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Is quinoa really all it’s cracked up to be?

I’m a latecomer to the whole concept of quinoa. I kept reading articles about it, and people were raving about it, so I bought some a couple of years ago and made a salad from it. I was less than impressed. But a couple of recent run-ins with quinoa have completely changed my mind about this humble ancient grain.

The first thing I had to learn was how to pronounce this. It’s not kwee-no-a as it looks, but keen-wah. It originated in South America and has been used for over 3000 years. It’s related to beetroot and spinach, and contains essential amino acids like lysine as well as good quantities of calcium, phosphorus and iron. Quinoa has a high protein content for a pseudo-cereal and is useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant because of its calcium content. It’s high in fibre (7g per 100g serving) and best of all is gluten-free.

My first pleasant experience with quinoa was at a recent birthday event when I had a lovely lunch based around quinoa. I’ve adapted the recipe and here’s what I made as a quick, easy and healthy dinner.

(If you are coeliac, make sure your spices, stock and chilli sauce are gluten-free versions.)

Moroccan spiced chicken with quinoa salad


300g chicken tenderloins or breast meat, cut into large strips
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or chicken stock
2 spring onions
1/2 avocado
handful of sun-dried tomatoes
1 capsicum (any colour will do)
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)
1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt
sweet chilli sauce
baby spinach or rocket leaves

Step 1 Place the quinoa and water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir a few times during cooking. It will take about 20 minutes for the quinoa to cook, and all the liquid should be absorbed by the end of the cooking.

Step 2 Put the chicken into a clean plastic bag with the cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon and chilli powder (if using) and shake until well coated. Spray a frying pan with cooking oil and stir until the chicken is cooked, about 10 minutes.

Step 3 Cook the cauliflower in a pot or the microwave until just tender.

Step 4 Chop up the spring onions, sun-dried tomatoes, capsicum, celery, coriander and mint (if using). Add these, along with the cauliflower, to the cooked quinoa and leave in the pot for a few minutes with the lid on.

Step 5 Squeeze the lemon juice and add the sesame oil (if using) to the quinoa and stir through.

Step 6 To serve, place the salad leaves on a plate, with a serving of quinoa on top. Add chicken and avocado to the pile. Pour over yoghurt and sweet chilli sauce to taste. Garnish with a couple of coriander leaves.

This is a lovely, fresh tasting dinner, is very colourful and great for a weeknight where you don’t have much time. You could also add in diced courgette for extra vegetable content, or really use any combination of vegetables you choose. The leftovers make a wonderful lunch the next day.

My other experience with quinoa has been with the Quinoa Bread Mix from the Gluten Free Store. The mix was very easy to make up and made a full-sized loaf, not a shrunken gluten-free one. I added sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary, and it was delicious. At $9.00 for a packet which makes two big loaves, it’s considerably cheaper than a store-bought loaf and very quick to make. And the exercise of mixing it by hand was probably very good for my arms!

You can buy quinoa for the recipe above at your local supermarket. I found it in the bulk bins at the nearby Pak n Save. Ceres Organics also does a range of quinoa. Quinoa flour is a little harder to find, but again, the Gluten Free Store, Gluten free Grocer or Natural Organics all stock it.

What are your experiences with quinoa? Have you any recipes or tips you can share?

Weight loss update – or what I have learned about losing weight over the last three weeks!

I’ve now lost 8kgs, but have stalled a little over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been away for work and have had a couple of days where I was at an event, so have been a bit haphazard about food tracking. It turns out that if I don’t note down everything I eat, I forget that I have eaten some things, and clearly eat more than I should! If I can see those points ticking down during the day, I’m far more aware of what is going in my mouth. Lesson number one: food tracking is vital.

However, while I haven’t lost any weight in the last couple of weeks, I haven’t gained any either, and when I measured myself, it turns out I have lost more centimetres. So lesson number two: don’t just weigh yourself, you should always measure as well, especially when you add in exercise.

I’ve also become a bit casual about portion sizes – so how MUCH I am eating – and perhaps a bit casual with the treats as well. I’ve had to reset a little and do a small amount of weighing and measuring to get my eye back in to accurately assess how much I’m really eating. Lesson number three: go back to the basics.

Dry July has gone well, and despite a couple of parties, I have remained dry! Only a few more days to go now.


For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.

This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.

Date modified: 22 February 2021
First published: Jul 2013


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