Japanese Inspired Quinoa Recipe

As I mentioned in the January newsletter and on this forum thread, one of my current aspirations is to learn more about Japanese cooking.

I have worked on assembling a good pantry of essentials — always the most daunting step when one tackles a new style of cuisine, I think — and now the real fun has begun, as I teach myself the basics by following trusted recipes.

Maki, whose blog Just Hungry has been around for about as long as mine, has been a great help in that endeavor, thanks to her approachable voice and limpid instructions. Her bento blog, too, is a bottomless source of inspiration.

The sauce is very quickly put together from just a handful of ingredients, and it lends the quinoa a keen, lightly caramelized flavor that is most flattering.

I also have a Japanese friend living in Paris, with whom I have plans to swap cooking lessons: I’ll teach her French recipes and she’ll teach me Japanese recipes, an arrangement for which our respective boyfriends show unrestrained support.

And I have been using a lovely cookbook called Une Japonaise à Paris, written by Kaori Endo. In it this young Japanese woman, who works in the kitchen of the new Rose Bakery location in the Marais, shares homestyle recipes using ingredients that are reasonably easy to find in a city such as Paris.

One of the dishes in this book is a kamo-soba salad that features duck (kamo) magret with leeks and buckwheat noodles (soba), a combination of flavors that is classic in Japanese cuisine, Kaori-san notes. I haven’t yet tried making the recipe in its entirety, but the sauce used to dress the noodles caught my eye, and has become a favorite way of seasoning quinoa.

It is very quickly put together — it can be prepared while the quinoa cooks — from just a handful of ingredients, and it lends the quinoa a keen, lightly caramelized flavor that is most flattering. We usually have it warm when it’s freshly cooked, as a side to grilled mackerel or duck breast for instance, and eat the leftovers at rooom temperature the next day, topped with smoked tofu or soft-center hard-boiled eggs.

I will note that quinoa is absolutely not a traditional Japanese ingredient, but when I consulted Maki, she replied that “it has become more popular recently as a healthy whole grain, or as it’s called in Japanese zakkoku (mixed grains or coarse grains). Quinoa in Japan is called kinua (キヌア) in katakana, indicating it’s an imported food (and word). As far as I can recall, it’s only in the last 5-6 years or so that it began appearing in Japanese magazines and cookbooks. Health-conscious people use it in all kinds of dishes, with Western, Asian or Japanese flavors.”

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Japanese Inspired Quinoa Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Serves 3 to 4.

Japanese Inspired Quinoa Recipe


  • 190g (1 cup) uncooked quinoa (I like red best, or a mix or red and white)
  • 1 small knob fresh ginger
  • 2 shallots (or 1 small yellow onion)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (certified gluten-free if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined brown cane sugar
  • A pinch of ground chili


  1. Rinse the quinoa in fresh water (this helps remove the bitter dust that coats the grains). Bring 360ml (1 1/2 cups) water to a simmer. Add the quinoa and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest for at least 10 minutes; a little more is fine. The grains will continue to unfurl and plump up during this time; it will have absorbed all the water and won't need draining.
  2. While the quinoa is simmering, peel and grate the ginger, then peel and dice the shallots.
  3. Heat the sesame oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger and shallots and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in the sake. When it has evaporated, add the soy sauce, sugar, ground chili, and 60ml (1/4 cup) water. Simmer for 2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat.
  4. When the quinoa is ready, add it to the skillet and stir to coat. Serve warm, as a side to grilled mackerel or duck breast, or at room temperature, topped with tofu or soft-center hard-boiled eggs.


Sauce recipe adapted from Kaori Endo's Une Japonaise à Paris.

  • Looks really interesting. I have yet to experience with quinoa though I have it sitting on my pantry shelf. I’m trying to experiment a bit more with Asian foods as well… we have terrific markets for ingredients so my stash of goodies to use is slowly growing!

  • I love quinoa, and this sounds like a wonderful and unique way to prepare it. I can’t wait to try the recipe.

  • Good for you! I love Japanese food and, despite the fact we are in a landlocked province, here in Toronto, Ontario Canada, I am lucky to have access to a score of fantastic Japanese restaurants.

