Lucky Comestible II: Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries

March 25, 2008


If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]

[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this second entry, I’m focusing on Quinoa. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]


I remember very clearly the first time I tasted quinoa (pronounced keen-wah):  there was I, barely having reached the other side of twenty, at an English Department party at the University of Windsor.  As a Teaching Assistant studying toward my MA degree, I had leaped at the chance to attend, not only because this was my very first opportunity to enter the Inner Sanctum of the faculty club, but also because I’d been harboring a raging crush on my Modern American Drama professor and I knew he’d be there.

As it turns out, no, my sophomoric infatuation never made it beyond the fantasy stage; luckily for me, as John later became my beloved mentor, who (along with the wife he adored–drat!) welcomed me into his home, and spent countless hours in serious discussion with me at the local university pub, where I’d regularly spill my dreams, aspirations, academic anxieties and beer; and  he’d regularly dispense sage advice, sympathy, pedagogic pointers and beer–for the next two decades or so.

One of the other TAs, a placid, floaty woman (in the way that 1950s housewives on Valium were placid and floaty) brought two dishes to the party buffet table that day: carob brownies (though lacking any gratuitious “hippie” ingredients as you might have found in chocolate brownies of that era, if you get my drift); and a quinoa-veggie salad.  I loved both dishes as soon as I tasted them, and resolved immediately to reproduce both in the shoebox kitchen of my bachelor apartment.

The carob brownies were fairly easy to replicate (even though Ms. Floaty refused to give out the exact recipe); it was the quinoa that turned out to be the greater challenge.  Most of the ingredients were fairly obvious to the naked eye–celery, green onion, cucumber, tomato.  And I could easily approximate a similar oil and vinegar dressing.  But what had me stumped was the grain itself, the star of the salad–the quinoa.

Feeling confident that I could maneuver my way around pretty much any grain, I boiled the little cream-colored beads exactly as I would pasta, in an overabundance of fresh water. I should have known there’d be trouble when I attempted to drain the stuff in a colander, only to discover that half or more of the quinoa pearls had fallen through the holes and down the drain.  Adding insult to incompetence, when I finally scraped together the remaining 2 tablespoons of the mixture and sampled it for doneness, it unveiled a taste so powerfully bitter that I might have been chewing on a peach pit or a grapefruit peel, with a generous sprinkling of paint chip over top.  Not the most auspicious beginning.

From that unpropitious start, however, has developed an ongoing and consistent love of quinoa that persists to this day (much deeper than an undergraduate crush on a literature professor would have been). Quinoa is, by far, my favorite grain, for a plethora of reasons: I love its distinctly mild, slightly nutty flavor; its chewy, almost crunchy texture; its visual impudence–that color-contrasted spiral tail slowly unfurling as the grain cooks, like a loose stitch on your favorite sweater. 

Quinoa, like most complex carbohydrates, is a nutritional powerhouse.  Besides offering the highest protein content of any grain, this gluten-free gem also provides a nearly complete protein, as it is, unlike other grains, high in the amino acid lysine. (One reason why vegetarians are advised to combine grains with legumes, or grains with nuts/seeds, is to achieve a “complete” combination of all nine essential amino acids.)  With lysine in its lineup, quinoa doesn’t require combination with other foods to achieve complete protein status.

 A little higher in calories than other grains, quinoa is worth it.  According to the  World’s Healthiest Foods website (maintained by the venerable George Mateljan Foundation), quinoa also provides important minerals, heart-healthy fiber, and the anti-cancer protection of antioxidants, among other health benefits. It ‘s also fairly neutral on the acid-alkaline spectrum, important because most grains lean towards the acidic side, while our blood requires a more alkaline status.  In other words, quinoa won’t mess with your body’s acid-alkaline balance the way some other foods (especially those that are processed or high in sugar) might.

If you’ve never tried this versatile and delicious ingredient, you’re in for a treat.  Quinoa can be used like oats or rice as the basis of a breakfast cereal, or in side dishes like rice or millet.  It can be baked into casseroles, sprinkled into soups, stuffed into peppers or cabbage leaves, or even blended into muffins or breads.  And it’s equally delicious hot or cold.  My HH was skeptical, at first, but he’s since become a fellow fan of this wonderful food.  (“Mum, we’re keen on quinoa, too!  We’ll share in it any time. . . . “)

To prepare quinoa, employ the standard ratio of water to grain that you would for rice: two parts water to one part grain.  Most instructions will warn that the grain’s exterior houses a naturally bitter resin, which needs to be rinsed carefully to remove before cooking (hence my bitter first encounter; I had no idea I was supposed to rinse it first).  However, in today’s marketplace, quinoa is so ubiquitous that manufacturers have begun to pre-rinse it for us.  These days, I almost never pre-rinse my quinoa (more because of laziness or forgetfulness than any determination to buck tradition), and it always turns out fine.  The stuff I buy in the bulk bins is just as reliable this way as the higher-end products, too.

