Monday, August 16, 2010


I'm not a vegan food blogger, but am a vegan who loves to eat good food. Like many vegans, I'm often told by family, friends and acquaintances how limiting they assume a plant-based diet must be. I almost always laugh when they do say this to me, because the truth is that -- particularly in terms of cooking for myself at home, which I really enjoy doing -- the dietary aspect of veganism is not only one of the easiest things about it, but is probably one of the most fun and interesting things about being a vegan. Amongst other things, going vegan meant having to rethink previous attitudes about food and having to break out of long-held routines. This provided an opportunity to research and explore new ingredients and new flavours. It provided an opportunity to experiment with new ingredient combinations and new cuisines. On a never-ending quest to ensure that I eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, grains. nuts, seeds and legumes, I am constantly learning new information and tasting things for the first time. In many ways, in terms of diet, going vegan was actually one of the most liberating things I could ever have done.

Not-So-Strange New Things

There are some ingredients -- some foods -- that are not unknown to me, but that I've just never gotten around to shuffling into my kitchen because I've had so many other things to try
out and enjoy. One of those was quinoa. I'd often heard about it and had actually tried it and loved it once at a local restaurant, but had never gone ahead and made it myself -- until this weekend. I posted on Twitter, asking if I should just treat it like rice and top it with some stir fry and my tweet was met with a surprising number of responses from other vegans, mostly just expressing how much they love the taste of quinoa and how versatile it is. Minku from the video posted below told me that he sometimes even has it with raisins, banana and agave or maple syrup for breakfast.

So What's the Deal with This Quinoa Stuff?

Some might be surprised to learn that quinoa is not a grain. It's actually the seed of a plant which is related to beets and spinach and which was once-upon-a-time cultivated by the
Incas. Its greens are actually edible, although unless you grow it yourself, you'd be hard-pressed to find them in most North American markets. Wikipedia calls it a "pseudocereal" (as are amaranth and buckwheat) which while not a true grain, can still be ground and used in much the same that grains can be used. This makes a lot of sense when you consider a few of quinoa's often-touted selling points: It's gluten-free (which makes it a hit with those with sensitivities to gluten, which is found in grains) and it's high in protein. Quinoa also delivers in terms of overall nutrition. Just a quarter cup of uncooked quinoa provides 10% DV for fiber and is high in manganese (48.00% DV), magnesium (22.31% DV) and iron (21.83% DV).

What Do You Do with It?

If you buy quinoa in bulk, you'll want to rinse it, soak it for a few hours and then drain it and rinse it again to remove the waxy bitter saponins that coat it. Some take a shortcut and merely rinse it for a prolonged period while moving it around vigorously to rub the seeds against each other. Processed quinoa generally doesn't require this, although it can't hurt to check the directions on the box or bag in which it's enclosed. A good rule of thumb to follow is to use twice as much water as you do quinoa to cook it. When I prepared mine, I put the water and quinoa together in the pot and then brought it to a boil, adding a bit of salt, then lowering it to a simmer as I would with rice. I used a cooking guidelines table in the back of a cookbook to make mine and it stated that it would take 20-25 minutes for the quinoa to cook. It didn't. It took around 15 minutes and a few Google searches confirmed that this is closer to the length of time it's actually expected to take. You cook it until the germ separates from the seed and looks like a tiny curl and then let it sit for around 3 minutes to fluff up completely.
I cook intuitively, rarely carefully measuring anything unless trying a recipe for the first time.

When I made my quinoa, I mixed in some chopped sundried tomatoes before letting it sit for the last 3 minutes. I sautéed half a Spanish onion, around a half cup of diagonally sliced baby carrots, a small zucchini, half a green bell pepper and some peas with turmeric and then tossed everything together when the vegetables were done. It was delicious.
I took some time this morning to dig up quinoa recipes that have been posted by some of my favourite food bloggers so that I could share them here. If you've never tried to make quinoa before, try out one of the following recipes and prepare to enjoy:

I found a Tabouli Style Quinoa and Veggie Salad recipe from Vegan Epicurean that sounds awfully quick and simple to make. Quinoa shows up often on the FatFree Vegan blog. For a quick meal, you can try the Ridiculously Easy Curried Chickpeas and Quinoa. If you have a bit more time on your hands, Susan's Farmer's Market Quinoa (a variation on a Robin Robertson pasta recipe) looks absolutely wonderful, as does her Quinoa Vegetable Paella. The Vegan Dad blog features a couple of very yummy-sounding recipes which incorporate quinoa, including Tofu and Sweet Potatoes over Cajun Quinoa and Creamy-Spicy Seitan with Coconut Quinoa. The Vegan for the People blog has a recipe for Roasted Sweet Peppers with Quinoa Stuffing (see photo to the right). Since I can never resist a good veggie burger, these two recipes from happyveganface caught my eye: Plantain-Chickpea-Quinoa Burgers and Smoky 'n' Spicy Lentil-Potato-Quinoa Burgers. Check out Jessy's Breakfast Quinoa recipe, too.


JL Goes Vegan said...

I'm a quinoa nut. I used it with TVP and chickpeas in a veggie burger last night, added cooked quinoa to my green smoothie this morning and tossed it into a kale salad for lunch today.

Thanks for linking to some great-looking recipes.

Meg said...

Another way to add a great flavor to the quinoa is to cook it in vegetable broth instead of water. That's how I usually make it if I'm going to be mixing in sauteed veggies and toasted nuts. It's delicious. And congrats om finally making quinoa!

M said...

JL Goes Vegan, I think that I'm hooked, too. I plan to pick up some more after work to try out some of the recipes I listed.

Meg, thanks for the tip. Vegetable broth always kicks things up a notch. I also look forward to trying Vegan Dad's coconut quinoa method, too (i.e. a cup quinoa cooked in 1-1/2 cups of water and a 1/2 cup of coconut milk).

Anna Graham Shonle said...

For some reason, quinoa and sunflower seeds together form a taste combination that makes me super happy.

When I have leftover quinoa in the fridge and want a quick and delicious dish of something, I put two heaping spoonfuls of fresh salsa in it and sprinkle on a generous amount of roasted sunflower seeds. Heat it and then put a couple of dashes of Bragg Liquid Amino Acids in it. Amazing.

Joy Clendening said...

You can try just roasting in a pan too. It comes out with a nice crunch too it. Very yummy.

Art by Sarah Kiser said...

I love quinoa, and I've been buying it at Costco recently, they sell it in 4 lb. bags at $9.39 which comes out to only $2.35/lb! :))It's organic too!

The Compassionate Hedonist said...

quinoa is awesome! And I love vegan food blogs. I am a cook and foodie who is vegan, and I think now that I am vegan my cooking has gone off the hook. I am much more creative and don't rely on staple nasty animal products that all taste the same. awesome food is another way to convert people. Esp. vegan cupcakes!!