Healthy Cooking on a Budget: Quinoa and Vegetable Pilaf

By Emma Balek, Sargent Choice Nutrition Center Practicum Student & Senior Dietetics Student
and Sarah Butler Mazerall, MBA, MS, RD, LDN, SCNC Registered Dietitian

Recently in the SCNC’s Healthy Cooking on a Budget Class we took on the challenge of making a one dish wonder that gives us all the grains and vegetables we need in a meal all from one pan. To boot, this recipe contains several different veggies giving us a nutrition boost from all those different colors. Pair it with a serving of lean meat, beans or tofu and you’ve got a balanced meal! If you’re looking for a way to add more flavor to grains, this recipe is a great way to do so!

To make the recipe we started with the quinoa, since it takes the longest time to cook. First, you should rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer to remove the bitter residue on the grain. Next, we added the quinoa, vegetable broth and thyme to a covered saucepan on high heat (the vegetable broth and thyme are the flavor powerhouses!) Once the water was boiling, the heat was reduced to a simmer and left to cook for about 20 minutes. Make sure you still have a lid covering your pot during this time.


While waiting for the quinoa to cook, we began preparing the veggies.  First, we chopped the onion and minced the garlic.  Garlic can be minced with a knife, but owning a garlic press is helpful, especially if you plan to cook with garlic a lot.  During our class the instructor, Sarah Mazerall, showed a great resource on the that walks you through the differences between mincing and chopping. Here at the SCNC we love the folks behind the Kitchn because their blog is filled with incredibly helpful resources for beginner chefs.

As we learned in class, onion, garlic, and herbs are often referred to as “flavor enhancers” because they add complexity to the dish without relying sodium. Once the onion and garlic were prepared Sarah turned began to heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Sarah added only a small amount of onion and garlic to the pan at first so she could test the temperature of the oil in the pan. You will know the oil is at the right temperature for sautéing onions and garlic when you hear the onion and garlic start to sizzle. At that point you can add the rest of the onion and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring frequently until the onion softens, about 3-4 minutes.

Next, add the carrots and sauté for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally and covering the skillet, if necessary, to prevent sticking. We added the carrots before the bell peppers and peas because carrots take longer to cook. Next we stirred in the tomato and black pepper, covered the pan, and removed from the heat.


Once the quinoa was finished cooking we added the vegetable mixture to the quinoa. The final result was pleasing not only to the eye, but to the palate as well!

Sargent Choice Quinoa & Vegetable Pilaf
Serves: 4


1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 tomato, diced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Grated Parmesan, low-fat Cheddar, or low-fat Feta Cheese (optional)


  1. Thoroughly rinse and drain the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer (rinsing removes the residue of the grain’s bitter coating).  In a covered saucepan on high heat, bring the quinoa, broth, and thyme to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered until all the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.  Cover and set aside.
  2. While the quinoa cooks, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, until softened.  Add the carrots and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally and covering the skillet, if necessary, to prevent sticking.  Add the bell pepper and peas and sauté just until they are hot, a couple of minutes.  Stir in the tomato and black pepper, cover, and remove from the heat.
  3. When both the quinoa and vegetables are done, combine them.  Add salt to taste.  Serve topped with cheese if you would like.

Nutrition Information per Serving:
Calories: 260
Fat: 6 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Protein: 9 g
Carbohydrates: 43 g
Fiber: 7 g

Now all we need is a protein to make this dish complete. Looking for inspiration? Check out a few of our recipes here:

  1. Simple Pan Seared Salmon
  2. Garlic Chicken
  3. Lemon Herb Tofu

Inspired to Cook Quinoa More Often? Check out our other recipes featuring Quinoa on our blog:

  1. Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad
  2. Quinoa Cakes with Black Bean Salad
  3. Quinoa Risotto with Arugula and Parmesan
  4. Kale & Quinoa Salad


  • Recipe modified from Moosewood Restaurant’s cookbook, Simple Suppers, Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table. Sarah Mazerall consistently raves to her classes about the Moosewood Restaurant’s cookbook series. Sarah discovered her mother’s copies of Moosewood Restaurant’s cookbooks while she was in college and gives credit to the authors of these cookbooks for teaching her the fundamentals of cooking through their detailed recipe procedure explanations. Note that all of their cookbooks feature Pesco-Vegetarian recipes (featuring fish, egg and dairy containing recipes but no poultry, pork or beef recipes.)
  • Recipe analysis was preformed assuming that no cheese is added to the recipe
  • Don’t like quinoa? Try substituting whole wheat couscous or brown rice in place of the quinoa. Just be sure to modify the broth in the recipe according to the amount of liquid you need to add to the uncooked grain. Additionally, you will need to modify the cooking time of the grain.
  • To make this gluten free make sure to choose a gluten free vegetable broth.