Do you love bread and pasta but are trying to watch your carbs? It’s often difficult to find a flavorful and healthy replacement for pasta, rice or bread. I was lucky to be introduced to quinoa during college by my dear friend Jasmin. At the time we would bond over delicious home-cooked meals, wine, yoga, and hiking. These were our perfect ways to unwind after long days of studying.
I must admit, at first the very earthy and slightly bitter flavor of quinoa was not exactly the replacement I was looking for. The health benefits outweighed the taste, so I continued to give it a chance. I had to get a little creative with infusing more appetizing flavors and textures with the quinoa as the base. My cranberry almond quinoa recipe is an excellent way to incorporate fragrant Moroccan-inspired flavors with nutritious quinoa for a fantastic side dish!
Quinoa uses a similar cooking technique as rice. You simply bring the quinoa and liquid to a boil then simmering over low heat until light and fluffy. The great thing about quinoa is that it readily absorbs any flavors that you add to the cooking liquid. I used water for this Cranberry Almond Quinoa recipe since the other ingredients are already so tasty, but you can easily incorporate vegetable or chicken stock as the base. Feel free to add onions, garlic, herbs or other aromatics during cooking for even more flavor!
I enjoy using Moroccan inspired ingredients like dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and mint into my cooking. There are several Quinoa brands out there such as Bob’s Red Mill Grain Quinoa which is a great replacement and healthier alternative to couscous (semolina wheat), used in many traditional Moroccan dishes. Quinoa has a similar texture to couscous, as the grains are tiny and have a granular and tender texture.
To add a little more texture to the quinoa, I used blanched almonds for some crunch (roasted chopped almonds can also be used), and sweet orange and yellow bell peppers. When you have your first bite of the cranberry almond quinoa, there should be warm sweet notes of cinnamon complemented with the refreshing slices of chopped mint, sweet bell peppers, and dried cranberries. If you are looking for something new to serve to your hungry guests during the holidays, this cranberry almond quinoa recipe would be a fantastic and easy side dish to prepare!
TIP #1: What is Quinoa? Quinoa is a plant that is native to Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and parts of Mexico. Quinoa is of the goosefoot species, which the edible seeds used for cooking for application such as soups, salads, or ground into a meal for baking. Quinoa provides amazing health benefits by providing all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein. If you are looking for a gluten free alternative trying quinoa is an excellent substitute.
TIP#2: When quinoa is in its natural state there is a coating of bitter-tasting saponins, making it tough to eat. Many manufacturers further process the seeds to remove the bitter coating. Even though most of the bitterness has been removed make sure to rinse thoroughly and wash under running water before cooking.
- ½ cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced (approximately 1 teaspoon)
- ¼ cup diced onion, cut into ⅛ inch dice (approximately ¼ of a large onion)
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup diced bell pepper, cut into ⅛ inch dice (I recommend orange and yellow bell peppers)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries, rough chopped
- ¼ cup blanched slivered almonds
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, very thinly sliced
- Add quinoa to a fine mesh colander, rinse under running water, drain and set aside.
- Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a medium size saucepan fitted with a lid. Heat oil over medium heat, and then add minced garlic and onions. Continuously stir until onions are translucent, approximately 3 minutes.
- Add the washed quinoa to the saucepan. Add the water and salt. Bring quinoa to a boil, cover with the lid and simmer until all of the water is absorbed, approximately 20 minutes. Check the quinoa, fluff with a fork, and allow cooking longer if needed, or turning off the heat if the quinoa is fully cooked. The quinoa should not look soggy.
- Taste the quinoa and season with more salt and freshly cracked pepper to your liking.
- Add the bell pepper, cranberry, almonds and cinnamon to the cooked quinoa, stir to combine.
- Add the mint just before serving gently stirring into the quinoa. Garnish with additional mint if desired.