Quinoa- what it is and how to use it

Pronounced “keen-wah”, quinoa is an ancient food that’s been cultivated in the South American Andes for more than 5000 years. Quinoa is widely cultivated in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador.

Botanically, quinoa is not a true grain since it belongs not to the grass family but the Chenopodium family, which also includes beets, spinach and chard. Best grown in altitudes above 10,000 feet, quinoa positively flourishes under extreme conditions, including poor soil, thin cold air, hot sun, frost, short growing days, minimal rainfall and even drought.

How to Use

While quinoa is usually thought of as a wholegrain it is actually a seed, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice.

Quinoa is an easy food to prepare, has a pleasantly light, fluffy texture when cooked and a mild, slightly nutty flavour. To cook, first rinse the dry grain under running water in a saucepan until the water stops forming suds in order top remove the seeds bitter coating. Then combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water and simmer for 15-25 minutes or until tender. When cooked, the grains quadruple in size and become almost translucent.

Quinoa can be used as an alternative to rice or couscous, or try the quinoa and roast vegetable salad recipe below.

Quinoa has been recognised by the United Nations as a supercrop due to its health benefits. Unlike wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein since it contains all eight of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, calcium, trace minerals, dietary fibre, vitamin E and several of the B vitamins, and even essential fatty acids. Quinoa is also gluten free and easy to digest.

Quinoa with roast vegetables and orange dressing


1 cup of dry quinoa – rinsed
2 cups of vegetable stock or water mixed with good quality vegetable boullion powder

For the roast vegetables

1 medium to large onion – cut into half-rings
1 medium aubergine – cubed
2 peppers – cubed
2 – 3 courgettes / carrots / fennel bulbs – cubed
1-2 fresh tomatoes quartered or a handful of cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves left in their skins
oil for drizzling

Sun –dried tomatoes, tomato paste or pesto to taste

For the orange dressing
Juice of 1 orange
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
½ -1 clove garlic (optional)
A little tahini to taste


  • Put all the chopped vegetables and unpeeled garlic in a deep roasting tin, drizzle with some oil and bake in a medium preheated oven until soft. This will take between 45 and 60 minutes depending on the thickness of the vegetable layer and your oven. To ensure even cooking stir the mixture 1 or 2 times during the roasting process.
  • Take the roasted vegetables out of the oven, pick out garlic from the mixture, remove the peels and chop the cloves finely or press them through the garlic press (into the rest of the mixture).
  • Add a little bit of sun-dried tomato paste / chopped sun-dried tomato or pesto to the vegetables and mix it all thoroughly (start with small quantity of paste as it can be overpowering if too much is added – you can always add more at a later stage).
  • Put the rinsed quinoa in a pan with water or stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook till all liquid has evaporated (between 15-20 min).
  • When the quinoa is cooked, combine it with the roast vegetable mix
  • Place the mixture on a bed of salad leaves
  • Put the ingredients for the dressing in a blender and mix thoroughly. Add water to thin if required.
  • Pour over the dressing just before serving