Rich in protein, folate, fiber, zinc, and iron, quinoa is one of the most nutritious staple foods available to plant-based eaters. These 25 nutritious vegan quinoa recipes demonstrate how versatile and delicious quinoa can be. You’ll find options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
When I had been vegan for only a few weeks, I started to notice a lot of recipes that called for quinoa.
The grain was completely new to me. I had never heard of it before, never seen it or eaten it. While whole grains are absolutely a staple of my diet now—the foundation of my diet, really—I didn’t grow up eating many of them. We ate pasta and rice on occasion, and that was it.
I had no clue how to pronounce quinoa. But I decided to pick it up at my health food store and give it a try.
The first thing I liked about this little grain (which is actually a pseudograin, or an edible seed), was that it cooked in less than fifteen minutes. I had been struggling to figure out how to cook rice properly and felt as though I was always waiting for brown rice to be ready. A short cook time was very appealing.
It was basically love at first bite. And in the many years since, quinoa has remained one of the pantry ingredients that I use most often. I’d go as far as to say that rarely a week goes by when I don’t eat it once or twice.
January always feels like a good time to reconnect with foundational ingredients—the simple, nourishing plant foods that keep me going. Some examples are chickpeas, lentils, sweet potatoes, tofu, tempeh, and all sorts of whole grains.
Quinoa rises to the top of this list. So, what better time for a quinoa appreciation post and quinoa recipe roundup?
Of the many reasons to love quinoa, excellent nutrition is at the top of the list. Quinoa is an especially nutrient-dense complex carb, and here are a few of the nutrients you’ll find in it.
With six grams of protein per serving—which is about a cup, cooked—quinoa is higher in protein than other gluten-free whole grains. It’s comparable in protein to bulgur wheat, farro, and other forms of wheat.
When you combine quinoa with other good sources of plant protein, like beans, tofu, tempeh, or seitan, you’re well on the way to a protein-rich meal. This quinoa protein bowl is a good example of that, and it’s one of my favorite, older blog recipes.
Quinoa happens to be a complete protein, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids (those are the ones we have to obtain from food, because our bodies don’t produce them endogenously).
This isn’t something I focus on too much, as we don’t have to obtain the essential amino acids within a single food source or meal. What matters is that we eat enough variety overall to source all of the essential amino acids on a regular basis.
Still, I like that quinoa has a diverse and fulsome amino acid profile—it’s just another cool feature of this nutritious grain.
A serving of quinoa has nearly 20% of the daily recommended dietary allowance of dietary fiber. This is good news for digestive function and health. Higher fiber diets are also associated with healthy blood lipids and cardiac health.
A cup of cooked quinoa provides about 18% of the RDA of zinc for men and 25% of the RDA of zinc for women. This is an impressive amount, and quinoa is one of the dietary sources of zinc that I recommend most often to my clients.
A cup of cooked quinoa contains about 2.8 milligrams of iron, which is about 16% of the RDA for premenopausal women. It’s 35% (!) of the RDA of iron for men of all ages and postmenopausal women.
For more on how to combine quinoa with other iron-rich foods and ensure adequacy of iron on a vegan diet, you can check out this post.
Folate is a B vitamin that plays a crucial role in DNA synthesis. Not surprisingly, it becomes particularly important during times of rapid growth, including pregnancy.
Insufficient folate status is associated with neural tube defects in pregnancy. A supplement of folic acid—which is the synthetic form of folate—is recommended for pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant.
Throughout the rest of the life cycle, it’s important to get folate through food sources. Quinoa is a powerful one. A serving of cooked quinoa has about 20% of the RDA of folate. (Other folate sources include dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, dry beans, peanuts, oranges, avocado, and strawberries.)
When we think about magnesium in food, our minds often turn to bananas and coconut water. Yet there are lots of other plant-based sources of this mineral, which plays an important role in bone health, muscle and nerve function, and regulation of blood pressure.
These sources include beans, greens, oatmeal, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and—you guessed it—quinoa. A cup of quinoa provides nearly 30% of the RDA of magnesium for adults.
In addition to all of these important micronutrients, quinoa is a good source of quercetin.
Quercetin is a phytonutrient, or a chemical compound, that has been associated with anti-inflammatory effects. It may also play a role in cancer prevention and in cardiac health.
I’m asked all the time how I prepare my quinoa, and I understand why. Quinoa can be a little tricky to get just right.
If you add too much water, you’ll have mush, instead of well-defined (if small), round grains.
If you add too little water in cooking, you may end up with grains that dry and fail to have the fluffy texture that quinoa is known for.
