A Quinoa Love Story

October 14, 2010

My love affair with Quinoa began around 6 months ago. At first I was hesitant to make friends with Quinoa. I felt too shy to dive in and give myself completely to this self-assured, dreamy grain (note, it is actually a seed, but I treat it like a grain). I was intimidated by it’s nonchalant presence in the trendy, funky vegan crowd. “What is this new grain?” I thought to myself. “Am I cool enough to use it?”

Initially, I believed the answer to be a resounding and frank, “no”. You see, after reading a recipe involving this charismatic grain, with slight trepidation I went on the prowl for my very first bag. When I asked a shop assistant whether she had any “qwin-oa”, she began to laugh at me and ever so (un)kindly pointed out the correct pronunciation. I left red faced with my bag of “keen-wah”, feeling more confidant than ever in my theory that Quinoa was simply too cool for me.

When I got home, however, I felt a new surge of curiosity and hope. I looked at my bag of Quinoa on the kitchen bench. “What was the big deal?” I thought. “It’s not so intimidating. Maybe these little circular grains and I are meant to be?”

And so I cooked up my first batch of Quinoa. I added some chopped parsley, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and goats fetta. I squeezed some lemon juice over the top as well as some freshly cracked pepper. It was too easy. A pleasure.

And then I ate…

And fell in love…

And, my friends, life has never been the same.

I was so very wrong in my assumption that Quinoa was too cool for me. Quinoa and I hang out all the time, and it is always amazing. Quinoa porridge, Quinoa and tofu and my favourite, Quinoa tabbouleh. We are a match made in heaven. Having proclaimed my love and detailing the beginning of this glorious relationship that I cherish so, I must inform you that Quinoa and I are not exclusive. I am ok with other people enjoying Quinoa too. I guess…

Nutritionally, Quinoa really is a super food. It is an ancient grain, originating in South America – I just love my food history. For all those Coeliacs or gluten sensitive people out there, cue the halleluiah chorus, Quinoa is gluten free! My favourite characteristic of Quinoa, is that it is high in protein. Moreover, it is a complete protein (meaning the balance of essential amino acids are ideal). This is great news for vegetarians/vegans, and hence why it is part of the ‘in’ vegan crowd (and why I expect that sales of Quinoa peak in Fitzroy and Northcote). It is also high in fibre and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and iron. In terms of flavour, Quinoa has a lovely nutty aroma and taste, and is beautifully fluffy.

Don’t waste your time and effort being intimidated by this brilliant and charismatic grain. Leap in heart first, go and buy yourself some “keen-wah”, and experience it’s wonder. But be prepared to fall in love.

Last Sunday, Ben and I had a late lunch in Red Hill with my parents. It was prime barbequing weather, and so we cooked outside in the gorgeous sunshine, beer in hand and the smell of barbeque delights filling the sunny Spring air.

I made a Quinoa salad, as I felt it was high time I introduced my new love to my parents. A bit awkward with Ben there and all, but as I somewhat begrudgingly said before, Quinoa and I are not exclusive.

Quinoa Salad with lemon, basil and a touch of cumin

2 cups white quinoa (rinsed well) (you can use red quinoa if you wish)
4 cups water (you may need to add more, just keep an eye on it)
1/2 a red onion (more or less if you wish)
1 big handful of fresh basil
2 meyer lemons, rind and juice (you can use other lemons, I just prefer the flavour of meyer lemons)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cumin (more if you wish, this is a conservative amount for just a ‘hint’)
freshly cracked pepper

Note: some lightly steamed and chopped asparagus would be a lovely addition.


Place the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. You will know it is ready once the quinoa begins to soften and open up. Drain any remaining liquid. Allow to cool.

Once cooled, add in the basil, chopped red onion and asparagus if you are adding in extra veggies. Squeeze the lemon juice into a cup and add in the crushed garlic. Stir it a little then add to the salad. Sprinkle the cumin over the salad and stir to combine. Add cracked pepper to taste and top with lemon rind.

Serves 6 as a side salad.

Baker D Chirico Pagnotta bread, which my parent’s bought yesterday. A lovely wholesome flavour.

Gourmet Italian sausages. I just love poking the fat off the sausages as they cook and watching it squirt, ooze out – always have done. Weird, I know. Watch for flames, don’t’ try this at home kids.

With onions, of course.

A simple garden salad.

Mum’s incredible white bean and roasted garlic dip.

Dad’s olives.

Eggplant – gee these babies soak up a lot of olive oil. Any tips for making them moist without getting them drunk on oil? I’m fairly new to cooking Eggplant.

Fennel with lemon.

The best eye fillet.

Asparagus. Possibly my favourite vegetable to photograph. It just loves the camera.

We ate outside, the sun gently warming our skin. It was such a delightful meal. And now that Quinoa has met the parents, (they loved the charming grain, by the way) I see a great future ahead of us. Quinoa and me.

