Sesame quinoa salad

Last June, I hiked the Inca Trail with my siblings. We must have eaten quinoa, pronounced keen-wa ( I feel like a pretentious health nut every time I say it) breakfast, lunch and dinner. Originating in the Andes, quinoa is an edible grain-like seed, high in protein, closely related to beets and spinach. Not much flavor by itself, but it’s kind of a miracle food, as well as a blank slate on which you can improvise with various sauces and seasonings. I had an incredible creamy (think mac and cheese) version in Cusco that I want to replicate some time. Anyway, while it features strongly in Peruvian cooking, we ate it in stir-fries with soy sauce, prepared this way by rural Peruvian farmers who work as porters on the Inca Trail. This method of cooking, or chifa,  is a fusion of Chinese cooking methods and dishes with local Peruvian ingredients.

How did this happen exactly? While wandering in Lima, we made a point to visit it’s China town. Chinese immigrants opened restaurants in Peru’s Capital in the 1920s, but due to limited supply of Chinese ingredients, were forced to improvise with South American and Andean substitutes, and thus a cuisine was born, one that seems to be widely consumed by Peruvians, not only the Chinese community.

Sesame quinoa salad


  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • 1/4 head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated into a pulp
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 carrot, peeled into long ribbons
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


Cook the quinoa by adding it to 2 cups boiling salted water (much like cooking rice). Let it cook roughly 20 minutes before draining. Toss with carrot, cabbage and scallions and a tablespoon of chopped cilantro.  Make the dressing by mixing the sesame and canola oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Add to the quinoa mixture. Add sesame seeds and extra cilantro to garnish. Serve chilled.