Day 12 – The “right” way to cook quinoa.

Day 12 – The “right” way to cook quinoa.

We have thousands of quinoa recipes in the US now – most are delicious, my favorite being quinoa salad made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, raisins, almonds, kale, lemon juice, and a few grated carrots and beats for color.  Yum!

The Bolivians have been cooking quinoa for thousands of years and have come up with some sure-fire ways to prepare and consume it – often several times a week.  Alicia shared some of her favorites with us:

Pisara – consumed as a side dish, much like rice.

Ingredients (makes 2 portions)

1 cup of white quinoa

1 ½ cups water


  1. Wash the quinoa seed by putting it in a large bowl and covering it with about 3” of water. Roughly rub the quinoa seeds together under the water with your hands.  Soon your water will be turning cloudy.  Take a fine strainer and pour off the cloudy water, being sure not to lose your quinoa seed in the process.  Repeat this 2-3 times until the water runs (mostly) clear.  Now your quinoa is clean and ready to cook with.  Even the most professionally processed quinoas, still have remnants of saponins on them.  Always wash your quinoa before you cook with it and you will have light, fresh tasting dishes.  Cooking with “dirty” quinoa leaves a bitter flavor.
  2. Heat up a dry cast iron frying pan (preferred though a stainless steel pan works too – do not use Teflon or aluminum since the heat will release toxins in your food). Toast the damp quinoa using a medium heat, stirring often, until the little seeds begin turning slightly yellow and start “popping.”
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan bring to a boil 1 ½ cups of water.
  4. Once your quinoa is dried and toasted (light yellow in color), transfer it to the boiling water. Turn down the flame and let it simmer for minutes.
  5. Turn of the flame. Cover the pot and let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes more.
  6. Fluff up the grains with a spoon and you now have Bolivian pisara. The quinoa can be lightly salted and enjoyed in its natural state.  Other flavorings can be added too.  This is a dryer, nuttier tasting way of eating quinoa.

Pito – I still believe there is a place for this in the US culinary craze.  Pito is a toasted, powdered form of quinoa that is traditionally consumed mixed into drinks for a lovely chocolate-like flavor, or eaten dry with sugar sprinkled in it.  I think it will go well with power shakes, Bullet recipes, blender drinks and sprinkled over yogurt. Here’s how to make it.

Ingredients (makes a week’s supply if used daily)

1 cup of clean, washed white quinoa


  1. Heat up a dry cast iron frying pan (preferred though a stainless steel pan works too – do not use Teflon or aluminum since the heat will release toxins into your food). Toast the dry quinoa using a medium heat, stirring often, until the little seeds begin turning slightly yellow and start “popping.”
  2. Wash the hot quinoa seeds by putting them in a large bowl of cold water with about 3” of water covering the seeds. Roughly rub the quinoa seeds together under the water with your hands.  Soon your water will be turning cloudy.  Take a fine strainer and pour off the cloudy water, being sure not to lose your quinoa seeds in the process.
  3. Pour fresh water over the quinoa again and leave it to soak for the night. It may begin to sprout – that is fine.
  4. In the morning, pour off the water and re-toast the quinoa until it is dry using the same hot skillet method as before.
  5. In a clean grinder (like the Krups coffee grinders) grind up the dry, toasted quinoa seeds until it is a semi-fine powder. This is your pito!

How to eat pito like a Bolivian:

  • Pito can be eaten in a shallow bowl with a spoon with sugar sprinkled over it – be sure to have some tea of coffee nearby to help it go down – it’s dry. Use ¼ cup of pito and 1 teaspoon for granulated sugar for starters.
  • Pito can be made into a hot or cold drink called Refresco. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of pito to a cup of boiled water (or ½  cup milk and ½ cup water) and stir.  Add a teaspoon of sugar or honey if you wish.  A cinnamon stick can be boiled in the water/milk too.  Drink this either hot or room temperature, stirring frequently.

Alicia’s recipes for Pito and Pisara are best made with chana moka quinoa – which is currently not available in the US.

Another recipe Alicia and thousands of native quinoa farmers prepare is a gelatin using caslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa – also not available in the US is a very simple and highly nutritious gelatin.  This recipe is similar to pisaga but does not toast the quinoa and uses 3 cups of water and a cinnamon stick instead of 1 ½.  A cup of washed caslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa is cooked down in the water until it becomes thick.  Then it is poured into little cups and left to cool overnight, becoming gelatin the next day.  Sugar, honey or maple syrup can be sprinkled on top.

Caslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa is also used in flour when baking quinoa bread, cakes or cookies.  Traditional Andean people  would never dream of using any other variety other than caslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa when they bake.  In the US we have no access to the caslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa variety of quinoa so our quinoa baking flours are often mixed with tapioca, chickpeas, or potato starch to make them glutinous.  Cslala, quispina or ch’illpi quinoa has the stickiness needed for banking, naturally.

I am interested in working with quinoa growers, exporters, and distributors to develop markets for quinoa varieties.  It would be a good classroom project for my Entrepreneurship college students too.  There are so many more creative uses we can get with our quinoa when we have access to the special Royal Quinoa varieties only found in Bolivia.  These varieties have been stables of Andean households since pre-Inca times.  Andean women would never dream of cooking with the mixed up quinoa we use today.  Cooking by varieties (and not color) brings the full flavor, texture and character of the quinoa to the palette.  Using the authentic Royal Quinoa varieties gives consumers the most nutrition, vitamins, omega 3s, and full proteins – more than any other type of quinoa one can buy.

