Quinoa with Walnuts, Radishes & Spring Onions • How to Cook Quinoa Properly • Fair Trade Quinoa

quinoa salad

A few weeks ago I discovered that for all the years I have been cooking quinoa I have been doing it wrong. The quinoa I have made, as a result, while edible and receptive to countless seasonings and additions, has never kept my attention for very long — after the odd week-long-quinoa binge, I’d forget about it for months.

But after posting the radish entry a few weeks ago, I received a comment from a dear old friend who managed several of the Philadelphia farmers’ markets while I lived there. Joanna pointed me to a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for a quinoa salad with radishes, fava beans, avocado and a lemon vinaigrette she had recently made for some friends to rave reviews.

A quick google search led me to the recipe. While the ingredient list had me foaming at the mouth, it was the first few lines of the instructions that really struck me: Place the quinoa in a saucepan filled with plenty of boiling water and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.

PLENTY of boiling water. Simmer for NINE minutes. RINSE under cold water. Is this news to you, too? Why has every package of quinoa instructed me to cook it as if it were rice — 1 part grain to 2 parts water — in a covered pot? And to cook it for at least 15 minutes but often for as long as 20? And after the cooking process, to let it rest off the heat under its steaming lid for an additional 5 to 10 minutes?

Until last week, I didn’t know that when quinoa is cooked pasta-style, it doesn’t turn to mush but remains crunchy and nutty, becoming more than just a vessel for transporting other flavors. Even in a salad surrounded by toasted walnuts, spring onions, slivered radishes, and steamed edamame, it offers texture and flavor of its own. A simple dressing of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with just a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes works best, both complementing quinoa’s flavors while not oversaturating its delicate texture. And while I adore avocados and cheese of all kinds, I love a quinoa salad that is crunchy throughout. In the upcoming months, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and diced bell peppers will nicely replace the spring onions and edamame used here, and this fall, pomegranate seeds and green olives — with perhaps some flavors from another favorite salad — will be welcomed replacements as well.

My 10-day quinoa binge is going strong. It’s looking promising, my friends — quinoa, I believe, is here to stay.


A few more notes on quinoa and Fair Trade quinoa:

• Some say to rinse before cooking; others don’t. I rinse. Unless you like to toast your quinoa before you cook it (see below) there’s no reason not to rinse it, and rinsing quinoa removes a bitter coating that can affect the flavor of the cooked quinoa.

• Some say to toast quinoa before cooking; others don’t. If you toast quinoa, you don’t want to rinse it first — it will stick to your pan. I’ve toasted quinoa a few times and haven’t noticed a huge difference in flavor, so I skip toasting, mostly out of laziness, but feel free to give it a try.

• Quinoa is actually an edible seed related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds and has been in cultivation for over 4,000 years. It is high in protein, fiber, calcium and several other minerals.

• There has been some discussion in the news about the increase in worldwide demand for quinoa causing harm to quinoa producers. Most recently, a journalist from The Guardian wrote “that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom [quinoa] was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it.” Statements such as these not only confuse consumers but also can do more harm to quinoa producers than good. I recommend reading this Slate article, It’s OK to Eat Quinoa, if you find yourself confused as well and would like to learn more about this complicated issue. For me, there is no question that organizations such as Fair Trade and companies such as Alter Eco are striving to improve the quality of life of their quinoa producers. You can read more about the efforts and changes Alter Eco has made and continues to make to improve the lives of their partners here.

Final note: The people at Fair Trade sent me a package of Alter Eco quinoa as part of their efforts to promote the Fair Trade product. You can read more about the controversy surrounding quinoa production and how purchasing Fair Trade quinoa can make a difference on the Fair Trade blog. I have since been able to purchase Alter Eco quinoa at my local Wegmans.


cooked quinoa

salad, ready to be tossed

tossed quinoa salad

quinoa salad

Quinoa Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Spring Onions, Edamame & Radish

Inspired by a salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Note: The original recipe calls for fava beans, garlic, purple radish cress, cumin, and avocado. All of these sound like wonderful additions/flavors, so feel free to improvise with herbs you have on hand — basil, parsley, mint, chives, etc — and other fruits/veggies/nuts, etc. As I noted above, as much as I adore avocados, I like my additions to quinoa salads to be on the crunchy side, which is why I have chosen the ingredients below, but again, feel free to add what you like — I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t welcome a few slices of avocado in the mix.

