Quinoa Pilaf

Have you ever cooked with quinoa? It’s a South American grain-like seed that one prepares in a fashion similar to rice, simmered in water until the liquid is all absorbed. I first started cooking with quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) when I lived in San Francisco years ago. It has this wonderful nutty flavor, that actually doesn’t need much added to it; I used to make a quick batch, pour on some flax seed oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and gobble it up. If you have never tried it, I encourage you to track some down. It’s inexpensive, easy to make, tastes great, and is surprisingly high in protein. For those of us who are sensitive to the gluten in wheat or barley, it’s entirely gluten-free. You can find it at Trader Joe’s or at Whole Foods.

The following is a quinoa pilaf recipe based on one given to me by my friend Steve. The first time I made it I thought I would improve upon it by using chicken stock in place of the water. Bad idea. The pilaf ended up tasting like chicken stock, not quinoa. All of the lovely nuttiness of the quinoa was drowned out by the chicken flavor. This time I stayed with water, and instead added fresh herbs from our garden, and a just-picked lemon cucumber. I served it cold, more like a pilaf salad, though it would work warm too.

Do you have a favorite quinoa recipe? If so, I would love to hear about it.

Quinoa Pilaf Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Once you've cooked the quinoa as instructed, feel free to improvise a bit on the add-ins. I chose mint, basil, chives, and cucumber for this recipe, but you could just as easily go with parsley, green onions, chopped fresh red bell pepper.



  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or Thai basil*
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives (or green onions including the greens)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

* Best way to chop basil or mint is to chiffonade it by rolling up the leaves like a cigar and slicing crosswise from the end.


1 Place quinoa in a large sieve and rinse it until the water runs clear. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil on medium high heat in a 3-4 quart pot. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and pine nuts and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent, but not browned. Add the drained quinoa and cook, stirring occasionally for a couple more minutes. You can let some of the quinoa get a little toasted.

2 Add 4 cups of water and one teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low so that the quinoa and water are simmering while the pot is partially covered (enough to let out some steam). Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and put into a large serving bowl. Fluff up with a fork.

3 Let cool until just slightly warm, add 2-3 more tablespoons of olive oil. Stir in chopped mint, basil, chives, and cucumber. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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Heidi's quinoa recipes - from 101 Cookbooks
Quinoa with summer vegetables from Karina of Karina's Kitchen
More quinoa recipes from Karina
Quinoa salad with tomatoes, feta, and parsley - from Lydia of The Perfect Pantry
Quinoa-stuffed zucchini - from Green Lite Bites
Quinoa Salad with Dried Apricots and Currants from Sarah of LettuceEatKale

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Showing 4 of 78 Comments

  • eatlivetravelwrite

    I recently made the following salad which will no doubt become a summer staple in our house:


    Your pilaf looks wonderful too – it’s bookmarked!

    Everything that Heidi creates is outstanding. I’m not surprised you like her lemon scented quinoa, I’m sure it’s terrific. ~Elise

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    Quinoa is a bit of a blank canvas, like couscous. I love spicing it up with cumin and adobo for a Mexican side dish, or with soy sauce and sesame oil for a salad with an Asian twist. Our local discount store, Job Lot, sells the entire line of Bob’s Red Mill products, including their wonderful quinoa.

    Now there’s an idea, cumin and adobo, thanks! ~Elise

  • Leisureguy

    Well, you probably already know it, but your readers may not: quinoa is not a grain (i.e., the seed of a grass, as are wheat, corn, barley, and oats). Quinoa is from a species of goosefoot. Nor are buckwheat or amaranth grains.

    Thanks! Corrected. I’m used to thinking of it as a grain (amaranth too) because I use it that way. ~Elise

  • Katrina

    I made quinoa for the first time about a month ago. I got the recipe from my godmother who describes it as a healthy version of fried rice (you can see my post about it here: http://eatingontulsatime.blogspot.com/2009/06/something-healthy.html).

    Now there’s an idea. Usually when one makes fried rice, you want to use day-old rice, so it’s drier and fries up better. I wonder if the same makes a difference with quinoa? ~Elise

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