To achieve a fluffy result (with grains that are clearly separated and well-cooked), I’ve found the best way to cook the quinoa is to first bring the water to a rolling boil before adding the grain; then, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes before checking the pot (resist the temptation to uncover the pot or to stir the mixture!).  If you’re new to quinoa, you might want to combine it with something else the first time; a mix of half quinoa and half rice is always a good option.  For a soupier, more porridge-like texture, pour the quinoa directly into the water before you begin to heat it; allow the water to come to the boil with the quinoa already in it, then proceed as above. 

I decided to offer this salad recipe first, as it’s always a huge hit at the cooking classes I teach, even with people who’ve never tasted quinoa before.  I’ve paired it with buckwheat here; the mild mannered quinoa is a perfect partner to the more robust buckwheat. 

Because this recipe contains both cilantro and vegetables, I thought it would be a great submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, the great event created by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, this month hosted by Ramona at Houndstooth Gourmet 

 Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries



This salad makes a perfect offering to a buffet table, or a nice light supper.  The chewy, solid texture of the grains here works well with the slightly spicy, sweet dressing; the salad’s flavors develop even more and the cranberries plump a little by the second day (if it lasts that long).  When I first created the recipe  I conducted a nutritional analysis and discovered that one serving (about a cup) of this salad offers 12 grams of protein–enough for a substantial main course in anyone’s books.  



25 Responses to “Lucky Comestible II: Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries”

  1. Ricki Says:

    Hey Folks,
    Just wanted to comment to say that somehow, my responses to all the comments on “Spiced Carrot Gnocchi” got wiped out somehow–so they never were posted! I’ve just responded again; sorry to those who left comments and didn’t hear back from me! 🙂

  2. houndstooth1 Says:

    Excellent post- incredibly informative and I’m getting excited about quinoa again. Thanks for sharing with Weekend Herb Blogging.
    The Houndstooth Gourmet

  3. Johanna Says:

    I have tried quinoa before but it didn’t enthuse me – but your writing does so will give it another try! I went to a healthfood store yesterday and was looking at all the different quinoa grains and felt too overwhelmed and uncertain to buy any – I think there was red and black (brown?) and white – can you tell me what is the difference? But I will go back sometime

  4. I always love reading your stories. How funny that your long-standing love affair with quinoa came about from an unrequited crush. Hehe…

  5. i am on the quinoa bandwagon… you just made my WEEK!

  6. Courtney Says:

    My first experience with quinoa was similar to yours–only I lost half of mine down the drain before I ever had a chance to cook it! I had heard you needed to rinse it before cooking it, so I tried my darndest to do so, but it is so small that no matter how I tried, I kept losing it! I had about 1/4 of what I had started with left to cook after I got done with my first step! I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who struggled with it at first…only to fall in love with it once they got the hang of it! Can’t wait to try your salad–it sounds great!


  7. Lisa Says:

    Fantastic recipe! Quinoa is such a versatile grain, isn’t it? Once you learn how to cook it properly, the possibilities are as endless as cooking with rice.

    And regarding Johanna’s question about the different types of quinoa: I cook with white quinoa 99% of the time, but I once tried red quinoa, and though it was good, it takes at least twice as long to absorb water. Cooking white quinoa is very much like cooking rice, as Ricki points out.

  8. kathryn Says:

    Lovely recipe Ricki – using two grains I hardly ever use. I never really know what to do with buckwheat and quinoa – and just haven’t put the time and effort in to get to know them better. Thanks for posting this though, it’s a beautiful looking dish.

  9. Lucy Says:

    ‘…its visual impudence–that color-contrasted spiral tail slowly unfurling as the grain cooks, like a loose stitch on your favorite sweater.’

    Well, if that’s not the best way to describe how that germ spirals off, I don’t know what is.

    Beautiful – Like Kathryn I never know what to do with buckwheat. Beautiful combo, lovely writing.

  10. This looks great! I’ve never cooked with Quinoa before, but have always wanted too.

    Great site! I bookmarked it.

  11. atxvegn Says:

    I love quinoa – grains and flakes! I actually had a “crazy for quinoa” post last month:

  12. jenny wren Says:

    Hey Ricki! That salad sounds great. For some reason I never think about making grain salads…I don’t know why because I always have quinoa or rice in the fridge that I’m trying to use up. Here’s a link to my latest quinoa recipe

  13. shellyfish Says:

    Yeah for quinoa! Your salad sounds good. With the chill still in the air, I wasn’t even thinking about chilled or room temp. salads. One of my favorites is quinoa with toasted pine nuts, capers, corn, cilantro, black beans and avacado! Hummm!
    Here in France, red quinoa cooks in the same amount of time as the “plain”. Often it can be purchased in packages of mixed colors (which is just beautiful for holidays or festive occasions).
    Thanks for pooling all these recipes together, and lovely writing as always!