It’s easy to undercook quinoa and end up with something mushy, or to overcook and burn it.
There are three important things that I keep in mind when I cook quinoa.
First, I rinse quinoa before cooking, unless the package of grains is marked as pre-rinsed. Some quinoa contains a surface coating of saponins, which are compounds that can create a bitter taste without rinsing.
I’ve read that most quinoa sold nowadays has little saponins on the surface, which means that rinsing is often unnecessary. But I do it anyway; it’s not a big deal, and I like to reduce that bitter taste when I can.
The second thing I do is make sure that I use a 1:1.75 ratio of dry grain to water when I cook quinoa.
I find that a 1:2 ratio is ever so slightly too much water, resulting in mushy quinoa. 1 3/4 cups water for every cup of dry grain is perfect.
I always used to give quinoa 15 minutes of cooking time. Now I find that 13 minutes is the sweet spot. I’d offer up the disclaimer that some quinoa seems for whatever reason to need an extra minute or two, but 13—with some fluffing and steaming after—is usually perfect.
So here’s what the whole process looks like.
Rinse your quinoa through a fine sieve under cold, running water for about 1 minute.
Place the quinoa in a pot along with 1 3/4 cups water. Bring the quinoa to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 13 minutes.
Check on the quinoa. If it looks fluffy and there’s no more water bubbling at the bottom, remove it from heat and let it sit for five minutes. Then, fluff it with a fork. Re-cover the quinoa and let it sit for another five minutes.
At this point it should be perfectly fluffy, warm, and ready to eat.
Quinoa is an easy, useful grain to meal prep. It can be stored for five days in an airtight container in the fridge. Mix it into salads, warm it up as the base of a vegan lunch bowl, use it in a pilaf, or make it the base of a cozy gratin.
Yes, absolutely! Speaking of meal prep, cooked quinoa can be frozen for up to eight weeks.
Quinoa is a gluten-free grain, which means that it doesn’t contain gluten naturally. However, if you have celiac disease, it’s wise to purchase quinoa that’s certified gluten-free in order to help reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
You can truly enjoy quinoa in the same way that you would most other grains: in bowls or salads, as a simple dinner side dish, or in a warm skillet of greens, beans, and grains.
In fact, quinoa is one of the grains I most enjoy in the morning. It’s a nice alternative to oatmeal as usual, and quinoa lends itself to both savory and sweet preparations.
So without further ado, here are 25 of the tastiest, most versatile, and most nutritious vegan quinoa recipes that I keep on rotation in my home.
I eat quinoa for breakfast, dinner, or lunch, so I’ve organized the recipes accordingly.
A few more words about those quinoa and lentils.
This is a recipe that I first prepared a few years ago. I was short on time and needed something efficient and one-pot. It occurred to me that quinoa and lentils could be cooked together, without any need for separate cooking times.
I seasoned the dish with the Italian-inspired flavors that I love and rely on often: garlic, lemon, thyme, and the umami-rich, acidic punch of sun-dried tomatoes.
The quinoa and lentils also contain sautéed mushrooms and spinach, which means that it’s rich in phytonutrients as well as protein, fiber, and iron.
At the end of cooking this dish, you’ll stir in about a half cup of my tried-and-true, all-purpose cashew cream. The cashew cream gives it a luxurious richness that I really love.
If you’d like for the dish not to be creamy, you can hold the cashew cream and simply top it with some of my cashew parmesan cheese instead. Or perhaps some crumbled vegan feta or homemade cashew cheese.
Once prepared, the leftovers of this nourishing pot of food will keep for up to five days in the fridge. They’re freezer-friendly, too, which makes the quinoa and lentils a good dish to include in any weekly meal prep or batch cooking that you do.
This is brown food at its finest, AKA not pretty to look at but very delicious to eat. It’s excellent in wintertime, and since I’ve been revisiting it lately myself, it feels like a perfect moment to re-share it with you.
The lentils and quinoa can be enjoyed with a leafy green salad, sautéed broccoli or broccoli rabe, roasted cauliflower, grilled or baked tofu or tempeh, or any other side that you’re craving.
Just putting this post together has reminded me of how truly and dearly I love this whole grain. Hope you’ll enjoy the quinoa recipes, too—and that you’ll find a few to savor at home.
And hey, happy Tuesday, everyone. I’ve gotten a few kind emails asking if I’m OK, since weekend reading posts have been stalled. I’m OK. I’ve had a lot on my mind and on my plate, and I just haven’t been able to write much on weekends—not even to write that I’m not able to write!
I appreciate the check-ins so much, and I’m excited to sit down and communicate more soon. For now, my heart is thankful for you.