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Exploring Quinoa: History and Healthy Recipes

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.

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
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  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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