Day 31– Quinoa cooking secrets

Day 31– Quinoa cooking secrets

Dona Emma, Number 1 quinoa chef of Salinas!

Dona Emma, Number 1 quinoa chef of Salinas!

How can you enjoy quinoa? Let me count they ways…. (and the web sites! Here’s two of my favorites with yummy creative recipes from around the world:, This is my own personal cooling tips and observations from the quinoa heartland, the Southern Altiplano of Bolivia…

First off, the key to amazing, fresh, nutty flavored quinoa is to wash it well before cooking with it. I usually put my pre-measured amount of quinoa in a bowl and fill it with about twice the amount of water than quinoa. Then with my hands, I rub it together for a minute or less, using medium pressure with my hands. Soon the water turns be a bit cloudy. I pour off this water (using a sieve to catch the tiny quinoa grains) and fill it again. I rub the grains together a bit more. This time the water stays more clear. The quinoa is clean. I drain off this water (don’t forget the sieve) and set it aside. It is ready for most any recipe.

I am not home in my kitchen so I cannot try out the recipes exactly, but I’ve been cooking with quinoa for 20 years and can give you some tips based on what I observed here. Feel free to experiment yourselves. Most grocery stores now carry quinoa, usually in the aisle next to the rice. It comes in three main colors: white, red, black and mixed. The black is more nutritious and makes for a dramatic presentation when served. I hear that Japan is wacko over this black quinoa right now! All colors work in all recipes, but I prefer to use different colors for different dishes.

The most common way quinoa is consumed outside of Bolivia is prepared like rice (or in the p’ischqa style as they call it here). To make the p’ischqa (quinoa prepared like rice). Simply boil 2 cups of water with a teaspoon of salt added. When the water is at a boil, add the quinoa, stir it around a bit, lower the flame to medium/low and let it simmer partially covered (or uncovered) for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed or boiled off. Theh fluff with a fork or mash it around with a spoon (more of the Bolivian way), season with salt to your liking and you are all set. In Bolivia a rich stew of re-hydrated dried llama meet (charque), dried potatoes (chunos), diced fresh potatoes, onions, peas, fava beans, ground powdered yellow and red sweet pepper (aji), garlic is added on top. Or sometimes a thinly sliced pan fried and salted piece of fresh llama meat or grilled llama meat is added, with a few small boiled potatoes on the side. In the US, I often just add a bit of butter to my quinoa p’ischa and it is delicious too. Yum!

My favorite use of the red quinoa is in a cold quinoa salad. This I discovered at my local food co-op and it’s been one of my favorites. Simply cook the red quinoa s described above. Then let it sit aside while you add the ingredients – the idea is to do a sweat-sour combo with some texture. The easy way is to add about 2 tablespoons of good quality Balsamic vinegar to about a cup of quinoa, 2 tablespoons of first cold pressed olive oil (in cold salads the quality of your oils and vinegars make a big difference as the flavors stand out more), ¼ cup of fresh chopped parsley, a handful (1/4 cup or less) of sliced almonds, a handful (1/4 cup or less) of raisins or dried cranberries (these look nicer!), half (or a whole) fresh sliced mango (optional but delicious). Toss it all together and you are done! The taste soaks through it as it sits, so ideally plan to make this about 3 hours before serving so the flavors all soak through. I like to serve it at room temperature too, though it keeps well in the fridge for about a week. Feel free to taste it and adjust it as you wish too. I often make this when I have a last minute potluck to go to that I forgot to get ready for. It is so easy to make, tastes and looks delicious and can be thrown together in just a few minutes!

Black quinoa I like to think of as a fancy dessert quinoa. At the Keene State College Dining Hall, there was a rice pudding version made with black quinoa that was outstanding. I would recommend playing around with different recipes. Here’s one I found: If I was home, I would make it with raw milk from the farmer down the road, add a cinnamon stick and a few cloves while cooking it. And then serve it with a sprinkling of nutmeg. Yummy! Another idea, to bring out the drama of the black quinoa (which has white specs as it cooks) is to add tiny mandarin oranges slices to it.

White quinoa is the most common in the US and here in Bolivia too. The secret to delicious Bolivian quinoa soup is to slice the vegetables really thin, even grating them. A good veggi combo for 6 cups of soup can be 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 cloves of garlic. Start out by sautéing these veggis in about 2 tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a cook pot. Then add 6 cups of water, a soup bone and/or stew meat (about ½ cup cubed) – this is optional, and about 5 small fresh potatoes (the Bolivians peel theirs but I like to keep on the skins for the nutrition value – my favorites are the tiny purple or red potatoes) and let boil until the potatoes are almost done (about 10 min.). Then add 2 cups of quinoa and let cook another 15 min. Extra ingredients can be added at this time too such as corn, peas, and small cubes of butternut squash. As a special treat, you can also stir in ½ cup of fresh chopped spinach. To serve the soup, cut one of the boiled potatoes in half and place both halves in each bowl. Pour the soup over this and garnish it with parsley. Bolivians like to eat this soup as a morning belly warmer and also as a favorite lunch dish. In the city they will often have a fresh roll they will dip in the soup as they eat it. Most folks will also add a generous teaspoon of fresh, hand-ground hot sauce to their bowl of soup. Provecho! (good eating).