rice) when they are cooking.  The total cooking time will take about 20 minutes.  You can serve Quinoa hot, or add a tray of cooked Quinoa to the fridge to slightly dry and cold as a base of a salad.

If you’re worried about the flavour, you can add herbs and spices during or after cooking. Thyme, Salt, Pepper can be great, and if you’re serving it cold in a salad consider coriander, basil or oregano.  For a refreshing summer alternative, cooled Quinoa goes excellent as the base of a salad with chopped, peeled prawns, capsicum, onion, shallots, coriander and garlic in a mixture. Add a squeeze of lime, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes to taste.


Sweet Quinoa Porridge

For a tasty sweet breakfast treat, cook up White Quinoa in a rice cooker with a healthy supply of dried Cranberries, a teaspoon of ground Star Anise and the skin of fresh citrus, like an orange or mandarin to taste.  This breakfast treat is amazing on cold winter mornings and so easy to cook, you’ll love it. Don’t chop up the rind but leave it whole because it’s only used during the cooking process and removed before eating. The berry flavours will infuse into the Quinoa, and it will have a thick texture like rice pudding or porridge. If you require a little extra flavour, add organic honey before serving, or on a side dish.

Are you looking for some more Quinoa Recipes?

BBC Good Food has 31 great quinoa recipes to try.

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