Quinoa:Brown Rice Alternative

by in Calcium, Kitchen Sink, Wheat Free/Gluten Free May 2, 2008

quinoa.jpgCurrently we are experiencing a brown rice shortage in the U.S. and warehouses such as Costco and Sam’s Clubs are limiting the purchases of 20 pound bags of brown, white, and basmati rice.

Although the causes of this new rationing are highly debatable, this rationing nonetheless has many people distressed.

Although the warehouses don’t want us to panic over the rationing, I thought I would still discuss grains that are cooked somewhat like rice, and thus are simple side dish alternatives.

One of my personal favorite grains is quinoa. A better pair to salmon than rice in my opinion, quinoa is also higher in calcium than milk, and an excellent source of lysine, the amino acid that is scarce in a vegetarian diet and can lead to a supressed immune system. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-whah) is also rich in iron, phosphorous, B-vitamins, and vitamin E.

Quinoa is a great carbohydrate for athletes because it is high energy and easy to digest. According to Ayurvedic Medicine the traditional medicine of India, quinoa is “drying and warming, strengthening to the kidneys and heart, as well as the whole body.”

You can cook quinoa basically how you cook rice. Cooking time is only about 15 minutes though. First you must always rinse it to wash off the bitter saponin that coats it. Be sure to rinse it in a fine mesh strainer until it stops soaping up. Imported quinoa requires about two cups of stock or water per cup of grain, while smaller domestic quinoa only needs 1 1/2 cups of water or stock per cup of quinoa. Bring the quinoa and liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes depending on the texture you prefer. For added nutritional value, quinoa is very simple to sprout and enjoyed in salads.

For those that are celiac, gluten intolerant, or just trying to reduce wheat in the diet quinoa is an excellent substitute for couscous as it mimics the size and texture. Other alternative grains to brown rice worth exploring are millet and barley.

I use this basic “Quick Quinoa Salad” recipe created by my favorite whole foods chef, Matthew Legters, as it has an excellent balanced nutritional profile and is very easy to prepare and adapt to whatever is on hand. You can easily substitute out the seeds, vegetables, and dressing. You can really add ANY veggie if you don’t have carrots on hand. My favorites are celery and broccoli. I make a version of this with celery, walnuts and dried cranberries with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing that goes great as a healthy side to roasted turkey.

“Quick Quinoa Salad” by Matthew Legters


1- 2/3 cups dry quinoa

3- 1/3 cups water

Pinch of sea salt

1 Cup chopped carrots

3/4 cups minced parsley

1/3 cup sunflower seeds

4 cloves garlic, minced


1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 Tablespoons olive oil

3 Tablespoons tamari

Optional garnishes:

Sliced black olives

Tomato wedges

Directions: Rinse quinoa with warm water and drain through a fine strainer. Place quinoa in a 3-quart pan with water and salt; bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow quinoa to sit on very low heat, uncovered, for an extra 5 minutes so it dries out. This makes the grain fluffier for salads. Toss with fork and let cool.

Add carrots, parsley, seeds, and garlic to quinoa; mix thoroughly. Combine lemon juice, oil, and tamari. Pour over quinoa and toss well. Garnish with olives and tomatoes if desired.

Preparation time: 35-45 minutes

Makes 6-8 servings.

Feel free to share your favorite way to use quinoa with everyone in the comments if you have a great recipe!

Resource: “The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia” by Rebecca Wood.

  1. Quinoa is awesome! It tastes great with bolognese sauce as an alternative to spaghetti.

    I make a healthy vegetarian version:

    serves 4+

    1 onion
    2 garlic cloves, crushed
    2 carrots, coarsely grated
    2 celery sticks, chopped
    3 tbsp olive oil
    115g red lentils
    1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
    2 tbsp tomato purée
    450ml vegetable stock
    1 tsp dried marjoram
    salt and black pepper

    400g quinoa

    In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in the oil for 5 mins or until soft.

    Add the lentils, tomatoes, tomato purée, stock, marjoram and seasoning.

    Bring the mixture to a boil and then partially cover with a lid and simmer for 20 mins until thick and soft.

    While the sauce is simmering, cook the quinoa according to packet instructions.

    Drain the quinoa, top with the sauce and serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and some crusty bread.

    Now, after all that cooking, I think you deserve a glass of red wine 😉

  2. Interesting. I guess I haven’t bought brown rice in a while. I didn’t know there was a shortage. Thanks for sharing this alternative with us. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. Hi la- thanks for the awesome quinoa recipe. I will have to try that!

  4. Hi Jennifer- it is always fun to have some new grains to try out to add diversity to the diet. Hope you enjoy!

  5. This is great for me. I am off for a lovely colonoscopy in a week or so because I have tested positive on one of the tests for celiac disease. I’m already on the look out for gluten free stuff just in case.

    What bugs me is that I waited to the point of not feeling great before I started to seriously think about what I was putting into my body. I’d flirt with eating healthily from time to time but only in terms of cutting down on alcohol and not eating fast food take ways (I’ve avoided that stuff for a few years now). I’ve never really looked hard and questioned some of the stuff that I presumed was healthy until a year or so ago and now I am doing the feedback I’m getting makes depressing reading.

    Oh well at least now I know and no excuses.

  6. Hi Tim- sorry to hear about that, it is a real bummer but good to know sooner rather than later. Especially since the long term consequence of celiac uncontrolled is cancer of the GI tract. I have made some friends in the blogosphere that are gluten free. They are on my blogroll at the end of the page. I also have a few handouts in the wheat free/gluten free category that may be helpful information for you.

    Healthy mind/body/spirit right?

    Take good care!

  7. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    I’ve heard of quinoa, but have never tried it. With it being such a great alternative to rice, I’m adding it to my grocery list.
    The recipes sound yummy!
    BTW: Your site is shaping up nicely.

  8. I absolutely LOVE quinoa! My wife has been gluten-sensitive for many years and this gave her the ability to have pasta once again. She didn’t like the rice pasta.

    Plus, the nutritional value in quinoa far exceeds many other gluten-free alternatives. The ancient grain is #1 in my book!

    Yet another great post from DocNicole! 🙂

  9. Hi Barbara- it is always good to try new stuff because it is fun and it creates variety in our diets!

  10. Hi Tim- I try not to eat much wheat either and love quinoa. I have found the best pasta subsitiute though are the brown rice pasta spirals from Trader Joes. The texture is the only thing I have found to really mimic real pasta.

  11. I love quinoa, lovely texture and nutrition.

  12. Where can I buy quinoa? I’m from Asia and I never heard about this.

  13. […] a fuel source that will help you go the distance. Low Glycemic foods like oatmeal, long grain rice, quinoa, squash, nuts and many vegetables take longer for the body to break down, releasing glucose more […]

  14. […] try a stuffing in your crockpot of brown rice or quinoa, thyme, raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit, garlic, and your favorite stuffing spices instead of the […]

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