Finally, an essential piece of equipment for cooking quinoa is a fine-meshed sieve. You need this piece of gear for both rinsing the quinoa before you cook it, and for draining the quinoa after you cook it.

1 cup quinoa(I really like the Alter Eco varieties, especially the rainbow)
1 cup frozen edamame (or fresh fava beans if you can find them)
1 cup walnuts, toasted*, and chopped
1 small red onion, minced to yield 1/4 to 1/2 cup
4 to 5 scallions or spring onions, rinsed, trimmed and finely sliced**
8 to 10 radishes
kosher salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 to 2 lemons
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

* Toast walnuts at 350ºF for 8 to 10 minutes — watch closely to prevent burning. Place the toasted walnuts in a tea towel and rub together to remove papery skin. Transfer walnuts to a sieve and shake again to remove any additional skin. I know this is fussy, but it makes a difference. I have more detailed instructions here.

** I used the white and light green parts, but feel free to use as much of the dark green as you like — mine were looking a little tired at the top, so I trimmed them.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place quinoa in a fine-meshed sieve and rinse under cold water. When the water comes to a boil, add the quinoa and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine-meshed sieve and run under cold water until cool. Set aside to dry.

2. Meanwhile, cook the edamame. This is what I did this time, but feel free to use your own method: Bring a tea kettle of water to a boil. Place edamame in a bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, slice up your radishes: If you have a mandoline, carefully slice each radish into thin disks. Note: if you keep the stem intact, you have a little handle to grab onto while you run the radishes down the mandoline’s plane — find a more detailed visual explanation here. Alternatively, thinly slice the radishes with a knife. Stack the circles on top of each other and slice straight down to get mini matchsticks.

4. Place the drained and dried quinoa into a large mixing bowl. Season all over with salt and pepper to taste. Crush some red pepper flakes over top if you are using. Add the edamame, walnuts, red onion, scallions, radishes, olive oil and the juice of one lemon to the bowl. Toss and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary. I added the juice of another lemon, but my lemons were on the small side. I also added more crushed red pepper flakes — I think a bit of heat is really nice in this salad.


Quinoa and Carrot Muffins

I read about these muffins on my friend Darcy’s blog almost a year ago now. I have since made them several times — they are SO good — and I prefer to make them with white quinoa versus red or rainbow. Made with whole wheat flour, almond flour, Greek yogurt, grated carrots and walnuts, these muffins are on the healthy side, too, and don’t let that scare you — they are moist and flavorful, perfectly sweet, and just plain delicious.

Find the recipe at The Garden of Eden — Darcy offers some great tips and notes on variations she has tried.

quinoa and carrot muffins, unbaked

baked quinoa and carrot muffin

halved quinoa and carrot muffin


  1. says

    Great post!! Its amazing there are still so many people that don’t know about quinoa. We actually had to beg the store manager in our local store to start carrying it.. Luckily he did.

    We will admit, the first time we used it, it was a little intimidating and nerve-wrekcing waiting for the little tails to come out.. lol Now we constantly use it.. Will be trying the carrot muffins!!!

    • says

      Mr & Mrs. P — I know, why does it take so long for places to get on board sometimes? I love the muffins. I have been thinking about trying them with uncooked quinoa. I know that sounds odd, but there was a bakery in philadelphia that served millet muffins, and the uncooked millet offered the nicest crunch. I feel the quinoa might do the same…but don’t quote me. I’ll give that one a go before I suggest anyone else tries it first :)

  2. says

    This looks amazing! I had no idea the correct way to cook quinoa! Cooking the way I always did (pasta like) it always, without fail, turned out sub-par. I’m definitely going to be trying this recipe.

  3. says

    Those muffins look amazing! I just posted some sweet potato bread and am all about carrot cake, carrot this and that, orange root veggies…mmm, so good!

    And the news about how to cook quinoa…news to me! I did it the 15 minute way like you described and never rinsed under cold water!

