Adventures in Quinoa


Last Thanksgiving, Maureen asked me if there was a side dish I’d like to bring, and, feeling rather adventurous, I volunteered to bring quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). I had never had quinoa, but I’d seen it described as having a nutty flavor. In my mind, quinoa would be about the same size as barley, and would have a flavor halfway between an oat and a pecan. Therefore it seemed like a good base for a Thanksgiving side dish.

Turns out, quinoa is nothing like that. It is roughly the size of couscous, and has an aftertaste a lot like alfalfa sprouts. This was not at all what I wanted to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately, Maureen had no objection to me changing at the last minute and bringing something else (a rice dish).

So for weeks and weeks I’ve had an open package of quinoa in my pantry. I *want* to like the quinoa. It’s very healthy. It’s a whole grain, and very high in protein. So today I decided I would try to make some for breakfast.

I seasoned the quinoa liberally with cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger, and sweetened it with honey. Then, just for good measure, I doused the entire thing with blueberry sauce (which I’d originally made to go over vanilla ice cream, but I had some left over):

Quinoa with blueberries

The verdict? Well…meh. It tasted okay. But in less time than it took me to make this, I could have done the same thing with oatmeal, and it would have been much tastier. (And, to add insult to injury, since both the quinoa and the blueberries were dark colors, it didn’t even photograph very well!)


  1. My first experience with quinoa was making a cake with crystallized ginger and golden raisins… I thought it turned out very well, for a “healthy” dessert, and I’d make it again!

  2. I think maple syrup is good in quinoa.

  3. Oh man, I just bought some. Well, it was cheap.

    Wheatberries, by the way, are about the size of barley and have a wheaty-nutty taste. But take over an hour to cook.

  4. Man, I love quinoa!! I have not however tried the red quinoa that it looks like you are using here. We tend to use it like rice under stir-fry dishes.

  5. Quinoa: it’s not for breakfast.

    We’ve eaten quinoa regularly for years, because it’s grainlike and not wheat. For me, the big trick (and the big pain in the neck) is that you have to rinse the quinoa thoroughly several times before cooking it to remove the residual saponins which give it that bitter taste. In theory, the quinoa has already been rinsed before you buy it. In practice, well, I suppose the blueberries and syrup might take care of it. The best part of eating quinoa is its humorous slightly squishy texture, since it doesn’t have much flavor of its own.

    Red quinoa, which is only available in very expensive small boxes from Ancient Harvest, doesn’t require rinsing, has a great nutty flavor, and is worth trying even if you’re not allergc to wheat.

  6. I use it in multigrain bread recipes. It just a nutty taste and good texture plus that hit of protein. And I really like it as hot cereal but I treat it like pinhead oats. I soak it overnight and just turn the pot on in the morning. The first photograph is lovely–it makes the cereal look like tiny sea creatures hatching.

  7. You are adventurous–quinoa is a pain in the behind to cook.

    I’ve been putting it in things that would normally take brown rice. Brown rice doesn’t have much of a flavor, so the quinoa doesn’t hurt the dish too badly. I’ve also used it as a replacement for bulgar, which is also a good grain but has less protien.

    I read somewhere that quinoa has a better flavor if you 1) soak it for a 1/2 hour, and 2) rinse it to get rid of the little rings that come off when it soaks long enough.

  8. The white quinoa tastes more like couscous. I usually use it in place of couscous.

  9. Hmm…maybe I just didn’t rinse it enough. Toasting it seems like a good idea too.

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