Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ask Chef Mary: "Quinoa"

Dear Chef Mary,

I was at a party a couple of weeks ago and they had this amazing dish with quinoa. I have never had quinoa. What is it, how do you cook it and what else can you do with it?


Dear Leslie,

Quinoa is a tiny grain. It’s delicious and can be used in place of couscous, rice or pasta. It’s loaded with great vitamins and minerals and is a good source for copper, zinc and phosphorus. The germ is where most of the nutrients are located. It even contains 5.2 grams of protein, which is more than other grains. The flavor is mild and it’s softer in texture than couscous, but similar in both size and shape.

The key to cooking quinoa is not to add too much water. Like rice, it absorbs water as it cooks, but if there is too much water the quinoa grains become water logged and mushy. There will also be residual water in the pot.

Seasoning the quinoa with salt should be done at the beginning of the cooking process. If you add it at the end, the quinoa might taste salty rather than enhancing the flavor.

Adding flavors can vary with quinoa. You can use a medley of vegetables and the quinoa in a salad, plain as a side dish, or as a stuffing to vegetables and proteins. Parmesan, lemon, red pepper and pesto are great flavors to incorporate. There are others that work just as well, but it depends on the flavors you like and what you’re comfortable cooking.

The mouth-feel of quinoa is like softer rice with a new and different twist. You can feel the germ of the grain and, as you chew, the quinoa has a slight pop. (If it’s not over-cooked)

Leslie, rice and pasta are delicious but, there’s a whole selection of healthier grains that most people haven’t considered and quinoa is one of them. It’s worthwhile to give quinoa a try.


Tomato Stuffed with Vegetable Quinoa

1 small Onion diced

2 cloves Garlic


3 baby Carrots sliced

½ Red bell pepper

½ Jalapeno deseeded and diced

1 cup Quinoa

4 Large tomatoes

½ cup Parmesan

¼ cup white wine

Olive oil

  1. Preheat an oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a saucepot, follow the instructions and cook 1 cup of quinoa and set aside.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. Sauté onions and carrots then add red peppers, jalapeno and garlic.
  5. Sauté until everything is soft and aromatic.
  6. Next, add in the quinoa and white wine. Simmer until the wine has evaporated.
  7. Add the Parmesan and set aside.
  8. Slice the tops of the tomatoes off and remove the seeds.
  9. Stuff the tomatoes with quinoa and then top with Parmesan cheese.
  10. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
  11. Serve.