Miso Quinoa Pilaf with Grilled Cucumber, Eggplant, and Soy Dressing

August 13, 2012
2 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6 as a side
Author Notes

Last summer I experimented with toasting grains and then cooking them in milk. This gave the grains a pronounced nutty fragrance and flavor that I loved. Last week, with soy on the brain, as I was browning butter for a batch of fiveandspice’s Simply Raspberry Muffins, it occurred to me that if I toasted grains in butter, added miso and then cooked them in milk, the nutty quotient might increase. Increase it does, with a peanut buttery aroma and richness from the miso, creating a quinoa pilaf ready to be dressed. But how to dress it? Inspired by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Spicy Cucumber Salad, a recent Genius pick, which has you bruise the cucumbers, I decided to try grilling cucumbers. They are surprisingly delicious! Grilled cucumbers maintain their crunch, and to my palate, the flavor brings them closer to their squash counterparts, zucchini. I added eggplant for textural and flavor contrast and a salty, tangy soy dressing to tie it all together. It is equally delicious warm, room temperature or cold the next day. —gingerroot

Test Kitchen Notes

Thanks to gingerroot, I have found my go-to recipe for cooking quinoa. The result is a nutty, hearty, goodness that’s absolutely addictive. Pair this with a bright, salty, tangy dressing and you’ve got a great side or meal. And this dish lends itself to creativity, so you can have fun with the type of veggies—grilled or not—you choose to add. —figgypudding

What You'll Need
  • For the Pilaf
  • 1 large English cucumber
  • 2 small, long eggplants, about 5 to 6 inches (I used Gretel variety from my raised bed, Fairytale eggplants are comparable or 1 slender long eggplant of a larger variety)
  • Olive oil for grilling
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (can sub vegan butter)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup 2 % milk (can sub nut milk, such as almond)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white miso (we used barley miso, which is darker)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • For the Soy Dressing
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free tamari
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Juice from 1/2 an orange (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  1. For the Pilaf
  2. Prepare a medium gas or charcoal grill.
  3. Trim ends off cucumber and eggplants. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut cucumber crosswise into thirds, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Place vegetables in a baking pan and drizzle cut sides with olive oil, rubbing oil with your fingertip to cover the vegetables. Set aside until grill is hot.
  4. While you are waiting for your grill to heat up, start your quinoa by melting butter in a small saucepan. Add quinoa and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to toast the grains. After about 5 minutes, quinoa should start to pop and smell nutty (a few grains will turn golden brown). At this point, add milk and water, and whisk in miso. Cover pot and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 17 to 20 minutes until grains are tender and liquid has been absorbed. Remove pot from heat.
  5. Grill cucumber and eggplant pieces cut side down until lightly charred and tender, about 5 minutes for cucumber and 7 to 8 for eggplant. Flip and grill skin side down for 2 to 3 minutes more. Cucumber skin will start to wrinkle and eggplant flesh should yield easily when poked with a knife. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Slice cucumbers and eggplants crosswise into half moons.
  6. Fluff quinoa and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add sliced cucumber, eggplant, and half of the cilantro. Whisk or shake dressing to re-emulsify and add to taste (note that tamari and miso can both vary widely in saltiness, so dress sparingly at first, then add more as you like). I use about half of the dressing. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold to combine components of pilaf. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pilaf is also delicious cold, the next day. Enjoy!
  1. For the Soy Dressing
  2. Combine tamari and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in orange juice and canola oil. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid.
  3. This will make more dressing than you need for this recipe. Use remaining as a dressing for other grilled vegetables or as a marinade for meat.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • WoooPigSooie
  • Horto
  • healthierkitchen
  • aargersi
  • EmilyC

Recipe by: gingerroot

My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love. Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.

