Monday, March 15, 2010

Flavor from the Andes

Quinoa (Keen-wah) is a ‘grain’ that has been cultivated in the South American Andes since at least 3,000 BC and a staple food for millions of the native inhabitants. The Inca tell stories of their armies marching over mountains for many days sustained by only what they called “war balls,” a mixture of quinoa and fat.

Here are a few nutritional facts about this unusual ‘grain.’ Quinoa is not a true grain, but the seed of the Goosefoot plant, very high in protein, calcium and iron, a good source of vitamin E, as well as several of the B vitamins. It contains an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids needed for tissue development in humans; exceptionally high in lysine, cystine and methionine—amino acids typically low in other grains. The protein in quinoa is considered to be a complete protein due to the presence of all eight essential amino acids.

These days, quinoa can be found in most natural food stores, or at least those in the US, and can only be seen as a worthy addition to anyone’s diet. It is good in hot casseroles and soups, stews, in stir-fries, or even cold in salads.

In the rather small collection of recipes for things I make with some regularity is one with the ‘says-it-all’straightforward name, Quinoa Stir-Fry with Spinach & Walnuts. That doesn’t leave much to the imagination if you are already familiar with the flavor of quinoa, but if not, chances are this stir-fry will be a delectable surprise. Once you have the quinoa in hand, the other ingredients are few, and include nothing unfamiliar to most palates. Preparation is perfectly uncomplicated. Quinoa is best cooked to just the right fluffiness, but the directions on the package will help you with that. In the event it comes in a plain brown bag, ask a store clerk about the best method of cooking the quinoa. Basically, it cooks much the same way as rice.


1 cup of quinoa

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of finely chopped (not minced) garlic

1/2 a teaspoon of salt

1 bag (about 6 ounces) of fresh baby spinach

8-9 cherry tomatoes

1 package of walnut halves (about 2 ounces)

Grated parmesan cheese

A few leaves of fresh basil


Rinse the quinoa well, drain it and put it in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Once the quinoa is the right consistency (fluffy), remove it from the heat and set it aside. Spread the walnuts in a small skillet and toast them over medium heat for 5-10 minutes; set aside. Put the olive oil into a good sized wok and let it heat a little. Spoon the cooked quinoa into the wok with the olive oil and add the chopped garlic and the salt. Give it good stir, mixing the garlic into the quinoa. Add the toasted walnuts and stir a little longer. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, and add them to the quinoa mix along with the baby spinach. Stir until the spinach is almost wilted—don’t overcook.

Remove the quinoa-walnut-spinach & tomato mix to a large bowl. Toss in some parmesan cheese and garnish with fresh basil.

Bon appétit!


  1. I LOVE quinoa - and this recipe looks really delicious! I'll have to see if the chef in my household will be willing to try it...

  2. I am going to try it tonight. Thanks for the healthy recipe


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America