  14. Lisa Says:

    Okay, you’ve convinced me! I bought quinoa a while back but have yet to use it. I think it is time. This recipe sounds great! Thanks!

  15. Karen Says:

    Hi Ricki!
    Quinoa has become a big fixture in our house for the last year. Just like you suggested, it’s perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I posted a butternut squash quinoa recipe on my blog a few weeks ago:

    Over the last year, I discovered a few ways to make it taste even better. First, I toast a cup of quinoa in a dry saucepan for five minutes – it really brings out the nuttiness of the seed. Then, instead of water, I cook it in broth. I use chicken, but you could use vegetable broth.

    Love your blog! Always makes me smile.

    Have a great day,

  16. Vegan_Noodle Says:

    Oh I love that you highlighted quinoa, definitely my favorite grain as well! I”m glad to hear that the need for rinsing is not a big deal… I’ve never rinsed my quinoa and I always thought it tasted just fine. But yay for the tip about boiling the water first… I usually just put them both in at the same time. Learn something new everday I suppose. Great post!

  17. Lizzie Says:

    I am such a huge quinoa fan. I am totally making this for dinner. I have some quinoa and buckwheat in my cabinet — it was meant to be!

    You write with such a clear and passionate voice; it makes me want to make all your recipes!

    Another great one, Ricki 🙂

  18. VeggieGirl Says:

    that is definitely the most flavorful, gorgeous quinoa salad I have ever seen – YUM!!!!!!

  19. Ricki Says:

    Welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the post–it’s always fun to write about favorite foods 🙂 .

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve never tried any but the regular, “beige” quinoa–but Lisa’s comment, below, contains some great pointers about the different colors. I hope you do give it a try; it’s a wonderful grain!

    Thanks! I’m glad that my affection for both lasted this long!

    Happy Herbivore,
    That’s great! Glad to hear it. 🙂

    I had the same problem re: rinsing (I lost most of it!). If I do remember to rinse these days, I fill a bowl with water and swish it around, then just spill off the excess water from the top. Seems to work.

    Thanks for the info–I had no idea! Looking forward to trying your croquettes (with the light quinoa!).

    Thanks so much! I think this is my favorite use for buckwheat, even though I do love it on its own. But the two seem to go very well together.

  20. Ricki Says:

    Aww, shucks, now I’M chuffed!! But thanks. And I think you’ll like buckwheat this way 🙂 .

    Thanks so much for your comment, and welcome! Do let me know how you like it if you try it.

    Thanks! I’ve added your recipe to my list at the end of each post 🙂 .

    Jenny Wren,
    Grain salads are wonderful–and keep much better than lettuce for Day 2! Thanks for the link–I’ve added it to my list.

    I guess I’m still trying to force spring to appear. . . Well, the quinoa in France (lucky you!) sounds beautiful.

    So glad you’re convinced! Let me know how you like it if you try it.

    Thanks for the shortcuts–they sound yummy. I’ve added your link to my list of recipes as well. And thanks for the kind words; much appreciated 🙂 .

    Vegan Noodle,
    Thanks! Nice to know I’m not alone in the non-rinsing department (and it does taste just fine anyway, doesn’t it??).

    It’s definitely quinoa/buckwheat fate! Let me know how you like it if you do try it. And thanks so much for your kind words (I’m blushing. . .) 🙂 .

    Veggie Girl,
    Thanks! I think it tastes pretty good, too 😉 .

  21. Ginny Says:

    I love quinoa too. I recently discovered it and now its a staple. Although, the funnest whole foods experience is having 5 guys working there trying to find it for you…thanks for the new recipe ideas!

  22. Kathleen Says:

    This salad sounds and looks delicious, I can’t wait to try it out! I want to pester you a bit here though, back before you took your break you posted some scrumptious looking pictures and I was hoping you would share the recipe(s) sometime. The idea of an agave based frosting really intrigues me and those cinnamon rolls looked delicious. Hopefully you will share those recipes sometime so the rest of us can enjoy them too!

  23. […] from Diet, Dessert and Dogs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada brings us Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries. Ricki’s beautiful writing tells of his first encounter with quinoa and initial efforts […]

  24. Kalyn Says:

    It sounds great. I like the idea of combining quinoa with other grains too. I just had one of those little videos pop up on my e-mail today touting the benefits of eating quinoa!

  25. […] of the TAs, a quintessential Child of the ’60s,  brought along two hippy-dippy dishes, quinoa salad and brownies made with carob.  She was one of those graceful, ethereal women who seems to […]

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