Re-Thinking Quinoa Pilaf

Tue. January 18, 2011 12:00 AM
by Brad Mercil

I really enjoy discovering new ingredients and Quinoa was new to me up until a year ago. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) grown mainly in the South American Andes. It has been cultivated since 3,000 B.C. and has been a staple food for millions of native inhabitants. Quinoa is a grain like crop that has edible seeds and is closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds. The seeds have a texture very similar to rice or couscous when cooked.

The first time I tried quinoa, I bought a package from Trader Joe's and just made it without any enhancements. It had a slightly nutty flavor all by itself which reminded me of brown rice. The next time I bought quinoa, it came with a basic pilaf recipe. I tried the recipe and was impressed with how nicely quinoa lent itself to a pilaf. Still I felt that it could go further. To me, it is not that close to rice but almost like bulgar wheat when cooked. Because it reminded me of bulgar wheat, I decided to think about the quinoa pilaf as a hot Tabbouleh salad.

Tabbouleh has ingredients that just jump out at you; fresh tomato, cucumber, parsley, mint and lemon juice. For the quinoa pilaf, tomato and parsley would work but something else needed to be in the mix. Since quinoa already has a slightly nutty flavor I felt that toasted walnuts would be the perfect touch. Sure enough, the toasted walnuts really brought the quinoa pilaf together.

When you chop the walnuts, be sure to rough chop them. Do not chop them into small pieces as they can burn easily during the toasting process. The ideal size is about the same size as a pea or the tip of your pinky finger. Heat a frying pan to medium high heat, add the walnut pieces and toast until they turn opaque and are golden brown. When you smell them toasting, it's usually a good time to let them go another minute or two and they should be done. Pour the toasted walnuts on to a pasta bowl or dinner plate and spread them out to cool. They will continue to cook for several minutes after they have been removed from the heat. You can also toast up a double batch and save the extra in a sealed container.

I like to mix in the toasted walnuts and chop the parsley and tomatoes right before serving. That way the tomatoes and parsley, along with the walnuts have fresh and vibrant flavors that enhance the quinoa. Besure to have extra parsley and toasted walnuts every time you serve this as people are always tossing on extra!

So let's get started....


Quinoa Pilaf



1 tblsp canola oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 carrots cut into circles
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley rough chopped


Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Cook onion in oil until translucent about 2 to 4 minutes. Add carrots and cook for approximately 3 more minutes. Stir in quinoa and stock; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until quinoa is fluffy and tender.

Put quinoa mixture in a large bowl, add tomatoes, toasted walnuts, parsley and toss. Serve with extra walnuts and parsley on the side.

***Serving Suggestions***

You can also play around with quinoa in almost an "empty the refrigerator" kind of way. Other ingredients to consider are ponzu soy sauce, chili sauce, lemon juice, bell peppers, cilantro, green onions or rosemary. See what you have on hand and give it a try!