Exploring Quinoa: History and Healthy Recipes

Updated on January 22, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.


Long Ago and Far Away

To begin this story, we need to take a look back in time, over 5,000 years ago—long before Pizarro; before Cortés, Vespucci, Columbus, Cabral; and even before Leif Eriksson explored the "New World." Before Christ was born. Before Solomon was anointed King of Israel. Before the Third Dynasty of Egypt...the Inca people lived in the highlands of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.

They lacked many of what the "modern world" deemed as the necessary elements of civilization; they had no wheel, no beasts of burden, no iron or steel. They did not even utilize a system of writing, yet they had one of the greatest empires in the history of man.

And here they were cultivating quinoa.


Quinoa (keen-wah) has been called the most perfect grain, but it's actually not a grain at all. It's a seed related to spinach, chard, and the sugar beet. The plant itself is a broad-leaf annual, and it's really quite stunning. A mature one can reach up to 9 feet in height, with pink, purple, and red-hued seed heads on dark red stalks.

This ancient plant all but disappeared from existence in 1532 when Francisco Pizarro sought to claim the Inca Empire for the flag of Spain; he ordered that the quinoa fields, the Inca's sacred "mother of all grains," be purged as a method of destroying the Inca people.

However, a few plants, high in the mountains, escaped Pizarro's wrath.

Quinoa remained in quiet obscurity, raised by the Quechua and Aymara people (Inca descendants) until the 1970s when a pair of Americans "rediscovered" it in their study of Bolivian spirituality.

Those spiritual students were Stephen Gorad and Don McKinley, who returned home to Boulder, Colorado with an appreciation for the mother grain. In 1983, they founded the Ancient Harvest (also known as the Quinoa Corporation).

In a resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 2013 was designated as the Year of Quinoa because of its nutritional value and the role it can play in providing nutritional balance and food security in poverty-stricken areas.

Why Is Quinoa So Popular?

The health eating revolution of the past few years has helped it to soar in popularity. Here are a few dietary health facts:

  • It is not a wheat product, so it's attractive to those who have wheat and/or gluten allergies.
  • 1 cup is only 220 calories.
  • The carbohydrate content is low-glycemic, making it an ideal food for diabetics and anyone trying to stay away from high-glycemic white carbohydrates.
  • It's high in fiber.
  • 8 grams of protein! It's not often that you find a complete protein in a plant-based food.
  • It provides over twice the amount of calcium as is found in whole wheat.
  • Quinoa is definitely a super food!

So, let's get started!

How to Cook Quinoa

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water or broth
  1. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water for a few seconds while gently rubbing the seeds together in your hands. Shake off any excess water and you are ready to proceed with cooking. (You are probably wondering why this is necessary. Quinoa has a dusty coating on the surface which is bitter. Rinsing removes that coating.)
  2. Pour quinoa and liquid in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. When fully cooked quinoa is translucent. Fluff with a fork and it's ready to eat.

Yield: 3 cups cooked quinoa

Serving size: 1/2 cup


Recipes in This Article


  • Cinnamon maple breakfast quinoa (V)
  • Quinoa banana bread (V)


  • Carb Diva's (that's me!) green salad with crispy cakes (V)
  • Carb Diva's (me again!) tabbouleh salad (V)


  • Tomato cheddar quinoa soup (V)
  • Slow-cooker chicken enchilada quinoa soup

Main Dish

  • Garlic mushroom quinoa (V)
  • Quinoa "fried rice" (V)


  • Best ever chocolate quinoa cake (V)

(V) = Vegetarian


Microwave Cinnamon Maple Breakfast Quinoa

Lauren promises that this hot, sweet, and healthy breakfast of Microwave Cinnamon Maple Quinoa for 2 will be ready in your kitchen in just 10 minutes.

It's worth the wait!


Quinoa Banana Bread

What a great way to start the day; this could definitely be a grab-and-go type of breakfast. Banana add moisture and natural sweetness, a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg makes the flavors pop, and quinoa adds a nutritious boost to your day. Thanks to Kathy, author/creator of the blog beyondthechickencoop for this Banana Bread recipe.

(Note, this is not a gluten-free recipe.)


Green Salad With Crispy Quinoa Cakes

My parents were part of the generation that endured the Great Depression. When I was growing up, wasting anything was considered almost sinful. What people now call "green" and earth-friendly was simply a way of life for us. (I'm pretty sure their generation originated the "use it up, wear it out, make it do" philosophy).

So, why am I telling you this story? A few days ago I had some leftover quinoa in my refrigerator. It's great steaming hot and fluffy, served along side Moroccan chicken infused with cardamon, cinnamon, and other warm and comforting seasonings and spices. But...a cold lump of quinoa is really difficult to get excited about—even if you love carbs as much as me.

So I devised this recipe to use up those yummy leftovers.

Ingredients for Cakes

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, packed
  • 1/2 cup canned garbanzos, rinsed and drained
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. fresh tarragon, minced
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 tsp. olive oil


  1. Mince the garlic in a food processor. Add the parsley and pulse until finely chopped. Add the garbanzo beans and pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Fold the garbanzo mixture into the quinoa; add eggs, lemon zest, and tarragon and stir until well combined.
  3. Line a 1/4 cup measuring cup with saran (plastic) wrap. Spray lightly with cooking spray
  4. Spray a baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  5. Press this mixture into the measuring cup, level, and flip the "cake" onto the prepared baking pan. There should be enough to make 8 or 9 cakes.
  6. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the quinoa cakes. Cook, flipping once, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, until they begin to brown and get crisp. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

Ingredients for the Salad Dressing

Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl:

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tablespoon half and half or whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Assemble the Salad

Combine the following in a large bowl:

  • 1 8-oz package pre-washed spinach
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (can substitute feta, mizithra, or queso fresco)

Divide the mixture among 4 salad plates. Top each with 2 quinoa cakes. Drizzle with the salad dressing.


