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You can treat quinoa like a grain

It's the seed of a leafy green plant but cook it as you would rice; it can also be used in baked goods
Quinoa looks like a grain, but is actually a tiny seed.

Q My aunt and I are big fans of your recipes and really appreciate your well-researched columns. Lately we have been reading in other sources that quinoa is not a grain but a seed. Which is correct?

Many thanks for any light you can shed on this issue.

Suzanne and Sandra

AQuinoa, pronounced "keen-wah," is an ancient food that was a staple for the Inca who dubbed it "the mother grain."

It grew in poor climatic conditions and provided them a reliable and sustaining food source. It's been an important food for many South Americans ever since.

In Canada, though, not all that long ago quinoa was hard to find, being something you might get only at a well stocked health food store. That has certainly changed. Because of the ever-growing demand, quinoa sold in bags or in bulk can now be found at most large supermarkets.

Media articles and books, particularly the mega-selling Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, helped feed this quinoa craze. In those articles and that book, written by the Canadian sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming, two key things about quinoa were revealed: It's easy to prepare and very nutritious.

Quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete source of protein. It is high in fibre, is a complex (good) carbohydrate and contains linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid. Quinoa contains vitamin E, calcium, iron and other minerals. It is also gluten-free, which provides a clue to the answer for Suzanne and Sandra's question.

Although quinoa has a grain-like appearance, and the Inca and other sources referr to it as a grain, it is actually a tiny seed harvested from a plant native to the Andes. The Oxford Companion to Food describes it as not a typical cereal but used as if it were.

The plant has green leaves that look like spinach (a relative) and produces vast amounts of tiny seeds that are harvested, processed and called quinoa. The processing involves remove the seeds from the seed heads, winnowing to removing the husks and washing in an alkaline solution to remove the bitter compounds that occur in the seed.

Quinoa comes in a range of colours, depending on the cultivar. White or golden seeds are the most commonly available, but black, red and yellow seeds are not unknown.

According to the New Food Lover's Companion, quinoa expands up to four times its original volume when cooked. For a simple preparation, no matter what the colour, place one part quinoa in a pot with two parts water or flavoured liquid, such as stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is just tender and plumped up. In this form you could serve the quinoa as you would plain pasta or rice, such as using it as a bed for a stew, braised dish or other saucy entrée. You could also cool the quinoa to room temperature and use it as the base for a salad.

Cookbooks such as Quinoa 365 also provide all sorts of creative ways to use quinoa, in such things as cakes, muffins, pizza crust, dips and coatings for poultry. A simple way I include quinoa in my diet is to stir and cook it in a soup as I would barley. I've done that in today's recipe, which is also rich with vegetables.


The quinoa in this vegetable-rich soup adds another texture and nutritious element.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery rib, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp cumin

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

1/3 cup quinoa

2 ripe, medium tomatoes, diced

1 cup chopped fresh kale

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the oil in a pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook 3 to 4 minutes to soften. Mix in the tomato paste, oregano and cumin and cook 1 minute more. Add the stock, quinoa, diced tomato, kale and corn. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, and simmer 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender. Thin the soup with a bit more stock if you find it too thick. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. You can email cooking questions to Eric at eakis@timescolonist. com or by post to Ask Eric, Times Colonist, 2621 Douglas St., V8T 4M2. Eric's columns appear Sundays and Wednesdays in the Life page.


On Wednesday, the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society is teaming up with Canoe Brewpub, 450 Swift St., to put on a special screening of the film Love a Farmer.

This documentary is about the rise of the local food movement. Because the topic will likely make you hungry, food samples from businesses such as Cowichan Pasta, Vancouver Island Salt Company and Cold Comfort ice cream will be served. Canoe Brewpub will also be sampling Belgian waffles and their new Belgianstyle beer. Tickets for the event are $10 and will be available at the door starting at 7 p.m.

At 7: 30 p.m., Brent Warner, executive director of Farmers' Markets Canada, will give a presentation on the economic benefits of farmers' markets on local economies. The film will be shown at 8 p.m. All proceeds from the event go toward the establishment of a downtown public market. For more information, go to

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