  4. Wendy says

    Thank you. This cooking method is a revelation! Made a variation tonight with what I had on hand, and it was the best quinoa I’ve had (at home). What a great addition to the weeknight rotation–with multiple possibilities!

    • says

      Wendy — wonderful to hear this! I know, I think the possibilities with this salad are endless. It tastes really good the next day, too. I’m going to try to start making myself a batch on the weekend to eat throughout the week… how nice would that be? Wishful thinking :)

  5. familyoffour says

    Sounds yummy! And who would have known about the cooking style?!
    I would also like to point out that quinoa is also grown in Canada, where I am from (and perhaps the US?). It is a good idea to try to find locally grown quinoa to stay true to the movement and help keep the South American staple stay on their plates! :-)

  6. says

    Yotam Ottolenghi’s instructions for quinoa should be printed on every package! It changed how I cooked them too. For all its nutritional value, it is hard to get something memorable as a meal. Actually his recipes are generally incredible. Wish his other books were in print here. Definitely go eat at one of his shops if you are in London, or grab the makings of a picnic…that is if it is not raining!

    • says

      Nancy — I know, I think the quinoa advertising board needs to rethink it’s marketing … proper instructions might make for a more loyal following. I wish I could make a trip to London! It is such a fun city. And I have only heard rave reviews about Ottolenghi’s restaurants.

  7. Liz says

    You are right–the method for cooking quinoa here is genius! I have always been a little lukewarm about quinoa, pretending to like it more than I really did, but this recipe and your method of cooking quinoa has transformed my attitude. I followed the recipe exactly–you are always so great about being specific!–except that for some reason there were no radishes in the store, so I used organic cucumbers as you suggested. They added a good crunch. The other thing I loved is that your salad is very satisfying without being heavy, and it is so healthy I felt virtuous. The next time I struggle to think of what to make a vegan friend, this will be it, but in the meantime, this salad will be a new staple. Oh, and I think taking the skins off the walnuts is worth the time. It really takes about 20 seconds and makes a noticeable difference. So pretty, too.

    • says

      Liz — wonderful to hear this! I know, the quinoa-cooking method is still blowing my mind a little bit. I can’t believe I didn’t try a different cooking method sooner. And, I’m glad you approve of the walnut-skin removal. I can’t not do this anymore. It really makes a difference to me.

  8. Nancy D says

    OMG! My new favorite salad is this one! I loved every bit of it and my husband put calamata olives in it. I used vinegar instead of lemon juice because I didn’t have lemons but this is exceptional. I know lots of “vegans” that will also enjoy this recipe.
    I will make this next weekend as well and try some other fun ingredients like fresh cilantro, garbanzos, jalapenia, etc.

    Bye the way, we had this as our main dish :)

    • says

      Nancy — wonderful to hear this! I love the idea of olives. I want to make another variation soon and have been thinking olives would be really nice. I also love vinegar in these salads — I use it with my farro salads all the time. I’m loving all of your ideas — cilantro and jalapeños sound so perfect all of a sudden…it finally feels like spring here, summer actually.

  9. says

    Ali! I have so much to catch up on, oh my goodness! Vegetables are just entering my diet again (ha!) and I’ve been trying to think of healthy salads that I can make for lunch. This looks perfect! And I had nooooo idea that quinoa should be cooked like pasta, I was cooking it like couscous. Looking forward to trying this…and reading the rest of your posts!!

  10. says

    A new way to cook quinoa? Who knew! Thanks for the excellent salad idea and the shout out about the muffins. I definitely need to make a batch… I am craving healthy food!

