Vegan Cooking Tips

Quinoa Dishes

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Quinoa is a go-to grain! It can be found frozen and precooked for a really quick meal or can be steamed on the stove or in a rice cooker, added to baked goods, salads and cereals for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and, if you are ambitious (and careful), it can even be popped!

We've seen frozen, prepared quinoa in several markets, including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. This might be just the thing to keep in the freezer when a fast, tasty meal is needed. Add some leftover veggies, some scrambled soft tofu, or chopped extra-firm tofu, and your favorite seasonings such as soy sauce or salsa and you've got a fast and hearty meal. Frozen quinoa can also be stirred into soups or mixed into leftover mashed potatoes for a quick meal.

To cook quinoa, first check if it needs to be rinsed. (The label will either say nothing, which means you need to rinse, or will say "pre-rinsed.") To rinse quinoa, put your measured quinoa into a strainer and run it under cold water for a few seconds. Shake off any excess water and you are ready to cook. Stir quinoa into boiling water or broth, cover, and simmer over low heat until done. It's important to have the cooking liquid hot, as the quinoa can be soggy if stirred into cold liquid. The ratio is usually 1 cup of uncooked quinoa to 2 cups of liquid. To go beyond water, you can use vegetable broth, vegetable juice, or wine to replace some of the water.

Quinoa stands well on its own or works as a team player. If you have some half-containers of Israeli (also called "pearl") couscous, yellow split peas, lentils, and quinoa, you can mix them together to make your own grain blend — colorful and tasty. Prepare it just as you would any grain, by steaming with a small amount of liquid, or if you have the time and would like a little more flavor and texture, toast quinoa in a frying pan before steaming. You can do this in a dry pan, or use a small amount of vegetable oil spray. Toast and stir until the quinoa kernels seem to separate (no more than a minute or two). Some of the kernels may even pop! Quinoa cooks quickly, depending on the amount, in about 15 minutes or less. Some package directions tell you to turn off the heat once the liquid boils and you've stirred in the quinoa. You will know when the quinoa is done because it will look like it has popped, with the inner germ exposed; and of course there is the taste-test. If it is as tender as you like, it's done! To remove the guesswork, try preparing your quinoa with a rice cooker, using the same directions as you would brown rice. Once cooked, fluff up the cooked quinoa to separate the grains and provide a soft texture.

It's a good idea to "over prepare" quinoa, as your "leftover" cooked quinoa can be stirred into muffin or pancake batter, cake batter (think: carrot, banana or zucchini-quinoa bread) or cookie dough, mashed potatoes, steamed rice, cooked corn or simply reheated, with maple syrup and raisins for breakfast or with chopped onions and garlic for dinner. You can also create a quinoa lasagna, shepherd's pie, or tamale pie by layering quinoa with your ingredients of choice and then baking until heated. One of our friends, "on purpose," over-ordered some Chinese food, and created a layered casserole with the leftover layers of stir-fried veggies, quinoa, fried rice, shredded cabbage, and crunchy noodles. Another of her creations was "quinoa tamale pie" with layers of quinoa, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers and chilies, cooked corn, and shredded tortillas.

Quinoa is not just for hot, but also for cold dishes. Try quinoa salad instead of macaroni salad. You can also add quinoa to green or other grain salads or combine quinoa and fresh green beans or snap peas. You can even purée cooked quinoa as a base for salad dressings or quinoa "hummus."

Serve quinoa for breakfast, lunch and dinner — it works!