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Super-Food Spotlight: Quinoa

By Alison Gallun

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Jun 19, 2014 10:00:00 AM

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nation dubbed 2013 “The International Year of the Quinoa”, but seriously, what is quinoa and why is it so special that it gets its own year?

super-food-quinoaIt seems like everywhere you look nowadays someone’s telling you about some new ‘superfood,’ claiming that simply eating it will solve all of your life’s problems. But, here’s my problem with all this: no one actually explains what a super food is or give us practical ways to incorporate it into an everyday diet. So I’m going to break it all down, and highlight some delicious and nutritious uses for this impossible to pronounce superfood.

What is a superfood?

Although the definition of super-food is open to interpretation, it basically means a food or beverage that’s low in calories and has a concentrated amount of key nutrients. By and large, superfood lists mostly highlight fruits, veggies or grains, but can also include fish, like salmon, or fermented drinks, like kombucha. Some lists even include red wine– which you definitely won’t hear me complaining about­– so drink up!

But what is quinoa and why is it so great?

Pronounced ‘KEEN-wah,’ this grain, indigenous to South America, is actually a complete protein, offering all of the essential amino acids, and– for any Celiac-friendly diets out there– is totally gluten-free. Personally, I’m a huge fan of using quinoa to replace rice, pastas or even using quinoa flour (I’m a fan of Bob’s Red Mill) in recipes to make any dish more protein-packed and nutritious. 


Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking white or brown rice; taking anywhere from 10-20 minutes, and has different varieties like white/ivory, red and black quinoa. (White/ivory is the most common, red quinoa has a nuttier taste and firmer texture and black quinoa has an earthier taste, but all can generally be used interchangeably.)

Studies have begun to uncover anti-inflammatory characteristics, including lower obesity rates, when quinoa is eaten on a regular basis. Have kids or grandkids to think about? Even though we think of it as a grain, quinoa is actually in the same family as spinach and beets, has a low allergy risk and a relatively high digestibility, making it ideal for their growing bodies.

But here’s the best part about quinoa: it’s easily incorporated into meals throughout the day, allowing you to snag all that tasty energy whenever you need it most. Love your morning runs? Try making quinoa in the morning with cinnamon, almond milk and a handful of dried cherries to help nourish your body post-run. Looking for a way to make your guilty pleasure a little less guilty? Check out these delicious dessert recipes for some of my favorites.


Tweaking recipes to incorporate quinoa is a simple way to boost your everyday nutrition, without compromising on taste. Talk about a win-win situation.

Foolproof Quinoa Recipes (that will make you seem like a quinoa pro):

Like what you’re hearing? Try to incorporate quinoa into 2 meals per week! With its growing popularity, there are tons of easy and delicious quinoa recipes to try. If you need some suggestions, here are a few of my personal favorites.

Breakfast/Mid-day Snack:

Homemade Maple Quinoa Cereal

Makes 8 servings


1 ½ cups white quinoa, cooked

1 Tbs chia seeds

2 Tbs pure maple syrup

¾ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, making sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
  3. Pour mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet, and spread out so mixture has a thickness of about ½ in.
  4. Bake for 40-50 minutes, using a spatula to flip about halfway through so both sides are crispy.
  5. Remove when cereal is a light golden brown, and let cool.
  6. Serve in a bowl topped with almond milk, or pack it up for an on-the-go snack.


Roasted Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Kale Salad

Entrée: Makes 3 servings

Side Salad: Makes 6 servings


2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

½ tsp. onion powder

½ tsp. oregano

½ tsp. chipotle chili powder

½ cup uncooked quinoa

3 cups kale or mixed greens, rinsed

¼ cup unsweetened, dried cranberries

For the dressing

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

1 tsp. minced shallots

1 ½ Tbs honey


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Cut the peeled sweet potatoes into ¼ in. cubes and toss with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano and chipotle chili powder until completely coated.
  3. Spread potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or nonstick cooking spray), and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until potatoes are a deep, golden brown.
  4. While sweet potatoes are roasting, rinse quinoa using a mesh strainer if necessary. Add rinsed quinoa and ½ cup of water to a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 10-15 mins.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, shallots and honey. Whisk together until all ingredients are well incorporated.
  6. Combine kale, quinoa and cranberries in a large bowl and toss with dressing. Fold in sweet potatoes, serve and enjoy!


Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers

Makes 8 servings


1 medium onion, chopped

1 Tbs. olive oil

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained with liquids reserved if you’re baking them

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

¾ cup quinoa, cooked (I like using red quinoa for the nuttier flavor, but white quinoa works too!)

1 ½ cups  water

1 cup pepper jack cheese, plus ½ cup for topping

4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed

Salt and pepper, to tast


  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion, celery and jalapeño for about 5 minutes, until soft and onions become translucent. Add in cumin and garlic and cook for one more minute. Stir in drained tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  2. Stir in black beans, quinoa and 1 ½ cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes until quinoa is tender.
  3. Mix in 1 cup pepper jack cheese and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  4. If baking: preheat oven to 350°F, and pour reserved liquid from tomatoes into the bottom of a baking dish. If grilling: fire up the grill to about medium heat, and lightly brush the outside of the bell peppers with olive oil to prevent sticking.
  5. Fill each bell pepper with ¾ cup of the quinoa mixture and top with the remaining ½ cup of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 mins or close the lid to the grill and grill on indirect heat for 30 mins, checking regularly after 20 mins have passed.
  6. Serve and enjoy!!

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