    Quinoa is also popular here but, truth be told, not as a Japanese ingredient as far as I’m aware. That said, I see no reason why it would not be an excellent foil for this cuisine’s flavours. I actually use wheat berries to make a vaguely similar dish to the one you’ve posted today so I’m certainly no purist!

    Good luck with your culinary journey!

  • What serendipity! I was just sitting here thinking that I should do something with that quinoa in my cupboard…and with that sake that my neighbor was kind enough to give me recently…tonight this recipe will be my project!

  • Clotilde, this quinoa looks so delicious, both the photograph and the seasoning. I love red quinoa best, and these Asian seasonings certainly work for me. Maybe this will be lunch today…

  • I have always loved japanese foods but i find it hard to look for the ingredients. Does anyone know where can i buy a nearby store here in long island? I wanted to try this recipe. It seems very delicious.

  • What a delightfully simple twist on basic Quinoa. I like that the products you’ve used are mostly stock pantry items, which means I will be making this ce soir! It would be great to continue following your forays into Japanese cuisine. There is a Japanese and Korean grocery store that just opened up around the corner from me. I’ve popped in several times, but I have no idea what most of the products are! So, I will look forward to learning as you do.

  • I am totally making this, Quinoa is one of my favorites and I’m always looking for new ways to dress it. The dressing is almost the same recipe I use to marinate salmon. Yum!

  • franko

    @ long island girl:

    these ingredients (including the sake) should be really common in any grocery store in your area. i can’t imagine a special trip to any japanese store would be necessary. look in the alcohol aisle for the sake (usually kept near the plum wine), and in maybe an international/asian food aisle for the sesame oil. quinoa is so popular now that you should be able to find it boxed readily, or even in bulk.

  • I am trying to make more Asian dishes and this sounds like a great one. I think I actually have all the ingredients but the sake.

  • valvec

    Living next door to Rose bakery, Rue des Martyrs, I didn’t know there was another location in the Marais… That’s interesting…

  • I have only had quinoa before as a sweet breakfast dish like oatmeal or grits, served with tea masala (the spice blend not the actual tea), brown or raw sugar, and just a splash of cream. I had not thought to make it a savory side dish but this sounds wonderful, especially with a nice crispy magret.

  • valvec

    Two years ago, my friend Barbara who lives in Princeton advised me to pay attention to c&Z… My friend Barbara dreams in Japanese and loves quinoa… That’s why today I advise you Barbara to have a look to C&Z…

  • Jen

    And I just came across a box of quinoa in the cupboard and was wondering what to do with it– I think I’ve found the solution.

  • Lyn

    This looks good. I’ve been trying to get more protein in my diet, and quinoa is a complete protein.

  • Kind of ironic that this will be nearly impossible to make here in Japan, as I’ve never been able to find quinoa here. In fact, when I’ve imported it from the States and give it to Japanese friends, they invariably say quin-what? I’m vegetarian and I frequent health food stores and veg restaurants and I’ve never seen it there either. If anyone has an idea of where to get quinoa here for a not-outlandish price, please share.

  • So glad I found this blog it is amazing I look forward to trying some of these recipes.

  • Japanese I think has to be my all-time favourite cuisine. I love the way you are always perfectly satisfied after a good japanese meal, but never full or heavy.

    Have you been to the soba restaurant Yen on rue Saint-Benoît?
    The noodles are hand made in the restaurant (and absolutely delicious) – although I have discovered I am no good at noodle-slurping.

    I hope we too can profit from your cooking-class swaps with your friend!


  • kim

    It’s a small food-blog world :) Maki’s sites have motivated me to start bringing my own lunches (or bentos) to work, and your green bean salad is often part of these lunches.

  • C’est intéressant cette vision nippone du quinoa. Quand j’y vivais, c’était encore totalement inconnu !

  • Shantel

    I just wanted to share my experience of learning about Japanese home cooking through Elizabeth Andoh’s book “Washoku.” She really brings the culinary perspective to life and the recipes are delicious and adaptable. “Une Japonais a Paris” sounds lovely, thanks!