36 Reviews

Christina March 1, 2018
So, has anybody tried this dairy free? Can I replace it with almond or coconut milk with the same amount?
gingerroot May 29, 2018
Hi Christina,
I made this tonight using almond milk for my daughter (who has been vegan for about a year) and it totally works. Enjoy and let me know if you try it.
WoooPigSooie January 31, 2018
Just made this tonight and it was excellent. Two comments -- 1) the quinoa looked really funny and mushy to me at the end of the cook time but when I tasted it, it was delicious. The flavors are fantastic and it still had a bite to it. 2) Despite my best efforts, the flavor profiles (miso, soy, grill) and maybe the textures were a little two much for my 2 and 4 year olds. But I'll try it on them again sometime... And I will definitely be making my quinoa this way again soon.
gingerroot February 1, 2018
Hi WoooPigSooie! Thanks for letting me know. It definitely does not look like regular cooked quinoa at the end - I'm so glad you liked the flavor! Cheers, Jenny
Mira August 12, 2015
I made this for dinner tonight — and I love it. I substituted quinoa with flax seed (crazy, I know) but it turned out wonderfully delicious ♥ Dumped the entire thing over a bed of lettuce for a salad. Finally have a salad that has more 'body' to it.Will definitely make this again.
gingerroot August 12, 2015
Thanks for your comment, Mira! Will have to try your flax seed sub one of these days.
Horto August 6, 2014
so if you rinse the quinoa, do you sauté it when wet?
gingerroot August 12, 2014
I'd try to dry it before toasting (with clean kitchen towels? shake off excess water in a sieve? combination?). I think if you tried toasting it when really wet it would steam instead of toast.
Horto August 29, 2014
have you actually done that?
Rox July 10, 2014
this looks right up my alley! l love quinoa salads year round.
question: normally i rinse quinoa to avoid the bitterness then simmer it. will toasting it mask it enough or do you buy no-rinse quinoa?
gingerroot July 11, 2014
Thanks, Rox! The quinoa I usually use does specify that it does not need to be rinsed. That said, when toasting quinoa I never rinse it (because I always feel like it would steam instead of toast) and have not noticed any bitterness.
Maggie K. July 10, 2014
This looks great but I'd love to make it dairy free. Do you think you could substitute with almond milk or coconut milk and earth balance?
gingerroot July 11, 2014
Hi Maggie,
I don't have much experience with dairy subs but based on my palate, I'd try coconut milk before almond milk. I've also not used earth balance. I'd love to hear your results if you give this a try.
Deborah C. July 6, 2014
confusing: why bother with gluten free tamari when using barley miso? barley, rye and wheat are the three sources of gluten.
gingerroot July 6, 2014
I guess it depends on your tolerance. My husband, who has celiac, is sensitive to regular soy sauce, but does not seem to have any problem with miso of any sort.
Deborah C. July 6, 2014
regular soy sauce always has wheat in it; miso may or may not depending upon what it is made with. Celiac disease is too serious for your husband to be experimenting.
Deborah C. July 6, 2014
my husband and daughter both have celiac disease, so this is our way of life. I read all labels
gingerroot July 6, 2014
I hope you try this with a gf miso and let me know what you think. Thank you for your comments.
Deborah C. July 6, 2014
it does look yummy, which is why I was reading these recipes. Just thought the GF specification about the miso and not about the soy sauce was incongruous. Thanks
triestoeathealthy July 6, 2014
This sounds wonderful! My husband is not fond of "orange" dressing, though. Can you recommend a substitute for the orange juice?
gingerroot July 6, 2014
You could try using lemon juice. White wine vinegar might also work. Let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!
triestoeathealthy July 6, 2014
Will do, thanks!
healthierkitchen August 14, 2012
I would never have thought to cook the quinoa this way - what a creative and delicious idea that I will have to try soon!
gingerroot August 15, 2012
Thanks, hk. Let me know what you think if you try it.
Beth July 14, 2014
I made this and loved it as a summer lunch--no need to think of it just as a side dish!
As yummy as it was, the big discovery for me was your way of cooking quinoa. Miso gives the quinoa such a delicate but flavourful balance, that I plan to have this as a base for many future dishes!
gingerroot July 14, 2014
Thanks for letting me know, Beth! So glad you enjoyed this.
aargersi August 14, 2012
Yep! I would eat this all up!!!
gingerroot August 15, 2012
Thanks, a! It also makes delicious leftovers...I had it for lunch a few days in a row.
EmilyC August 14, 2012
This is really lovely, gingerroot. Love the sounds of this method of cooking quinoa...yum!
gingerroot August 15, 2012
Thanks, EmilyC! Although delicious with the addition of grilled veggies and dressing, cooked this way the quinoa is worthwhile on its own as well.
Panfusine August 13, 2012
Wow... this sounds Fabulous.. I can mentally taste the miso & quinoa together.. Beautiful pairing!
gingerroot August 14, 2012
Thanks for such a lovely comment, panfusine. The miso really adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the quinoa.
hardlikearmour August 13, 2012
I would never have thought to grill cucumbers. Nicely done!
gingerroot August 14, 2012
Thank you, hla!
lorigoldsby August 13, 2012
I love how you take so many points of inspiration and create a truely inspired dish! I hope I'm brave enough to try grilling the cukes...might just sub the zukes!
gingerroot August 14, 2012
Thanks, Lori! I hope you do try grilling the cukes, they are delicious! Zucchini would also be good, though I really liked that the cucumbers maintained their crunch. Let me know if you try it.