End of Summer Vegetable Quinoa

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Ever wonder why some people seem to naturally gravitate towards certain foods and other people avoid those same foods like the plague?  In undergraduate school I majored in biological sciences, and evolutionary biology was the first required science course.  In one of our very first classes we were discussing how genetics influences different peoples’ taste perceptions.  To illustrate our discussion, the professor passed out little pieces of paper containing phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) to all the students.  The professor told us that about 75% of us would taste a bitter flavor (ranging anywhere from extreme to slight bitterness) and about 25% would taste nothing at all.  I tasted the PTC and to me it tasted extremely bitter.  I was shocked to see that my friend who also tasted the PTC hadn’t immediately yanked the horrid little piece of paper out of her mouth or made the same squinty face and “yuck!” noise that I had made…she hadn’t tasted anything at all.  And in the end the professor was right; he took a poll of our 500+ person class and about 75% of us had tasted bitter and 25% had tasted nothing.  That was proof enough for me that genetics plays a huge role in our tastes.  (You can read more about the PTC gene here or more about taste perception and eating behavior here…very interesting stuff!)

Quite a few people have told me that they don’t like quinoa and I’ll be honest, the first time I had it I didn’t care much for it either.  It makes sense to me that some people are more sensitive to taste of the bitter resin that naturally coats the outside of quinoa (even after some serious rinsing I don’t think all the resin is completely removed).  I find that the bitter flavor I taste when I eat quinoa is balanced by combining it with something naturally sweet, such as the fresh tomatoes and sweet basil I use in this dish. 

When I made this, I also had a summer squash on hand so I roasted that with an onion for some more natural sweetness, and all in all it was a delicious lunch.  You can use whatever veggies you have, but if you have the time, go ahead and roast them to bring out their naturally sweet flavor.  For a nice fall variation, I think this would be delicious with the sweetness of roasted pumpkin or butternut squash.

End of Summer Vegetable Quinoa

(Yield:  2 servings)

1 small-medium summer squash, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 TB olive oil

1/2 c quinoa

3/4 c water

2 medium tomatoes, diced

Salt and pepper

A small handful of fresh basil

Preheat oven to 425F.  Toss together the summer squash, onion, oil, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Spread the veggies out in an oven-safe dish and roast until tender, about 18 minutes, giving the veggies a stir one or two times while roasting.

Soak the quinoa in cold water for 15 minutes.  Strain it through a fine mesh sieve, then thoroughly rinse it under cold running water.  Transfer the quinoa, 3/4 c water, and a pinch of salt to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid.  Bring to a boil over medium heat with the lid off; once it boils, give it a stir, cover it, and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.  Cook for 14 minutes, turn the heat off, and let it sit with the lid on for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

Use your hands to tear the fresh basil.  Gently stir together the roasted veggies, quinoa, diced tomato, and torn basil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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  1. says

    I am glad that someone else out there is enjoying quinoa as much as I do. Did you see my quinoa and avocado salad? It was superb. All this quinoa talk is making me want to make my vegetarian chili with it… hmmmmm. ;) This salad looks delish!

  2. says

    I still cannot care much for quiona. I did try, but something isn’t quite right. Having said that, I did embrace other grains though, like barleys…

  3. says

    I do like quinoa–and rinse it well before cooking. It’s so protein complete, and versatile. Your salad looks delicious. As we move into fall, butternut is a natural pairing, too.

    Interesting about the “bitter” gene. I wonder if it is similar to that which governs people’s experience of cilantro—to some it tastes soapy, or like dirt.

  4. says

    How interesting! I graduated with a TON of cooking and taste classes, and I never learned that. Or at least I don’t -remember- learning that. Guess that’s why I don’t care for savory quinoa. HOWEVER, that recipe looks wonderful…and since your recipes are always wonderful, SAVE! :)

  5. says

    I think, many are still afraid of quinoa. I used to be until I tried it. Now, I look for all the recipes I can find, so thank you for giving me another one, a nice vegetarian one.

    Do you think that doing My Meatless Mondays is going to turn me into a complete vegetarian. I keep getting all these fantastic recipes and am making less and less meat, as a result.

    Photos are beauties, as usual.

  6. says

    it’s so interesting that our taste is genetically determined, i didn’t know that! It makes so much sense though, some people prefer some food and hates others! It’s related to the blood type study too. I’m type A and my body digests better plant food than animal food. :)
    I don’t like much quinoa, it’s not the taste, but the texture is kind of bland. But yours look really pretty ;)

  7. Lazaro says


    Interesting read. It’s such a fine line when you are cooking for so many people, with disparate tastes. What a balancing act.

