Quinoa is a whole grain with a naturally high protein content, and when prepared the right way, it’s fluffy and flavorful. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) makes a great stand-in for pasta, which comes in handy because these days, lots of people are trying to avoid gluten, the protein in wheat that causes bread to be chewy. Gluten causes indigestion in many people, and for people who suffer from celiac’s disease – an extreme form of gluten intolerance – eating gluten can have severe health consequences.
Quinoa, which hails from the Andes region of South America, is perfect as the main starch at a well-rounded meal, but it also makes a great base for grain salad and it creates a terrific breakfast porridge. When cooking with quinoa, there are a few rules to follow for making dry, pilaf-like grains. Follow these rules and you’ll understand why so many people are newly converted fans of this ancient grain.
- Soak the quinoa for anywhere from one to twelve hours. Soaking makes the quinoa more digestible, and in my opinion, it makes the taste a little sweeter.
- Rinse the quinoa well in cold water; this helps to soften the natural bitterness of the grain and remove any impurities.
- Follow the right grain-to-water proportions: when cooking quinoa, use one cup of grain with two cups of water.
- Sauté the grains. After soaking and rinsing the quinoa, drain it well. Put the quinoa in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir the quinoa occasionally until it’s fully dry, roughly 3-5 minutes, then add a small amount of oil (1 tablespoon oil per 1 cup of grain). Sauté the quinoa in the oil for a minute or two, until it begins to release its nutty fragrance, and then add the cooking water.
- Cook the quinoa with boiling water: as you cook the quinoa in the pan, heat the cooking water in a pan or teapot to boiling. When you’ve sautéed all of the soaking water out of the quinoa, add the correctly measured amount of water. Once the whole mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and boil.
- After the quinoa has finished cooking, let it rest for 10 minutes in the pot, undisturbed. Then, fluff it with a fork, season, and serve. (If you eat the quinoa too soon after it has finished cooking, the texture will be mushy and wet, instead of fluffy and dry.)
Quinoa with Wild Rice and Walnuts
One of the best things about quinoa is its versatility. This recipe makes a perfect side dish, but add milk and sliced fruit and it becomes a hearty breakfast porridge, or toss it with vegetables and let it cool and you have a delicious grain salad. Soaking the walnuts helps to mellow their natural bitterness.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup wild rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups boiling water
Place the quinoa, walnuts, and wild rice in a bowl and add cold water to cover. Soak for 1 to 12 hours. Strain and rinse well.
Put the quinoa mixture in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir often until all of the water has evaporated, roughly 3-5 minutes. Add the oil and salt and stir to combine. Add the water and bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 25 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the quinoa rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and season with salt. Serve.
The cooked quinoa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.