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KaiJuly 14, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Quinoa

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It may surprise you to learn this superfood can actually be super delicious. Just make sure it’s not super soggy.

Quinoa might make you think of green juices, smoothie bowls, having no fun and wearing yoga pants to the organics store – but these associations aside, it’s honestly alright. A cousin of amaranth, spinach (weirdly), and beetroot (even more weirdly), quinoa originated in the South American Andes and has been eaten by humans for up to 4,000 years – well before the rise of Lululemon. 

So, here’s my case for quinoa actually being pretty loveable.

Exhibit A: The word “quinoa”. Such a joy. I never feel as delighted, entertained and smug as when I hear someone mispronounce quinoa as kwin-oh-uh – now that I’ve stopped mispronouncing it myself. As a brief etymology tidbit, the word quinoa is a Spanish derivation of the indigenous Quechua word, kinwa, which is much more reasonably spelled.

Exhibit B: You know quinoa is cooked when its “tail” emerges – just like a tadpole. Ticks both the cute and funny boxes. 

Exhibit C: The label “superfood” is largely a marketing ploy, designed to make people eat things they otherwise wouldn’t, and to boost prices – case in point, quinoa prices tripled between 2006 and 2014. Despite that slight marketing ick, it’s nonetheless true that quinoa seeds are one of the most nutritious grains out there. 

While raw quinoa has 14% protein, almost no one is going around eating a handful of dry, crunchy quinoa as a snack. Once boiled, your 100g servings of quinoa is just 4% protein (1% higher than long grain white rice), but it’s still a great source of manganese, phosphorus, fiber, folate and B minerals, while being only 2% fat and 21% carbohydrates. 

Exhibit D: The flavour. It’s light, with a mild nutty flavour and a lovely chew, perfect for adding to bakes and salads. It might sound fancy, but quinoa is pretty yum.

Exhibit E: For people with a gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, quinoa is one of the few inoffensive-tasting grain options (see also: rice). 

A casserole dish filled with mince, beans, and quinoa. It is topped with avocado chunks, halved cherry tomatoes, red onion slices and coriander leaves.
Mexican mince, beans, and quinoa bake. (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Where to find quinoa

Pams, which is a homebrand of New World and Pak’nSave, really delivers on good-value white quinoa. At New World, a 450g bag of Pams white quinoa is $4.99, and the same pack is $4.69 at Pak’nSave. Pams red quinoa is much pricier, at $8.99 for 450g at New World, or $8.39 at Pak’nSave. 

Countdown’s own brand white quinoa option, artfully named “Simply quinoa”, is considerably steeper at $6 for 400g. For quinoa enthusiasts, however, Countdown does sell a 1kg bag of white quinoa for $11.

Supie doesn’t have the advantage of an affordable “home brand” option, so you’re looking at $7 for 400g of white quinoa (grown in the North Island), or $8.50 for 400g of organic red or black quinoa. Options galore.

How to make quinoa terrible

As is true for so many things, “soggy” is to be avoided when it comes to quinoa. Overcooking with too much water is pretty easy, so I always stick to the quinoa-water ratio suggested on the pack, or, go a tad light on the water and then fluff it well with a fork. 

One problem I do have with quinoa is washing it. Rinsing is important to remove the slight bitterness that coats the seeds, but I’m yet to find a sieve (other than a tea strainer) fine enough to deal with quinoa without losing some of it down the sink. Any tips welcome. 

A note: you don’t need to buy rice and quinoa mixes. This is literally just you paying for rice (a cheap staple) at quinoa prices, for the benefit of not having to mix the two together yourself.  

A plate piled with spinach leaves, roast vegetables, quinoa, sliced steak and a sprig of mint. Underneath the plate is an embroidered tablecloth in white and navy blue.
Roast vegetable and steak salad with feta and mint sauce. (Image: Wyoming Paul)

How to make quinoa amazing

For some, quinoa is at its most amazing when you don’t know you’re eating quinoa. Luckily, this can be easily achieved; replace a quarter of your rice with quinoa (simply cook them together as you would rice) and serve alongside a chilli, curry or stir fry, and your meal just got healthier without anyone noticing. 

You can also mix cooked quinoa through almost any kind of salad, like this Mediterranean grilled chicken salad which is full of feta, olives and fresh crunchy veg, or this roast vegetable and steak salad with feta and mint sauce – just replace the bulghur wheat with quinoa. Absolutely delightful. 

For a hearty oven bake on a cold evening, my favourite is this Mexican mince, beans and quinoa bake, grilled with a topping of cheese and served with tomatoes, avocado, coriander and spicy yoghurt. Seriously delicious, and as it’s totally hidden among the mince, rice, spices and sauce, a great way to introduce quinoa to both the uninitiated or sceptical.

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a recipe management website where you can create recipes, discover chefs and follow meal plans. 

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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