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An Oldie but a Goodie: Quinoa Chowder

It’s definitely on the cusp of spring here, though today doesn’t feel like it exactly: San Francisco is swathed in fog and I had to bundle up a bit on my foray up to the coffee shop while the birds merrily dispersed their songs. I’m deep in recipe head note-writing and thought if I dragged myself out of my apartment into a ‘fresh’ venue I’d feel more inspired (it sort of worked). It’s funny – when I write a piece for, say, NPR, I do about 4 recipes with their accompanying headers and it doesn’t feel like much work at all. Now, faced with 70-75 headers to write I find myself becoming mired in the usual, i.e. I fear I am repeating myself. After all, how many words really are needed to describe a (delectable, rich but not-too) milk chocolate pudding? Or a lemon cream pie with a coconut-almond crust? Or a Mexican hot chocolate cake with warming hints of cinnamon and spicy pepper topped with a good layer of buttermilk-chocolate frosting? I worry I am getting trite. So the zing of caffeine from my very strong cup of coffee really helped to disperse the cobwebs this morning.

Now that my deadline is firmly in sight (May 1!), I’m starting to think about the next potential project (some might argue that an international move is its own project … but I don’t really know how to rest). There has been so much butter and sugar coming out of my kitchen these past months that I am craving recipes that incorporate a more healthful angle – this is, after all, my natural inclination, and I’d like to do something more focused on that in the future. Last night I came up with two ideas for cookbooks/books that I’d love to see out in the world and which I’d love to write … pretty please? I think this is my mind’s natural defense mechanism as my current cookbook nears its conclusion – it’s a way for me to a)not to feel overwhelmed with the work still to do and b)not feel like I will have nothing to do (and also c)I think these are pretty unique, interesting ideas!). This is not to say that I am lacking in work to do; I certainly do have a lot going on. Just … I guess I like to think ahead.

Meanwhile I am nearly done with all the testing save for a few re-tests, plus a a few articles due in the coming months, and I’m buckling down now to the real-deal writing and editing part. I’m also looking forward to the advent of all that spring produce (asparagus! baby lettuce! strawberries!) and attempting to break myself out of the dinner rut.

I was talking to my friend Kate a few weeks (months?) ago and mentioned that along with all this recipe-testing I experience a certain amount of malaise when it comes to cooking dinner, and sometimes my meals lack the fresh vegetables that are usually so typical. For example, last night I tore myself away from staring at those darned head notes and made my way to the kitchen where I made ravioli in a simple red sauce and whole wheat spaghetti with butter and parmesan. Granted, there was a big handful of shredded spinach added to the pasta (and DW finished off a leftover green salad) but this was not necessarily the most healthful dinner I’ve ever put together. It was also quite rote, as the dinner routine can feel very often, and I need to pull myself out of it.

During that conversation a few weeks (or months?!) back, Kate reminded me of a quinoa vegtable chowder I created my first year living in San Francisco (side note: my seven year anniversary is next week) after the long Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t know about you, but after a particularly intense stretch of eating a lot of food – even though our Thanksgivings tend to be on the lighter side, there’s usually a lot of pie – I want to give my stomach a rest and then ply it with lots of vegetables and whole grains. That Sunday I was feeling a little tired, a little under the weather, a little chilly, and a little in need of something light and nourishing; I had quinoa, spinach, mushrooms, and garlic in my kitchen and decided to make good use of them. In truth, I also had the memory of a delicious boxed quinoa-corn chowder my brother and I used to take with us on backpacking trips that I think was made by Seeds of Change and which sadly doesn’t seem to be available anymore. This was a riff on that and came very close to that erstwhile soup I so loved.

I hadn’t made this chowder in a very long time, possibly because I had it in heavy rotation for years and needed to cycle it out for a bit because I got slightly tired of it. I really had nearly forgotten all about it. Thank goodness for Kate, though, because I made it last week and discovered anew how much I love it. I also realized it could use a few updates and am sharing it today because I think it’s the perfect antidote to these early/nearly spring days when the weather hasn’t quite figured out what to do with itself. It’s also quite forgiving: you may add any additional vegetables that strike your fancy – green beans might be nice, and green onions definitely would be. I like it for lunch just simply as-is or as for dinner with bread and hummus.

Back into the depths I go. Send chard. And beets.


Quinoa Chowder with Corn and Spinach

You may up the quantity of vegetables as you like – I will add more garlic, for example, if I’m feeling on the cusp of a cold, or more spinach if I’m feeling the need for more greens. Don’t be surprised when you go to heat up your leftovers if most of the broth has been absorbed; add a little more water or broth and you’ll be set.

Makes at least 6 servings

1 cup quinoa
6 cups mushroom or vegetable broth
2 cups water
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 cups spinach, washed and chopped
about 7 shiitake or crimini mushrooms (more, of course, if you like)
1 cup frozen corn, or fresh if you have it
1 tsp. soy sauce
salt and pepper

Wash the quinoa and set aside. In a large soup pot, sautee in the garlic in a little olive oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and a splash of water if necessary and sautee until the garlic and mushrooms are soft and have released their juices.

Add the quinoa and 4 cups of broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.

When the quinoa is cooked, add two more cups of broth and the spinach and corn and cook a for few minutes. Add the two cups water and simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors, adding more water of broth if you want a more soupy chowder. Add soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste, and serve very hot.

Notes: I say “salt and pepper to taste” because in this case it’s definitely dependent on personal taste. For example, I add a lot of pepper because I always like pepper if I’m feeling under the weather, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Also, add a bit of water to the leftovers to get the broth going again, as the quinoa will absorb a lot of the liquid (look at it like a ‘never-ending’ pot o soup).



  1. This looks amazing!!! Quick question Nicole: how many people do ya reckon this recipe serves? Could it serve 3 if I added some roasted cauliflower?

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