Quinoa Pilaf is a flavorful, fast variation on rice pilaf. It applies the traditional preparation method for rice pilaf to high-protein gluten free quinoa! An easy side dish that is seasoned with spices, butter toasted quinoa and cooked in homemade chicken broth. Rich, flavorful and healthy!
In this easy side dish, quick-cooking quinoa is toasted in butter then cooked with spices in broth. Use chicken broth or vegetable broth for a vegan variation. I recently made this for a friend who just gave birth a beautiful baby boy along with a lemon roasted chicken and sheet pan roasted summer squash.
It is also phenomenal with Spicy Peach Pork Chops and Healthy Creamy Coleslaw. The quinoa soaks up the sauce and pulls the dishes together into a flavorful, easy meal. I make it ahead in large batches then use it to make this chickpea quinoa greek salad, kale power bowl and roasted vegetable quinoa salad.
Table of Contents
What makes a Pilaf a Pilaf?
A pilaf is traditionally a rice dish, in which the rice is first toasted in butter then cooked in stock and whole spices. This creates layers of flavors that transform a plain rice into a satisfying and delicious side dish!
What is Quinoa Pilaf?
I’ve taken the traditional preparation method for rice pilaf and applied it to high-protein and gluten free quinoa! I toast the quinoa grains in butter then cook them in chicken stock. Cooking a cinnamon stick, bay leaf and cardamom pods with the quinoa makes for an aromatic, protein-rich dish!
- Butter: I prefer to use unsalted butter so I can be sure how much salt is going in the dish for the right balance of flavors.
- Quinoa: I usually use white quinoa because I prefer the flavor, but you could use red quinoa or even tri-color quinoa! The general rule for cooking quinoa is for every one cup of quinoa, you need 2 cups of liquid!
- Chicken Broth: You can absolutely use vegetable broth in your quinoa pilaf instead, but nothing compares to the richness of homemade chicken broth.
- Bay Leaf: One of the wonders of the bay leaf is that you can use fresh or dried interchangeably. They both impart a delightfully subtle savory flavor. It is hard to put your finger on, but easy to notice when it is missing.
- Cinnamon Stick: Whole cinnamon sticks allow for a gentle infusion of cinnamon flavor without overwhelming the dish. They really need to be cooked in a liquid to infuse and then impart that flavor on the quinoa.
- Cardamom Pods: I love white cardamom pods the best but the green is usually easier to find and just as fragrant. If you can only find seeds, use them sparingly because the flavor will be more intense.
- Kosher salt: Kosher salt is lass salty than table salt, so it’s easier to keep track of how much you’re adding—plus it keeps the dish from landing a little flat.
- Golden Raisins: Golden raisins are a touch sweeter than their dark cousins, but they add such a lovely sweet note to savory dishes.
- Slivered Almonds: Toasted, slivered almonds add a lovely crunch and a welcome nutty flavor that compliments the quinoa.
Variations on Quinoa Pilaf
- Vegetarian: Simply swap the chicken stock for vegetable broth and you’ve got an easy vegetarian side dish!
- Vegan: To make quinoa pilaf vegan omit the butter or use a vegan butter, and substitute the chicken stock for vegetable stock.
- Moroccan Quinoa Pilaf: Omit the whole spices and season with ras el hanout. Add chopped dried apricots or dates in place of the raisins.
How to serve Quinoa Pilaf?
- Grain Bowl: Substitute quinoa pilaf for the grain in your next grain bowl like this cherry buratta millet grain bowl. Add layers of complimentary flavors like rosemary chicken, roasted cauliflower and crumbled feta cheese.
- As a Side Dish: Serve it with a saucy chicken like this baked chicken and shallots or a slightly sweet pork chop to soak up the sauce and compliment the aromatic quinoa.
- As a Vegetarian Entre: Mix in with roasted vegetables like in this roasted vegetables quinoa chopped salad, seared tofu and mushrooms for a filling main dish.
Chef Lindsey's Recipe Tips
Toasting the quinoa in butter really creates a rich flavorful base for the quinoa pilaf. This step can be skipped and the butter added directly to the cooking liquid or the butter can be omitted completely without any change to the recipe.
- 1 tablespoon Butter (unsalted)
- 1 cup Quinoa (uncooked)
- 2 cups Chicken Broth (or vegetable broth)
- 1 Bay Leaf (dried or fresh)
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 6 Cardamom Pods
- ⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ cup Golden Raisins
- ¼ cup Slivered Almonds (toasted)
- In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter then toast the quinoa over medium-low heat until most of the quinoa begins to brown and it smells a little nutty. The quinoa will also begin to pop, which is unavoidable.
- Pour in broth and stir.
- Add whole spices and return the pot to the heat. Cover and cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until all the water has been absorbed and the quinoa looks plump. The little tails on the grains will also pop out when fully cooked.
- Fluff with a fork and then toss in the toasted almonds and golden raisins.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy while hot.
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