    Love this quinoa dish. Since my wife is vegetarian I’ve had to incorporate lots of new products, quinoa being one of them.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    I’m learning neurology now in school and perception just fascinates me. How one thing can appeal to one person and then be abhorrent to another. Crazy. The cilantro gene is another weird one. I can’t imagine not adoring cilantro, but if it tasted like soap to me…well that’s a whole other story.

    Thankfully, I am a quinoa LOVER! And this looks like one colorful delicious dish. Great balance of flavors!

  9. says

    That was such an interesting read Faith, I never knew that little fact. I’m now wondering if I would have been able to taste the bitterness in the cilentro test. The dish looks very inviting, I’m imaging I’d really like this combination.

  10. says

    What a fascinating experiment! I wonder if I would taste the bitter too.
    I have still never tried quinoa, in all honesty I have stayed away from it cause it looks waaaaaay too healthy, but one of these days I might break down and try it LOL.
    *kisses* HH

  11. says

    Your post was very interesting and educative. I love the veggies you have put in this dish. I agree with you that roasting the veggies do highlight their flavors.

  12. says

    To be honest I’m one of those people who has not been won over by quinoa yet. But this recipe makes me want to give it another chance for sure. Also clicking on your links about genetics and taste/eating behavior. I want to be a dietitian and find all that stuff fascinating.

  13. says

    I didn’t know there was a bitter gene… most interesting. I do know that quinoa has the saponin coating that tastes unpleasant if you forget to rinse and bang it around in the strainer for a bit (who hasn’t forgotten to do it at least once?).

    I just had a 20-something couple over to dinner and we were talking about tastes. I wonder how much more they taste than myself and Dr. Lostpast after a lifetime of tastes and smoking and breathing polluted city air etc. Do I spice things more now that I am older??? Who can know what another person is really tasting?

  14. says

    What a neat study! I’m thinking I’m among the 25% that wouldn’t have tasted the bitter b/c I have never found quinoa to be bitter. In fact, it’s my favourite grain! :)

  15. says

    I love, love, love quinoa and would choose it over rice or pasta. I especially love that it gives me a tiny bit of protein, which I hardly get anywhere else.

    Great recipe…it looks delicious!

  16. says

    So does that mean you’re a supertaster, Faith? I think I’ve heard of the test before, but I’ve never tried it. More importantly, you had 500+ people in your class?? Woah. Big class :O

    Your quinoa dish looks so good! I find that when I soak quinoa for a little while and try to scrub off the outer coating, it tastes a little less bitter – I’m not sure if you’re supposed to do that or not, though. Either way, great dish!

  17. says

    I have had a few members of my family tell me that quinoa scared them too…I loved being able to serve them a tasty dish to help change their minds! This looks like a delicious twist on a salad I usually make in the winter months. Thank you for sharing a summer version…one that I can make now!

  18. says

    I still haven’t tried quinoa Faith, but I hope when I do that I’m one of those that likes it. I would like to try this with butternut. That is so interesting how you tasted bitterness and your friend didn’t!

  19. says

    I remember that same test in school, but I can’t remember if I tasted or not.

    Reminds me how some people think that cilantro tastes soapy and some don’t?

    Your dish looks delicious! I have a bag of quinoa that I have been meaning to use and never did. Saving your recipe!

  20. says

    I like quinoa, especially prepared the way you have done with such fresh delicious ingredients. Thanks for sharing a lovely recipe and for visiting my blog via Lazaro’s guest post. I like your blog, you have some interesting and mouth watering things here:) I will check back to see your latest creations, thanks again.

  21. says

    wow, Faith. That was really interesting what you said in the first paragraph. I suppose I’ll be one of the people who tastes bitter because I cannot enjoy quinoa for that reason!
    This salad looks so bright and colorful though….it probably will change my mind! :-)

  22. says

    So interesting – I’ve never even given any thought to a possible genetic link to taste perceptions. I certainly don’t taste anything bitter when I eat quinoa, to me it just tastes bland so needs to be bolstered by bold flavours. Your salad looks perfect for that.

  23. says

    There are obviously acquired tastes as well as evolved preferences. But there are also some things beyond our control. There’s some deal with lemons and being introduced to them at a particular age. Changes how you taste things forever. I’ll have to look that one up again

  24. says

    I’ve read similar things about people being genetically predisposed to liking or disliking cilantro, and also (sorry if this is gross) about people being able to smell asparagus pee LOL.

    This recipe looks fantastic, and I can’t wait to try it!

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