This cheesy quinoa is an easy and delicious side dish. Adding shredded cheddar cheese and spices turns tasteless quinoa into a recipe everyone loves. It’s creamy, cheesy and a healthier alternative to potatoes or rice.
Quinoa and I have gone through quite a relationship. When I started this site, it was all the rage as a gluten-free grain everyone was eating, and I jumped into that trend full steam ahead. During that time, I created recipes like this cheddar chicken quinoa bake, quinoa cakes, and I even made quinoa granola.
Out of nowhere, however, it turned on me. This tiny little grain started giving me unfathomable stomach pains whenever I ate it, and I had to give it up for years. Weirdly, the same thing happened to my mom around the same time.
I wasn’t too bothered by this, considering quinoa isn’t something you really cry about not eating (we’d be having a different conversation if it was chocolate), but it did make things quite tricky when visiting Peru in 2018, where they put it in literally everything. Trying to avoid quinoa in Peru, where it’s natively grown, is like trying to avoid fries and fast food in the US.
Fast forward to the 2020s, and I decided to start experimenting with it again. At first, it was just eating granola bars with dried quinoa as an ingredient — small doses. Then I tried some grain mixes that included it and ate a tiny portion. I worked my way up from there to where I am now, where I can tolerate it in reasonable amounts.
After much research, it turns out that this is a common thing that happens with quinoa, and it can be exacerbated by not rinsing the grain. I now only buy organic quinoa and rinse and soak it very well before cooking.
This cheesy quinoa recipe was created in 2012 and was one of my favorites back then. It turns an otherwise pretty bland grain into a cheesy concoction that even any kid will happily scarf down. Now that quinoa and I are on civil terms again, it needed an update.
Ingredients to make cheesy quinoa
- Uncooked quinoa — Choose organic if you can, and make sure to rinse it well before cooking.
- Broth — Using either vegetable broth or chicken broth adds much more flavor than cooking the quinoa in water.
- Spices — Garlic powder, ground mustard (mustard powder), and onion powder help bring flavor to the grain.
- Zucchini — This is the secret ingredient in this cheesy quinoa dish. Shredded zucchini melts right into the side dish, so you barely know it’s there. It’s a great way to add some extra nutrition. It can be left out, however, if you choose. Frozen zucchini works excellent if you don’t have fresh.
- Cheddar cheese — I like sharp yellow cheddar for this recipe, but any kind can be used. Shred the cheese yourself rather than buying pre-shredded. Store-bought pre-shredded cheese utilizes starches to keep the shreds from sticking to each other, and they just don’t melt the same.
- Greek yogurt — This ingredient makes the quinoa super creamy and adds more protein.
- Salt & pepper — Use these to taste to bring life to the dish.
How to make this cheesy quinoa recipe
The first step is to cook the quinoa. Add the broth and spices to a large pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the rinsed quinoa to the pot, stir to combine, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
My Pro Tip
Quinoa is like rice. The water-to-grain ratio is 2:1, and the cooking method is the same.
Cook the quinoa until the broth is fully absorbed; this will likely take about 15 minutes, then fluff it with a fork.
Once the quinoa is fully cooked, remove the lid and add the shredded zucchini, grated cheddar and yogurt. Mix all the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.
My Pro Tip
Stove-top is the fastest, but quinoa can also be cooked in an Instant Pot or rice cooker.
Why everyone will love this recipe
Adults will love cheesy quinoa for its taste and nutrition. Kids will love it for the cheese. I get that quinoa is typically not something kid palates gravitate towards, but with enough cheese, anything is possible.
With just a handful of ingredients and all standard pantry items, this recipe is a keeper for quick and healthy meals.
Quinoa mac and cheese is another popular way of turning the grain into something decadent, comforting, and very unlike its natural bland state, but I think this cheesy quinoa side dish is even easier.
How to serve this dish
It’s hard to find a meal that wouldn’t pair well with this cheesy quinoa. I treat it just like I would a side of potatoes, rice or pasta.
Alternatively, you could add some chopped tomatoes, black beans, salsa, avocado and cilantro to make it a meatless meal with a Mexican vibe. Try adding cumin to the spice mix if you go that route.
Storage and tips
To store any leftovers, transfer the quinoa to an air-tight container and refrigerate it for up to 5 days. It can also be frozen for up to a few months.
If you want to play around with this recipe, add different vegetables to the cheesy quinoa, like small broccoli florets, baby spinach, kale or sliced bell peppers. You can also change up the seasonings to suit your taste.
More quinoa recipes to try
Quinoa pancakes — These are fluffy and incredibly delicious with the addition of bright lemon.
Warm quinoa cereal — This breakfast bowl is pure comfort food and one of my favorite ways to enjoy breakfast in the colder months. The recipe also gives options for using other grains.
Quinoa crumble — Turn quinoa into dessert with this peach and cherry crumble that uses toasted quinoa in the topping. It’s crunchy and quite the summer treat!
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
- 2 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup shredded zucchini, loosely packed
- 1 cup grated yellow cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- salt & pepper to taste
- Combine the rinsed quinoa in a sauce pot with the broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a low simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed by the quinoa.
- When fully cooked, remove the lid, add the shredded zucchini, cheddar cheese and yogurt and stir until well combined.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.