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13 Low-Calorie Hacks to Make Quinoa Actually Taste Good
One problem with healthy food is that sometimes the recipes turn out bland.
You don’t have the luxury (or extra calories) to add a heavy dollop of store-bought sauce and endless handfuls of mozarella cheese.
Meaning: you have to find healthy and low-calorie ways to make your recipe tastier.
Let’s talk about one well-agreed on healthy food that could sometimes use a little help in the taste department: Quinoa.
This superfood has gained popularity gradually due to its amazing nutrition profile. It’s high in fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and is gluten-free. Despite all these benefits, people still shy away from buying it because it can have a bit of a bland taste.
Have no fear! If you’re new to clean eating and struggling to stay motivated, I’ve put together some absolutely delicious ways to make quinoa taste good (without overdoing it on calories).
To make quinoa taste better, add a few additional low-calorie ingredients and experiment with different cooking techniques. Try toasting it or cooking it with less water, or toss in a few flavor bombs like garlic, onion, chili, low-fat cheese, or breadcrumbs.
Now that you know the health benefits of quinoa, are you ready to spice it up?
Here are 12 of my favorite low-calorie ways on how to make quinoa taste good:
What Is Quinoa?
Everyone’s talking about the superfood quinoa that almost everywhere there is quinoa salad, quinoa fried rice, and now even quinoa protein shakes. But, what is quinoa, and is it indeed a superfood that it claims to be?
Whole Grains Council identifies quinoa as a gluten-free, whole-grain carbohydrate and whole protein – yes, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids. Yet, many people are still confused about whether it is whole grain or not, so let’s straighten it up.
Technically, the quinoa we all adore is, in fact, a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. Therefore, quinoa is not a grain. Whole grains like oats and barley are seeds obtained from grasses and not plants.
However, the process in how we consume quinoa resembles how we eat whole grains. Consequently, the nutrition world considers it as a whole grain.
We can also get more profound in terms of technicalities and call it a “pseudo-cereal.” Foods prepared and eaten as a whole grain but are botanical outliers from grasses are termed as such. While it may be slightly untrue, it’s best and easy to call it colloquially as a whole grain instead.
Savory quinoa with vegetables and a protein is a terrific dinner option. But sweet quinoa for breakfast? It might be better. Love and Lemons has this wonderful quinoa breakfast bowl recipe that is so easy to make and super versatile. Use the recipe as a base, then add whatever fruit and toppings you want. I think I might like it better than regular oats, personally.
The trick to making almost any food in the world taste better is to add cheese, and quinoa is obviously no exception. This creamy caprese quinoa bake from Half-Baked Harvest is the perfect way to add cheese, and make your quinoa beyond amazing. After something like this, you'll never see quinoa the same way again.
Variations: more ways to season quinoa!
So, that’s how to season quinoa! The butter and dried herbs are probably something you already have on hand. If you have fresh herbs, even better! This way to season quinoa is the one we use the most: it’s perfect for making quinoa into a side for easy weeknight dinners. But looking for something different? Here are a few variations on how to season quinoa:
- Pesto quinoa: Stir in ¼ cup basil pesto or vegan pesto instead of the herbs.
- Italian quinoa: Stir in 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning.
- Greek quinoa: Stir in 2 teaspoons Greek seasoning.
- French quinoa: Stir in 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence.
- Cajun quinoa: Stir in 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (spicy) or blackened seasoning (medium).
- Mexican quinoa: Stir in 2 teaspoons taco seasoning or fajita seasoning.
Let us know if you try this method for how to season quinoa in the comments below. What else do you like to use?
12 Easy Quinoa Recipes
In just a few years, quinoa has become a majorly popular food. When Alex and I first started A Couple Cooks eight years ago, quinoa was relatively new. This supergrain is now a staple in our weekly meals, and it’s super delicious too. Over the years we’ve created all sorts of quinoa recipes. So we thought we’d share our top 10 easy quinoa recipes with you! All these quinoa meals and dishes have become family favorites in our house, and we hope they will in yours too!
Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is one of the world’s most perfect foods (according to some) due to its high nutritional content. It’s actually a seed, not a grain, which makes it naturally gluten free. Compared to other vegetables, quinoa is high in protein, calcium, Vitamin B, and iron. Fun fact: apparently the Incas thought it was sacred, because eating it regularly appeared to provide a long, healthy life. Because of all these benefits, we love making quinoa recipes!
Just a little taste to get you started. Now that you know what quinoa is and how to make it right.
How to Make Quinoa Flour
Start with the whole raw seed (anywhere from 1/4 – 1 cup).
Now, the next two stages are optional, but I think lend a really nice flavor to the flour.
Add the raw quinoa to a dry skillet and toast the quinoa until it begins to brown and pop. It will have a distinctly nutty smell. Be careful here as quinoa can burn quite quickly, so keep a close eye on it.
Once toasted, transfer the quinoa to either a spice grinder (like I have here) or a high-powered blender. Blend/grind the quinoa on high for 1 minute until it’s a fine powder.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and add the quinoa mixture.
Sift until only large chunks remain. (p.s. don’t throw this out – it makes and excellent warm cereal when mixed with some water or plant-based milk)
If the quinoa was toasted, allow the flour to cool completely before storing. If not, transfer it to a sealed container and store until you’re ready to use it!
See how easy that was? Making your own quinoa flour is a cinch and will end up saving you loads of money.
If you want a straight substitute for rice or couscous, the best way to cook quinoa is through boiling or steaming it.
As with rice, it’s recommended that you wash the grains thoroughly before cooking to remove excess starch and prevent it from sticking together in a big clump.
