I recently read that the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognised as “The International Year of the Quinoa”. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but after learning about its health benefits, and experimenting with all the different ways I can include it into what I’m cooking, I declare that quinoa is my new favourite ingredient.

It can be used on place of grains, so I use it instead of rice, oats, pasta, sometimes flour and now that it’s getting warmer, it’s great to bulk up salads. While it’s an excellent substitute, quinoa is not a cereal or grain, but rather the seed of a green, leafy plant in the same food family as spinach, chard and beetroots.

When toasted then boiled, quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy, yet also slightly crunchy. They also sometimes have an amazing translucent appearance. The flavour of the cooked seeds is subtle and a little bit nutty. The seeds can also be ground into flour (which you can buy in some supermarkets and health food stores).

When comparing it with grains, quinoa’s health benefits are amazing; here’s a list of the main ones that appeal to me:

  • high nutritional value including anti-inflammatory nutrients
  • high in heart healthy fats
  • high in antioxidants
  • high in fibre & protein
  • high in calcium
  • gluten free
  • very low Glycemic Index (GI) of 53 (GI of 55 or less is considered ‘low’) 

For me, this is a meal in itself which I happily have for breakfast, lunch or tea as the mushrooms add a meatiness and the quinoa is packed with protein. This is also a great side dish for red meat or chicken. You can also make double quantities of the dressing, mushies and quinoa – all last in the fridge for at least a week.

Serves 2



  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp hot English mustard
  • 1/2 pear, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 3 Tbsp water


  • 250g mixed brown mushrooms – sliced
  • 1/2 cup quinoa (I used a mix of red, white & black)
  • 1 cup stock (I think chicken tastes the best with this recipe, but vege or beef are also fine)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach – chopped
  • 2 shallots – thinly sliced
  • 2 radishes – finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds – toasted
  • S&P


  1. Heat oven to 200C.
  2. Blitz up all the dressing ingredients until smooth.
  3. Put the sliced mushies in a mixing bowl and mix with 1/4 cup of the dressing to coat.
  4. Spread out the mushies on a baking sheet and back for around 15-20 mins then remove from the oven to cool.
  5. Dry-roast the quinoa seeds in a fry-pan on medium heat.
  6. Bring the stock to the boil in a medium pot.
  7. Once the quinoa starts to get a little fragrant and start to pop, pour them into a metal sieve and rinse under cold water (gets rid of any slight bitterness).
  8. Add the quinoa to the boiling stock then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for around 20 mins or until the liquid has been absorbed.
  9. While the quinoa is simmering away, slice your veges, and dry-toast your slivered almonds.
  10. Remove the quinoa from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5-10 mins until it cools slightly.
  11. Gently break the quinoa up, a layer at a time with a fork (similar to cous cous).
  12. Mix everything together with the remaining dressing, reserving some almonds to sprinkle on top right before serving.