  • Hi selena. In Japan, quinoa is pronounced ‘ki-nu-a’ rather than ‘qui-NO-ah’. That may help. You can also try this page on the ‘quinua.jp’ (yes I know, misspelled) site. Also, this site has a lot of information about ‘zakkoku’, alternate or mixed whole grains.

    It’s funny because from my standpoint living in Europe, while quinoa is easy to get a hold of, I’m always envious of the large variety of different grains available in Japan! I guess the grass is always greener elsewhere.

  • looks phenomenal and sounds delicious and easy — thanks!

  • This looks so good! And it’s nice to try some Japanese food which I don’t normally do. thanks!

  • JD

    This sounds like something that would also be good with amaranth. I have tried quinoa, but can’t get past the sprouted look. Amaranth is just as nutritious, so not a big problem.

  • This sounds great with sake and sesame oil. Interesting way to flavor quinoa. Would love to have this with roasted duck!

  • Greetings from Tokyo Clothilde,

    I really recommend a Japanese cookbook called “Washoku” by Elizabeth Andoh. The recipes are rather simple and based on homestyle Japanese cooking, but the book includes great ingredients and food prep chapters.

    Selena, quinoa can be found at (Lawson) Natural House, and if you are in Tokyo, Kaldi stocks it too. Unfortunately it is rather expensive!

  • Rachel

    This looks lovely! I’ll probably make it with rice vinegar in place of the sake, and maybe have it with some edamame on the side.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your future adventures in Japanese cooking!

  • This looks good! The sauce looks like it would be tasty on salmon fillets, too. Thanks!

  • Dear Clotilde,

    I’m wondering if the bitter coating on quinoa, which we rinse off before cooking, is the same bitter coating (TANNIN) that coats some other foods. I know some nuts (walnuts for example) have a bitter TANNIN coating ~ and their flavor benefits from removing that astringency by soaking in water for an hour or two. BTW, walnuts used to make my mouth sore on occasion, but when I soak them, that phenomenon never happens. Maybe the tannins were the culprit!

    From what little I know about TANNINS, I know that tannins are naturally occurring on some plant seeds and fruits; that the tannins deter predators (like birds) from consuming them; that the tannins inhibit bacterial growth, and that tannins are used to ‘tan’ animal hides into leather.

    I found a cool website to learn more about tannins: http://www.ochef.com/197.htm

  • Stephanie

    This looks amazing! One question, tho; I’ve been told sesame oil has a very low smoking point and should only be added after cooking–not to saute on medium-high heat. Anyone else?

  • Stephanie – It’s my understanding that the smoke point of sesame oil (the exact number actually depends on whether it is unrefined, semi-refined, or refined) is high enough that you can cook with it over medium to medium-high heat, and many Japanese recipes instruct you to do that. It’s not fit for frying, though, but it’s so strong in flavor that you wouldn’t want to anyway.

  • I was just looking for an interesting recipe for Quinoa. This looks great.

  • Dawn in CA

    Oh, yum! A friend introduced me to quinoa a few years ago, and I just love it. This looks like a delicious variation.

    Funny you should post today regarding your desire to learn more about Japanese cooking. Earlier this week I discovered this blog:


    It is written by an American who delves into all aspects of Japanese food culture. Isn’t food a wonderful way to explore the world?

  • Hi Clotilde,

    Its a short time I’ve started learning Korean cuisine, in which I
    found soy sauce mixed with sesame oil as an omnipresent ingredient of condiments (mostly toasted sesame seeds and sometimes fresh grated ginger can also be found). I was wondering whether any of these 2 cuisines have common roots or either of the nations independently got the idea of using these ingredients to get a wonderful sauce?

  • Thanks for the recipe which gives a whole new, non-Peruvian approach to cooking this marvellous grain. I find, however, that the quantity of sesame oil is really overpowering, and think it’s better to use half of a neutral vegetable oil and half sesame oil. As you know, sesame oil is used as a seasoning rather than a frying medium here in Asia; some Chinese cooks add just a few drops of it to their vegetable oil for stir-frying.

