You might have heard rumors that there’s a grain-like food that’s kosher for Passover. Better than a new flavor of matzah, quinoa (pronounced keen-wha) is a seed that resembles and tastes like a grain, and can be found at your local grocery store.
While it’s a relative newcomer to the American kitchen, having only been introduced to the United States in the past 20 years, this ancient Andean seed has been an important food in South America for over 6,000 years.
A member of the goosefoot family, which is also the family of beets, swiss chard, lamb’s quarters, spinach, and amaranth, quinoa is not technically a grain, but can be used as one in cooking. Year-round, quinoa is perfect for vegans, those with celiac, and anyone looking for a change from rice. It’s gluten-free and contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
You might be wondering why quinoa is allowed on Passover, when your favorite rice and lentils are not (if you are an Ashkenazic Jew who abstains from kitniyot). In actuality, it is a matter of some dispute and depends on which rabbi and kashrut supervisor you rely on. However, several major kosher certifiers in North America, including the Orthodox Union and Star-K, approve it, so long as it’s processed in a factory that does not also process grains.
Ashkenazic rabbis ruled that kitniyot — products made from corn, rice, millet, and legumes — are prohibited on Passover because they are too similar to grains that are already forbidden on Passover. But quinoa didn’t make the kitniyot list, because it is a New World crop, and medieval Ashkenazic rabbis were not aware of its existence.
Furthermore, because quinoa grows in the high altitude of the Andes, where hametz (bread or any food that has been leavened or contains a leavening agent) does not grow, there is no chance of cross-contamination with the grains on the do-not-eat list.
As long as quinoa is processed in a factory that does not also process grains, it’s kosher for Passover and ready for your holiday table. Trader Joe’s and Ancient Harvest brands of quinoa are certified by the Half-Moon K (KOAOA) agency. The Orthodox Union also certifies some brands of quinoa as kosher for Passover.
There are still those that forbid quinoa, however. For example, the Vaad Hakashrus of the Eida HaCharedis, a Jerusalem-based haredi Orthodox organization opposes quinoa on Passover because it believes quinoa is included in the kitniyot prohibition. The group’s leaders also express concern over the potential for cross contamination with any prohibited grains. But the companies mentioned above assure that this is not a problem, and the majority of the kosher-keeping community seems to be embracing this wholesome and satisfying Andean treat for their week without wheat.
Quinoa cooks up very easily and is far more forgiving than rice. Each individual quinoa seed has bitter saponin covering it, to naturally repel birds and insects while the seed grows. In order to remove the bitter residue you need to wash your quinoa carefully. Simply place the quinoa in a bowl or pot, cover with water, and swish. The water will appear soapy in the bowl due to the saponoin. Pour out through a fine mesh strainer, and repeat the washing until the water runs clear. Many companies selling quinoa in the United States pre-wash their quinoa, but the box will let you know for certain if washing is necessary.
Quinoa is extremely versatile. It can be used in soups, salads, in place of rice for an entree, or even in desserts. Quinoa comes in various colors, including the most common white, but also red, green, and black. It cooks in less than 15 minutes and it’s easy to tell when it’s done because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse and drain quinoa thoroughly before using.
Place quinoa, water, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes to steam.
When done, the grain will appear translucent and the germ around the edge will be opaque and visible.
Pronounced: khah-METZ or KHUH-metz, Origin: Hebrew, bread or any food that has been leavened or contains a leavening agent. Hametz is prohibited on Passover.
Pronounced: hah-RAY-dee, Origin: Hebrew, literally “in awe of” or “fearing” God, this means ultra-Orthodox or fervently Orthodox.
Pronounced: kahsh-ROOT, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: kit-nee-YOTE, Origin: Hebrew, meaning “little things,” the term here refers to legumes, corn, rice and other non-hametz foods prohibited for use on Passover by some Ashkenazic rabbis in the medieval period. Many Sephardic Jews (and Conservative Jews) do allow them on Passover.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.