  11. Johanna says

    I have to admit I was one of the readers being “shocked” by the Guardian article, because I felt with Quinoa I was eating something so good and healthy and then it seemed that I didn’t even think about the impact of my consumption. And even though I am glad to now have read the counter statement you posted the link to, to me the Guardian article was a necessary wake up call. I am glad I read it because now I am struggling to make my own opinion, that is based on more than one or two articles.
    I didn’t decide to not eat Quinoa anymore, but to think about what I am eating even more and not follow every trend. Because there is not only the “meat/no meat” decision, the “organic/not organic”, there is also the things behind: where does the stuff come from, how many thousands of miles has it been transported, who am I supporting when I eat it and how are these people treated.
    Because many things come from far away we have to rely on articles and people who know about the local situation, and there are always different opinions. The article you linked gives clear-signals for many of the concerns raised by The Guardian, but not all of them, what about environmental degradation and what about powerful people with money who suppress little farmers from their land.. It is unfortunate that those things happen when money is involved, some people just can’t get enough and don’t care for lives and the future of people and nature.
    I was aware of “eat local”, but somehow I didn’t put it together with some products like Quinoa. It seemed so healthy and great and everything, that I didn’t even think about it.
    Now I am even more trying to not let my food-awareness go to sleep again. I will eat more potatoes because they come from here, I will eat even more veggies that are grown where I live. I will still eat rice and quinoa and I will always buy them Fair Trade, but I will still be aware that -for me- the Fair Trade is not a whitewash when it comes to CO2 emissions etc.

    • says

      Johanna — Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I, too, was shocked by the Guardian article. The ethics surrounding the consumption of animal products are more obvious and discussed more openly. With grains and vegetables, you would think you would be safe, but these days the conscientious consumer is worried about food miles and monocultures and organic versus inorganic versus local, in addition to the welfare of the people growing the food.

      The Guardian article did make me similarly wonder: Is the area that once was producing a diversity of crops on its way to becoming a monoculture producer? And, is it true that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia can no longer afford to eat quinoa?

      I wish I had more time to research these issues, but it does sound (from the Slate article) as though the area that is producing most of the world’s quinoa is not an area suitable for producing monocultures:

      “Most of the world’s quinoa is grown on the altiplano, a vast, cold, windswept, and barren 14,000-foot Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa is one of the few things that grow there, and its high price means more economic opportunities for the farmers in one of the poorest parts of South America.”

      Of course, there are better farming methods than others (diversified or not), and it does sound as though some quinoa producing companies are not making the environment a prime concern, which is definitely something consumers should think about and one reason to buy Fair Trade quinoa, which demands environmentally sound practices.

      As for the second question — are poorer people no longer able to afford to eat it? — if there is any truth to it, which I am sure there is, that is very unsettling. For whatever reason, I trust Edouard Rollet — I believe the families he is working with are still able to eat quinoa and that their lives have improved by their partnership with Alter Eco. And I believe the farming practices he requires of his growers is environmentally responsible, which is why I will continue to buy Fair Trade and/or Alter Eco quinoa. I know the Fair Trade label, like the organic label, can get a bad rap because there might be companies or producers that can’t afford the costs associated with being considered Fair Trade but who are employing “fair trade” practices. So in some ways purchasing Fair Trade goods could perhaps unjustly harm other farmers, but I can’t help but rationalize my purchases with the belief that this is a process, and the more I support these Fair Trade companies, the more they will be able to partner with other farmers and similarly improve their quality of lives.

      Again, I wish I could research this further and find a few unbiased sources, but these are my thoughts at the moment. And I think your course of action — to buy mostly local produce — is the ideal, and I am so happy you have pointed out that Fair Trade is not an ideal solution, but that in the case of certain productions it is a good option at the moment.

      Thank you again for your thoughtful comment!

    • says

      Joyce — this will serve 4 to 6 as a side dish. My husband and I eat over the course of two meals. If you have a few side dishes, I would say it feeds 4 to 6 comfortably.

  12. says

    Totally changed how I cook quinoa, too! Loved your post and just made a similar take last night after reading your inspiration. It was deelish! Thanks!

  13. says

    OK, I just tried the method you recommend — is it supposed to be a bit crunchy? I just rinsed it in cold water and it’s drying now, but I couldn’t help taking a little taste.

  14. Wendy says

    The picture of the carrot and quinoa muffins look nothing like the ones from The Garden of Eden blog. I want muffins that look the ones shown here! Did you make some changes?

    • says

      Wendy, hi! I didn’t make any changes. The only thing reason these probably look different is because I used the rainbow quinoa when I was photographing the process. But, as I noted, I’ve made them a couple of times, and I do prefer how they taste with the white quinoa, and they definitely look different with the white quinoa too — more like the Garden of Eden’s muffins. Hope that helps!