Heidi xo
  • Hannah October 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I adore quinoa, but have been cheating on it lately with millet. Woe is me! Your quinoa dish sounds fabulous, though I can't help imagining how great it would be with a healthy dollop of the white bean dip on top too 😀

  • Heidi October 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Oh Hannah, I have been dreaming of starting a millet affair of late. Yes, white bean on top would be lovely.

  • Lisa (bakebikeblog) October 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    my oh my – talk about a page FULL of tasty treats 🙂
    And I too am in love with quinoa – so easy and oh so versatile!

  • hollypop October 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    i don't like quinoa.
    im gluten free, so i really wish i did.
    i tried to make porridge but it was so gluggy and grosssss.
    i say don't waste any eating opportunities of gluten free grains, you never know when you might have to give up gluten for good!


  • Leah October 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Oh I adore quinoa, I have been eating it almost everyday! And thanks to you Heidi, have a quinoa breakfast addiction now! 😉

    I cook with eggplant all the time, and have tried heaps of tricks so you don't have to use too much oil, they will soak up everything! I use a super hot grill pan, the one with the ridges, have a small bowl of olive oil on the side, and just brush on a little oil. If they haven't cooked all the way through, I put them in the oven for a little while to cook through. They turn out great everytime, not too oily cause you can control the cooking.

  • Heidi October 14, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    That's such a shame, holly! I use this recipe when making quinoa porridge: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/warm-and-nutty-cinnamon-quinoa-recipe.html and loved it! I didn't find it gluggy. I'll try to eat more gluten grains for you. You definitely make me appreciate being able to!

  • Heidi October 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Leah! I will definitely be trying this method next time. I think I need to be more patient with them 🙂 xo

  • Chanel11 October 14, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I introduced quinoa to my parents last year, I smiled when on my last visit I spotted a box in their pantry 🙂

  • The InTolerant Chef October 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I wasn't a fan until I found out it had to be washed and the 'yuckky' bitter taste could be washed away. As I'm InTolerant to wheat, I need good grains to substitute with.

  • The InTolerant Chef October 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Oh, I forgot to say that with the eggplant I make a rice flour and water slurry/'batter' to dip my slices in then fry them with just enough oil to slick accross the pan. They stay moist and get nice and creamy inside.

  • Heidi October 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    It seems that quinoa love is contagious, Chanel11 🙂

    Great eggplant tip, thanks InTolerant Chef! I sometimes forget to wash my quinoa first, but I've never come across the bitter taste. Lucky!

  • Anonymous October 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Great blog!

    It's actually pronounced as you would in spanish, "Ki-no-ah" where the "no" the same sound as in "not".

    I had a delicious stew/soup with Quinoa in it when I visited Peru.

  • Iron Chef Shellie October 14, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Hehe cute post!
    I'm still to try quinoa. hopefully sometime soon I shall1

  • Angela (the diet book junkie) October 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    dude, it's not qwin-oa? geez, you learn something new every day. 🙂

    there really is nothing better than the smell of BBQ. jealous i wasn't there 🙂

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella October 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    I love quinoa too! It's so lovely and nutty yet still light too. It's really nice is risotto too! 🙂

  • Kath October 15, 2010 at 1:58 am

    I have tried quinoa, but I haven't fallen in love yet. I like brown rice better. But I should giv it a try again perhaps.

    I know the olive-oil problem with eggplant. You could try to roast eggplant slices in the oven, perhaps that would work better.

  • My Restaurants Melbourne October 15, 2010 at 7:58 am

    i dont really use much quinoa, but i certainly thought it was pronounced the way you thought too.

  • Anna Johnston October 16, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Ooops! I was a-sayin' the wrong pronunciation too, so your post has brought me up to speed. I can now hold my head up in the quinoa crowd. Seriously though, I was a bit iffy about trying it too, thinking it was just the latest cool trend, but its pretty good huh. Love your pics Heidi, good stuff.

  • Heidi October 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Good to know I wasn't alone in my pronunciation! Maybe we're all just Spanish at heart 🙂

    Quinoa risotto, yum! Great idea, Lorriane.

    Thanks for the eggplant tip, Kath. I'm super keen to try baking eggplant!

  • Emma October 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Hi Heidi! As you know I love the quinoa salads that you have made for our dinner parties! Unbelievably delicious! The one above looks delicious too! Mum and I want to make one to have with dinner tonight, could you post the recipe for this…I know it's probably really simple, but I need instructions! xxx

  • Heidi October 18, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Sure thing, Em! Will post it soon in the recipe section xo

  • Kiki Chaos October 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Ooooh, your mum's white bean and roasted garlic dip looks ah-mazing!I don't suppose she could be persuaded to part with the recipe?? 🙂

  • Heidi October 18, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I'll ask her kiki & get back to you 🙂 xo