how to say and cook quinoa

Dear Kitchenista,

Is is KEE-NO-AH or is it KEEN-WAH?

When this grain/seed first starting popping up in food magazines and store shelves I confidently pronounced it as KEE-NO-AH. I mean, it sounded fittingly ancient and distantly Mayan when I said it like that, so I went with it. Until the moment I actually heard someone pronounce it as KEEN-WAH, and became fraught with chef-y self-doubt. But not to worry. AskTheKitchenista to the phonetic rescue!  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “the primary pronunciation is disyllabic (2 syllables) with the accent on the first syllable (/ˈkiːnwɑː/ keen-wah). It may also be pronounced with three syllables, with the stress on either the first syllable ( /ˈkiːnoʊ.ə/ kee-noh-ə) or on the second (/kwɨˈnoʊ.ə/ kwi-noh-ə).” So rest your assured that whether you employ two syllables or three when you speak of this protein-and-nutrient rich food, you will be culinarily correct.

Top  (Almost Ten) List of Why You Should Try Quinoa or Eat More of It.

1. It is nutty and delicious and fluffy.
2. It has high protein content compared to other “grains” and is by itself a complete protein.
3. It is gluten-free and relatively non-irritating to the digestive tract (unlike many other grains.)
4. It comes in white and a lovely red color too.
5. It is as easy as cooking rice, can even be made in a rice cooker and it’s hard to ruin.
6. It is high in fiber and phosphorous, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and iron which in itself could keep you regular, peppy, headache-free, and strong of bone and blood.
7. It can be breakfast food (like oatmeal, added to nuts and honey and cinnamon) or dinner (like rice pilaf, added to aromatics, savory spices, or veggies).
8. It can be a salad (like today’s recipe) or a side (um, like today’s recipe).

Tweeking Notes: When I came across this recipe in a recent Food & Wine, I instantly wanted to try it and even put a version of it on my Rancho La Puerta spa menu. The original called for using Kamut or Faro which are both a form of wheat berry, and though they are both low in gluten, they still can be problematic for those of you (me) who are gluten sensitive. So…I gave it a try with quinoa and loved the outcome. Since quinoa cooks much quicker than faro or kamut, I eliminated the step of cooking the grains with a “bouquet garni” (a cheesecloth bundle of carrots, onion, vanilla and celery) and opted instead for just cooking the quinoa in vegetable or chicken broth for that veggie-fortified flavor.

Quinoa Strawberry, Orange and Baby Spinach Salad
Adapted from Gastronauts, San Francisco as seen in Food & Wine

Serves 4-6


1/2 vanilla bean or a 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cups quinoa
2.5 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken stock
2 oranges
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
10 strawberries, quartered
2 packed cups baby spinach


1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a small bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add shallots and cook over medium/low flame until softened and translucent, (not browned) about 4 minutes. Add quinoa over moderately high heat, stirring, until toasted, 1 minute. Add 2 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, until the  quinoa has absorbed most of the liquid, about 25-30 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the quinoa to sit, covered for an additional 5 minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, finely grate the zest of 1 orange into the bowl with the vanilla seeds.   Add the lemon juice. Whisk in the remaining olive oil. Using a knife, cut along the sides of the oranges to remove the peel and white pith and expose the fruit flesh underneath. Holding the “naked” orange in one hand, and using a sharp pairing knife, cut in between the membranes to release the orange sections (supremes) into the bowl. Squeeze the juice remaining from the membranes into the bowl. Add the strawberries and let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Remove cover from quinoa and fluff with a fork. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and fold in the raw baby spinach until it is wilted. Add the fruit mixture/dressing to the quinoa and spinach and gently combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saponin Alert: Quinoa naturally comes with a bitter coating called saponin which should be rinsed off. Most quinoa that you buy in the U.S. has been pre-rinsed and dried, so this is not an really an issue, but if you buy your quinoa in bulk (those bins where you measure out your own), or from an imported source, I recommend soaking the quinoa for 15 minutes in cool water, then draining with a fine sieve before cooking. Check your packaging, or when in doubt, just soak and rinse.