  15. says

    Quinoa is almost as tasty as Otto himself! Plenty of his recipes free online, and highly recommend the Jerusalem book. Nom.

  16. Audrey says

    I’m so glad you addressed the issue of fair trade quiona. I just recently learned about the negative side of the demand of quiona, so I was desperately hoping that if there wasn’t any fair trade practices that there would be soon. What’s your take on soy beans and soy products though? Next to cattle farms, soy farms are the second leading cause to the deforestation of the Amazon. Or so I’ve read. :)

    • says

      Audrey — that’s crazy! It’s always eye opening to learn of the harms caused by seemingly benign agricultural crops. I wish I knew more on the subject of soy. If I learn of anything I will be sure to be in touch…things are a little hectic around here with the new baby. Thanks for alerting my attention to the topic, however, and again, I will be in touch once I read some things.

  17. Dee G says

    Absolutely lovely! Used raw sugar snaps in place of edamame, and blood orange olive oil, but otherwise followed recipe. I too recommend “Jerusalem”! I just love how fresh his flavor profiles are. I hadn’t ever cooked quinoa this way…though I’m not quite sure why. I often cook rice and barley this way… Thanks for posting this.

    • says

      Dee G — So happy to hear this! Love the idea of sugar snaps – so summery! — and the blood orange olive oil sounds divine. I am actually about to post another quinoa salad recipe but with a ginger-lime dressing. I think I might have to add sugar snaps! You will see it posted soon. Thanks for writing in!

  18. rose says

    Dear Alexandra,
    I know this post was ages ago now, but I’m just getting to it! Part of my “it’s going to be spring whether the weather agrees or not” campaign. And I’m so excited to find a way to cook quinoa that doesn’t result in mush. I have followed package and other recipe directions – and mush is always the result. I’ve wondered just what I’ve been doing wrong when other people seem to be able to cook it!! So now, I’m wondering what if I wanted hot quinoa for something. Do I reheat? (And it is ok if not all the “tails” have appeared?)


    • says

      Hi Rose! It was a revelation cooking quinoa the in the pasta-style — not mushy at all! What sort of hot quinoa dish are you thinking? I would maybe suggest cooking the quinoa for perhaps a minute less than suggested (maybe 8 minutes total) and just skipping the rinsing under cold water step — this will allow the quinoa to keep cooking after it is drained, but will hopefully prevent it from getting mushy. And I never pay attention to the tails — I just cook it for 9 minutes always. Good luck with it! Let me know if there is anything else!

  19. Lisa See says

    Just like rice, I have always toasted the quinoa before cooking then prepare it as you would rice. It always has a good nutty flavor and not mushy.

    I am curious about this method so I will give it a try .

  20. Charlene says

    Hi Alexandra,
    Am I missing a print option? The only place I saw to enable printing was when I arrow on the “What’s this?” that’s above your Facebook, Twitter, etc. line of buttons. When I click on it, it goes straight to the print box, but I always like to check the print preview first and when I did, it was over 30 pages.

    I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I appreciate the recipes and your beautiful site.

    • says

      No, Charlene, you aren’t missing anything! The print function plugin I was using was acting so buggy so I disabled it. I’m so frustrated by wordpress recently. What do you use to power your site? I am looking into other options.

      • Charlene says

        Hi Alexandra,
        I don’t have a site so can’t help you with a print plugin suggestion. Sorry. I made the quinoa salad today and loved it! I had a huge juicy lemon and used all the juice plus the zest plus I added a generous amount of chopped parsley that I picked from the garden today. Will definitely make again with the additions of parsley and zest. I wish I had thought to add jalapenos like someone above did. I agree the lemon and the heat are very important in this. Thanks again!

  21. says

    I have just cooked quinoa as you have specified. Wow what are difference. This is how I thought it should have been. Thank you for the great tip.

  22. Ruth says

    I tried your 9 min method for cooking quinoa today. What a revaluation. My quinoa was perfect! I am so happy that I want to shout from the roof top and tell everyone I know. Thank you so much for sharing how to cook quinoa!!!

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