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Quinoa, for Health

Remember how I wrote that article for NPR about quinoa? And how surprised I was that so many people also share the quinoa-love (it’s still hanging in there in the top-emailed story list, nearly a month later)? Well, now I feel like I’ve totally kept back the best recipe of all — except, I only just realized it — and, I swear, I didn’t mean to!

Let me backtrack.

Thanksgiving was wonderful (how could it not be, right?). There were cheese plates and cranberry margaritas, mushroom soup and mashed potatoes, chard lasagna and pumpkin pie (not necessarily in that exact order). It’s become traditional for the vegetarian main entree to be a mushroom galette — a delicious mix of wild mushrooms, leeks and Gruyere cheese folded into a flaky, light crust — which I dream about all year but really is so rich you should only eat one piece at a time (admission: I had two pieces at Thanksgiving dinner. Oops). Add to this many slices of pie with piles of whipped cream, slices of babka (recipe upcoming), even more slices of cheese to accompany the pre-dinner cranberry drinks, and you have the makings for a very full weekend (I’ll not even go into lunch the next day, and the day after that, though if you have a chance to go to Copia and eat at the restaurant there — do. If the Godfather II happens to be on later that night on A&E, just look at it as a strange, serendipitous twist.).

Anyway — it’s Sunday late afternoon and I’ve just had a nice, long run in Golden Gate Park in the chilly sunshine, and I’m feeling a bit sniffly, not to mention starving. My refrigerator is full of amazing leftovers but all I can think is: Soup. And, how quickly can I make some (don’t worry — those leftovers will be savored for my lunches this week; they certainly will not go to waste!)?

When I’m not feeling so hot, I want something that’s brothy, nourishing, and high in protein. Quinoa, of course, came immediately to mind yesterday, as did spinach and garlic. I remembered a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for a quinoa, feta cheese, egg, and scallion chowder, but I knew I didn’t want any cheese dear god please no more cheese for a little while (except for, maybe, that Havarti, just not right now). So I got some mushroom broth, a handful shiitake mushrooms, spinach and corn, and it was easy as pie from there.

This soup/chowder is not glamorous in any way, but it’s certainly satisfying. (It’s also the perfect antidote to being back in the city with a full work week coming up.) The funny thing is it manages to be both hearty and light all at once — meaning, it will fill you up, but you won’t feel over stuffed. With just salt and pepper to enhance its flavor, the taste of the vegetables linger long after the last bowl has disappeared (and, truly, it’s difficult to have just one). A hint of soy sauce takes the quinoa far away from its Andean origins, but it works beautifully nonetheless. A little bread and cheese or, if you feel like indulging (and I always do) a little bowl of potato chips rounds it out as a dinner option (vegans, try hummus and toasted pita bread).

And, you know, I’m not feeling very sniffly at all this morning.

[Quinoa Sunday dinner, November 2007.]

I often fall prey to the Sunday blues, especially on the last night of a long weekend, but last night somehow it wasn’t so bad. I’ll attribute this to a lovely, relaxing few days full of sunshine and visiting, but also to my new favorite way to prepare quinoa. Try it next weekend and let me know if you agree.

Quinoa, mushroom and spinach chowder, for beating the flu, or the end-of-weekend doldrums

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

1. Wash the quinoa and put into a large pot along with four cups of broth (I did two cups broth + two cups water). Add the garlic. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice and sautee the mushrooms in a frying pan in a little olive oil over low heat until soft. Add a dash of soy sauce if you like.

3. When the quinoa is cooked, add two more cups of broth, the spinach and corn, and cook a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir well to combine. Add the rest of the broth and simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors, adding more water of broth if you want a more soupy chowder. Add 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 added a lot of pepper because I always like pepper when 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 soup sounds great. We will try it. I am curious in your npr article you mention a quinoa soup mix you took on camping trips. Would you share what you put in your mix for us fellow campers/backpackers. Thanks!

  2. Not a comment, but I couldn’t find how to e-mail you on the ‘Kitchen Window’ site.

    In that NPR article, you wrote that while many people consider quinoa to be a grain, it’s actually seeds. Well, you should know (and now you will, or at least now you’ll remember, that grains are seeds. Corn, oats, wheat, rice, barley — all of them are the seed prtions of the plants that gtow them.

    Best wishes (and thanks for the NPR article!),

    Joel Shimberg

  3. Traca — yes, cranberry margaritas! So good! I will try to dig up a recipe for you …

    Julie – It’s fixed! Thanks for catching that!

    Sumi – I use a baking sieve (which you’d use to sift flour, for example) when I wash and drain the quinoa. It’s much finer than a regular strainer, and I rarely lose a one.

  4. I’ve been eating quinoa, but I’ve given up on rinsing because no matter how fine a strainer I use, the quinoa just runs right out with the rinse water. Or if I try to rinse it the way I grew up washing rice in a pot, it floats to the top and I can’t drain out the water without half the quinoa floating out with it.

    How do you do it?

  5. Hi Nicole,
    I’m going to make this tonight b/c it sounds just perfect to my husband and me, and we love quinoa. If you get this message in the next hour or two, can you email me and tell me how much quinoa you use in the soup? I think you mistakenly left it out of the recipe. I’m at aminglingoftastes@gmail.com.
    Thanks, Julie

  6. Okay…back up. Did you say Cranberry Margaritas? Mmm…is there a recipe? Sounds divine.

    And note to self: must try quinoa.

    Glad to hear your Thanksgiving was filled with lots of tasty goodness!

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