Tabbouleh Salad With Quinoa


  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained


  1. Place cooked quinoa in a large bowl. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2-3 hours.
  2. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

And you can add these ingredients:

Want to add a bit more crunch, color, flavor, or protein? Here are some suggestions:

  • 1/2 cup olives (black, Kalamata, or mixed)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1/2 pound cooked shrimp
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken (the white meat from a rotisserie chicken would be great here)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (in place of or in addition to the cucumber)
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or almonds would be a good choice)


Tomato Cheddar Quinoa Soup

Wendy is a cook, author, blogger, and natural health enthusiast. Of course she would create and share with us a recipe that is vegetarian, full of protein, easy, and tasty. When you need some comfort food, make a bowl of her tomato cheddar quinoa soup.


Slow-Cooker Chicken Enchilada Quinoa Soup

This chicken enchilada quinoa soup has all of the flavors we love in one pot. Jaclyn slow-simmers chicken breasts in a broth flavored with enchilada sauce, shreds, or dices the chicken when tender, and then adds quinoa in the last half hour of cooking.


Garlic Mushroom Quinoa

In 2011, Chungah started the blog Damndelicious to organize and record her recipes. She has no formal training in cooking or photography, but she does AMAZING work with both. Her garlic mushroom quinoa is healthy, savory, and yum!


Quinoa "Fried Rice"

With just 10 minutes and leftover cooked quinoa, you can have a nourishing, tasty meal for your family with this quinoa fried rice.


Best Ever Chocolate Quinoa Cake

Sarah is an expert in plant-based cooking and baking. Her Best-Ever Chocolate Quinoa Cake is dense, fudge-like, moist, and (best of all) it's gluten-free.

© 2017 Linda Lum


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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, I love the idea of adding a bit of heat (chili) and then a cooling Greek yogurt dip for the quinoa cakes. Yum. I have not heard from you for a while and pray that you are well.

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago


      We've used a few of these recipes (or very similar) and they're delicious, I particularly like the Quinoa cakes but with a sweet chilli and yoghurt (Greek) dipping sauce!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Audrey. I enjoy doing the research for these.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      2 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I enjoy quinoa very much. Your recipes will find their way into my kitchen for sure. Great background and story on quinoa and Stephen Gorad and Don McKinley are my hero's.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary, thank you so much for your kind words and support. Yes, it seems you can make just about anything with quinoa (...well, maybe not ice cream, but ice cream doesn't need any help. It's perfect as it is).

      I am surprised that you cannot locally source quinoa--your part of the world is close to it's birthplace.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      2 years ago from Brazil

      I still have never tried this, it is hit and miss if it is available locally where I live. My sister raves about it!

      You've covered the entire day from breakfast right through to dessert. Maybe the question is, what can't you make with it?

      You always find such creative and tasty looking recipes.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Ms. Dora, I have just barely scratched the surface. If you go a Google search you will find more recipes than you know what to do with. Or, if you are familiar with Pinterest, give that a try.

      I love Pinterest because you get to see a photo before you even click on the link to the recipe. One picture's worth a thousand words.

      I think quite often we can tell if we are going to like a food by how it looks. We eat with our eyes before we taste with our mouths.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Your article is a life saver. I have quinoa in my pantry, because it is gluten free and I am gluten intolerant, but my knowledge of what to do with it is limited. So glad for your recipes. Thank you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I know that envy is one of the deadly sins, and I am guilty as charged--envious of the wealth of things you are able to grow not just because of your climate, but goodness how the deer pillage and plunder our landscape. This sounds like it could be a fun activity for you and your little guy. Let me know how it goes.

      And, if you do happen to purchase some quinoa to cook, let me know what you chose and how it works out.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      So glad to have read this before my boy and I go food exploring in a bit. definitely something we will do.

      I just checked and we could grow this OK in early spring or very late fall. (I love our year round growing season)

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, I hope you do. It's really healthy and doesn't have a lot of taste on its own, so adapts to just about whatever you choose.

      There are SOOO many recipes on the internet that use quinoa--I featured two my own, and then for the others I tried to select recipes that have easy to obtain ingredients and clear instructions.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      I've always been curious about quinoa and with these recipes I'd love to give it a whirl.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Louise - That sounds wonderful. Yes, we love the flavors in Greek salad--how can you go wrong with feta cheese and kalamata olives? It's especially refreshing now during the hot summer days when you don't feel like cooking or eating something heavy. Since quinoa is a complete protein you can eat healthy, avoid the meat, and still have a filling and nutritious meal. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • louise-barraco profile image

      Louise Barraco 

      2 years ago from Ontario

      Quinoa Geeek Salad is also very good with feta cheese and black olives. Have you ever tried that? Great Hub by the way

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Angel, I'm glad this caught your attention. Please let me know if you try any of the recipes. I always appreciate feedback.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I would be surprised if your coop DIDN'T have quinoa. If this is your first time eating it, I would suggest that you try the crispy cakes or the tomato soup. Who knows, you might just find a new love.

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 

      2 years ago from Joliet, Illinois

      I been very curious about quinoa and those pictures make me even more! Lol, very good mouthwatering read!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's bad enough when you write about vegetables I don't like...now you are writing about a grain I've never heard of. LOL I will say this: it just might be the prettiest grain I've ever seen. Hey, who knows, I might just try this one. I wonder if the local co-op has it?


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