  • Hi there! I stumbled upon your blog as I leafed through the Bloggies website and I’ve officially tombee amoureuse. As a francophile and a seriously passionate gastronome, I am hooked. Good for you re: learning more about Japanese cooking. It’s something I’ve always admired from afar but never tried dabbling in. I wish you the best of luck! Last, I’d love it if you checked out my blog… it sounds like shameless self-promotion but really it’s just me stating what we have in common. I’ll be reading!

  • I think the bitter coating is saponin not tannin, which is also bitter.

    Is red quinoa harder to find I don’t think I’ve seen it. Does it taste different?

    I LOVE this idea, as much as I’ve tried to incorporate quinoa, I seem to always still taste the bitterness. I do love the soy-sake- sesame combo and I think it must work wonders with the grain. I have a plan now for that quinoa in the cupboard!

  • Stéphanie

    I have been on a quinoa kick for the past few weeks since a friend has finally converted me to be mostly vegetarian, so I will definitely try this recipe.
    Hmm, one could also add some peas to the mix as well…

  • Wendy – Interestingly, I’ve looked at many Japanese recipes that use sesame oil on its own for sautéing. It is possible that Japanese sesame oil is somehow of a different nature from Chinese sesame oil, but I’ve used one that’s imported from Singapore here, and I find that it’s not at all overpowering, but feel free to cut the sesame oil as you see fit.

    Jacqueline – More than a matter of flavor, the difference between white and red quinoa has to do with texture: red quinoa stays a tad crunchier, and I like that better. It is a little harder to find here in Paris, too, but more and more organic stores stock it.

  • Lucia

    What can I use to substitute Sake?

  • Lucia, Chinese rice wine (Shaohsing) is an excellent substitute for sake. I use it all the time as it keeps indefinitely, is more widely available and here in Malaysia, is much cheaper than saké.

  • CC

    i made this last night. i modified it by adding steamed broccoli through it. i think my boyfriend fell in love with me all over again. it was absolutely delicious. thanks a million!

  • Sue

    Hello, it looks like there is some confusion about sesame oil. In the US, there are at least two kinds of sesame oil: “sesame oil” which is pressed from raw sesame seed and has a fairly mild taste and a medium-high smoke point and is used for sautêeing; and “toasted sesame oil” which is pressed from toasted sesame seed and is highly perishable and has a strong flavor and a low smoke point and is used mostly as a flavoring and not to cook with.

  • Thanks for the lesson about saponin, Jacqueline. I learned something new today!

  • I love quinoa and the sauce sounds divine (esp. with an egg).

  • Though Quinua isn’t a popular name of Quinoa in Europe and USA,the original name in Latin America is it.
    So if I say, Quinoa is European name.

    basic of quinoa
    here you read it (in japanese…)

  • Sarah

    Thank you Clotilde. I prepared this dish last night and it was easy and delicious. Everyone loved it. I will be using this recipe often! Because I didn’t have any sake, I used sherry instead and it was still wonderful. I plan to buy some sake and try it soon.

  • Valerie

    This is a truly wonderful way to eat quinoa and even my boyfriend who is not the biggest quinoa fan adored it and is asking for more!! I substituted the sake with rice wine vinegar which worked really well…

  • This is a very interesting recipe, indeed! I’m an Austrian currently living in Tokyo, and I experiment a lot with Japanese cuisine, often adding a “western” touch. I would call it my “own personal fusion”…

    I’ve never seen Quinoa over here, but I’ll watch out for it so I can try your reicpe.

  • Channon Doughty

    What a splendid idea. thank you! I find myself without many side dish ideas for quinoa, so I will definitely be trying this recipe.
    Do you ever toast your quinoa before cooking? I learned some time way back when that it bring out a satisfying nutty flavor and have found it does make them taste so much richer. You can just throw them in the toaster oven for a few minutes or give them a quick toast in a pan. I would love to know how you like the results!

    • I have tried toasting quinoa before, but to be honest I didn’t find it made enough of a flavor difference to justify the extra step. Perhaps I did it wrong? Do you toast before or after rinsing?

      • Channon Doughty

        I don’t rinse them…. oops!!

        • I understand some boxed quinoa comes pre-rinsed, which is pretty convenient, and may be what you’ve been using? Otherwise, the taste of saponin in non-rinsed quinoa really gets in the way.

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