Quinoa: The New Couscous (or Polenta, or Grits . . .)

We’re gearing up for a heat wave over the weekend here in Southern California.  They’re saying we may break some heat records.  Hot weather gets me thinking about salad.  Not just greens-tomatoes-and-dressing salads, but hearty salads that will stick with you.  Healthful pasta or grains, veggies, protein–meal salads.  Like this one: Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad.

Quinoa 4

QuinoaI’ve only recently started experimenting with quinoa.  I feel like I’m a little late to the game. I bet you probably know all about it.  I’ll just give you a couple of highlights about what I’ve learned. Quinoa is a seed, not a grain (fooled me).  It’s grown high in the Andes Mountains of South America (so it’s not a “local” food).  Quinoa is packed with powerful nutrients all across the board, including all eight essential amino acids. There are other plenty of other vitamins and minerals in quinoa, too.  You get the picture.  It’s a Superfood.

I first used quinoa in a southern-style griddle cake a couple of months ago.  I made a Quinoa and Corn Griddle Cake and served it with a Roasted Red Pepper Roumalade.  The quinoa gave the griddle cake a delicious nutty flavor that was so delicious and so different.  I was so intrigued with the quinoa that I made some a week or so later and ate it plain (well, with a little butter and salt and pepper). Now I’m hooked.  Since then I’ve served it with chicken  in place of couscous, with golden raisins and sweetened with a little orange juice.  Everyone loved it.  I served it in place of polenta, all creamy with a little half and half and butter.  And I bet it would make a great substitute for grits next time I feel like chowing down on some cheesy grits (note to self: make some Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Quinoa soon!).

In the meanwhile, try this salad.  It’s delicious.  And really good for you.

Quinoa Ing 1

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cubed (remove seeds, if you desire)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, tough stems removed and rough chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, rough chopped
  • ¼ cup red onion, rough chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Cook quinoa according to package directions. Allow the cooked quinoa to cool and fluff with a fork.

Combine the cucumber and tomatoes in a large bowl and set aside.

Combine the parsley, mint, onion, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Pulse several times to combine the ingredients. Add the olive oil a little at a time and pulse to combine. Do NOT over-process! You want the herbs to still have texture—a little chunky.

Combine the herb mixture with the veggies in the large bowl. When the quinoa has cooled completely, add it to the bowl and toss gently to combine all the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I like to serve the salad over baby arugula. Enjoy!

15 responses to “Quinoa: The New Couscous (or Polenta, or Grits . . .)

  1. I am bracing myself for our heatwave too. This looks perfect for it (and I also want to try those griddle cakes!) I’m curious if you rinse your quinoa before cooking it. The directions usually say to do this, but I often take the lazy route and skip this step–never seems to make a difference. Have a great weekend!

    • Julie–I didn’t rinse it the first couple of times I made it. But when I was researching for this salad, I read that quinoa can have a bitter aftertaste if not rinsed before cooking (which I definitely tasted when I ate it plain!). I don’t think it makes much of a difference, especially if you are adding all kinds of other flavors. I’ll have to look up again what causes the bitterness. I think it’s very mild, in any event.

  2. I’m definitely going to give this a try. Love quinoa and have always been impressed that (as you mentioned with it having the essential amino acids) it’s considered a complete protein which is rare for a plant source. Julie, I got in the habit of rinsing it but after your comment I may skip it and see if it makes a difference.

    • Beth & Julie–I checked on the rinsing thing. It’s the saponin, a natural chemical compound the plant secretes to protect itself from predators, that causes the bitterness. Rinsing thoroughly will remove the saponin. I have to say, though, that the only time I tasted any bitterness was when I ate the quinoa plain. 😉

  3. This looks delicious Laureen!! In a heat wave here in PA too and this would be nice and refreshing!! I’m loving all kinds of grain salads right not (I guess technically this is a seed salad!) Have a nice weekend!! Stay cool!!

  4. Pingback: Best of the Blogs Round Up - June - Cooking Contest Central·

  5. I think you need to invite me over for lunch one of these days and make this salad! Oh, and shrimp and grits rock! 🙂

Leave a Reply to Laureen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s