Quinoa also has compounds called saponins on its surface which cause a bitter taste. Rinsing the seed helps remove these too.
Use a ratio of double the water to quinoa and either salt the water or crumble in a stock cube if you prefer.
Quinoa is a great accompaniment to curries and stews as it absorbs lots of flavour. However, it can also be used for baking like in our Quinoa crunchies cookies or even at breakfast for a quinoa porridge!
Cooking quinoa in a rice cooker
If you have a rice cooker stashed away you can use it to cook quinoa in the same way as your go-to grain.
Simply weigh and wash the quinoa as you would the rice, then pop it in the cooker and switch it on according to your specific model. Some cookers may even come with a quinoa setting.
Cooking quinoa on a stove
Rinse the quinoa and place in a pot with double the volume of water. Season the water with salt or sprinkle in a stock cube. Bring the water to a boil, cover then simmer for 15-20mins. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork then replace the lid and allow to steam for 5-10mins until tender and fluffy.
Cooking quinoa in an instant pot
It’s important not to overfill the instant pot when cooking quinoa and other ingredients that expand as they cook. For this reason, the instruction manual recommends that the total food and liquid, i.e quinoa and water, do not exceed the ½ line of the pot. If you need to cook a larger quantity than this allows, we recommend cooking on the stove.
Instant pots have a multigrain pre-set which could work for quinoa but you’ll need to try it for yourself and see which setting works best for you.
Cooking quinoa in the microwave
Cooking quinoa in the microwave is an excellent way to reheat quinoa you’ve already steamed. You can also buy pouches of microwave quinoa from Merchant Gourmet and some supermarkets such as Tesco even have their own varieties. These pouches make for an excellent quick and easy lunch.
Others recommend placing the rinsed quinoa in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid and double the quantity of water. Microwave with the lid on for 5-6 mins. Then stir, replace the lid and cook for another 2-4mins until the water has all been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to steam in the bowl for a minute or two.
If you’re only cooking a small quantity of quinoa, the microwave is probably a good option but for any more than two portions, we’d suggest a stove or specific cooker.
Did you know you can also make rice in the microwave?
Dinner/Sides Quinoa Recipes
14. Garlic Mushroom Quinoa
There are mushrooms and quinoa in my kitchen. I might just be having this for lunch today. Yet, it is still a side dish but a very good looking one plus it sounds good!
Also, I might cook these the next time my mom is in town. I love that she and I have similar taste pallets. To see this recipe in full detail, check out Chungah’s website- Damn Delicious.
15. Cheesy Vegetable Quinoa Bites
Here’s a great one for those of you who either have kids who don’t like vegetables or have little ones who need finger foods.
You could cut the vegetables down as small as needed or keep them larger if the size is not a problem.
I think this recipe, by Jenny over at the Melrose Family, is also good for lunches at school as well. So many versatile things you can do with this finger food.
16. Herbed Quinoa with Lemon and Pepper
Having the juice and zest of one lemon, you know this side dish is going to bring a kick with it. Yet the addition of fresh thyme makes it sound flavorful and inviting.
As far as looks go, I would say this would also be a pretty dish to plate and then add a little to the top. Great for serving guests!
This shouldn’t be a surprise though since it was made over at Food and Wine.
17. Quinoa Fried “Rice”
Chinese food is one thing that I make well and my family asks for fairly often, especially my little ones.
I do sometimes stress about how healthy pan-fried and then slow cooked orange chicken, wontons, and rice really is. Although typically we add broccoli to all of this making it a bit healthier.
Another way to make it healthy is to swap out the rice for quinoa. I love it when I can substitute something healthier for something less than ideal.
To see the full recipe head over to Ali’s website Gimme Some Oven.
18. Easy Tomato and Basil Quinoa Risotto
The first time I ever had risotto I was at a restaurant that was nicer than anyone I had ever been to. It was super fun to have to Google the name of the recipes to figure out what “risotto balls” and “wild mushroom ragout” was.
This recipe does the traditional substitution but what I love is the fresh vegetables. I cannot get enough of fresh tomatoes and zucchinis!
19. Asian Quinoa Salad
Maria and Josh over at Two Peas and Their Pods came up with this delicious recipe. If you’ve never had red cabbage over green cabbage, it is sweeter and makes a delicious coleslaw.
Also included in this salad is edamame. Given all these great ingredients, it would go great with orange chicken.
20. Orange Cranberry Quinoa
With oranges and cranberries, this recipe is sure to delight on a cold winter day. Add in the fact that the vinaigrette has Dijon mustard and you are looking at a tasty treat that would be great to share with a crowd.
Head over to Miss Allie’s Kitchen to see the full recipe.
21. Spinach and Quinoa Salad
Kristine’s Spinach and Quinoa Salad is another treat that I would consider eating as a whole meal. I would substitute the red apples for green apples though. I like the crunch of the green better. Add in the pecan crunch and it’s almost a recipe made in a Fall lover’s heaven.
But, again, it’s all a matter of taste. I think the cranberries add sweetness enough and the goat cheese gives it that zing. Yes, consider my anti-salad-loving-self sold!
22. Brussel Sprouts, Cranberry, and Quinoa Salad
Ali over at Gimme Some Oven created this recipe that is similar but different from the previous recipe. I absolutely adore Brussels sprouts and would rather have that in a salad than apples anyways. This, more so than the other, would be a great recipe for me to eat. It has the flavors I like in the salad itself, though I would add the Dijon vinaigrette from the Asian recipe instead of the dressing she provides.
I hope this gave you some great ideas on how to use quinoa in recipes. They are such a great and versatile ingredient to have in your cupboards. Let me know what you think of the recipes that you try!