Quinoa is an ancient grain that has become all the rage in recent years for it's high protein and fiber contents and versatility. It is a wonderful addition to salads, a great side dish and is even works well in soups. When quinoa is cooked correctly it feels light, airy, and fluffy and the texture is heavenly. But when cooked wrong, it is a horror show. Undesirable results span the extremes between crunchy when undercooked, to a sticky, starchy, mush when overcooked. Both results are equally unpalatable.
I want to demystify quinoa to make it enjoyable to all who seek it's delights. Here are some essential tips which will change your quinoa experience from inedible to incredible.
Step one: MEASURE YOUR QUINOA the ratio of quinoa to liquid is always 1 part quinoa to two parts liquid. However, when I cook any grain, I always add about a tablespoon extra of water "for the pan" per cup of the grain to make up for the evaporation factor. I was taught this many moons ago from an amazing natural foods chef I worked with and it never fails me. So if I am cooking 1 cup of quinoa I will add 2 cups water plus 1 tablespoon.
Step 2: ALWAYS RINSE YOUR QUINOA use a fine mesh strainer and rinse the heck out of it and then let it drain for a couple minutes before cooking.
Step 3: Add your Rinsed Quinoa and your measured water to your pot with a pinch of salt, a bloop of oil or a pat of vegan butter. I normally serve quinoa with other things that have a lot of flavor so I keep my quinoa very basic to enjoy it's natural merits. If you choose to, you may add veggie bullion or dry herbs as well at this point in the cooking process but I do not find it necessary.
Step 4: Bring to a boil and cover, then turn down to a simmer for about 15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the quinoa looks as if it has popped. You can look closely and see the little telltale circle in the middle has broken. RESIST ALL URGES TO STIR WITH A SPOON. Never stir any cooked grains with a spoon as it will break them and make them mushy. If you see there is no water and you see the little funny broken ring your quinoa is ready to take off the heat and let sit for 5-10 mins with the cover on as you get the other items ready. Then uncover and fluff with a fork gently. GENTLY! Trust the process!
Ideas for uses:
If you want to use quinoa for salad toppings you can gently tap it out onto a sheet pan to cool faster to be usable for meal prep containers. You may also like to make a cold salad with quinoa as the base like a pasta salad but healthier. It pairs well with citrusy dressings and combos of both raw and roasted veggies for a heart healthy meal or side dish.
I have also made soups with quinoa that were sensational. Like with any grain or pasta add in, I like to keep my quinoa separate from the soup and add in when serving as I like it to retain it's integrity. It is wonderful in a white bean and kale soup, in a chickpea minestrone, really any place you would put rice or pasta into soup you can sub in quinoa with success. Please do not ever add into a big pot of warm soup. You will end up with an aberration much like that of swollen noodles.
I really like putting quinoa into burritos and burrito bowls. It pairs perfectly with beans and chilis and makes a hearty meal which somehow feels a bit lighter than it's starchier cousin rice. And it's higher fiber and protein and lower fat content make it an ideal food for carb lovers who are watching their weight.
People often make jokes about quinoa. It has a reputation to be trendy, hipster or tree hugger but there is a reason healthy foodies love it! Once you master the simple art of preparing quinoa you will be enjoying an ancient food that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Often revered as the "mother of all grains" quinoa is truly awesome and will surely become a staple in your kitchen.