Monday 19 May 2014

How To Cook Quinoa

By now, most of us have heard of, if not already tried quinoa ("keen-wah"). It's a very popular item in the healthy superfood culture. It is high in protein, fibre, essential amino acids, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, iron and is completely gluten free. Everyone would benefit from more of it in their diet. So it's important to know what to do with it and how to use it in new and interesting ways. Quinoa has been eaten for up to 4000 years since the time of the Andean people in tribal South America. The Incas treasured it as a sacred grain and was often the inspiration for ceremonies and was the prime dietary fuel for their warriors. It has a very interesting history if you care to look into it further. For the sake of the masses, I'm going to cut right to the chase.

You will be happy to know that quinoa is very simple to make and has a process nearly identical to cooking rice. Follow these steps and you will end up with beautifully fluffy and nutritious quinoa every time.

Quinoa naturally has a slightly bitter flavour. It isn't by any means overpowering, but there is a way to reduce the bitterness significantly, if not completely, by doing this first step. Not only does it get rid of the bitterness but it brings out the natural nutty aromas of quinoa. So in other words, we're taking bad flavour out and putting good flavour in. 

Before we proceed, it's important to note that like most varieties of rice, quinoa requires twice as much liquid. So a cup of quinoa needs 2 cups of liquid. That's what everybody says but truth be told I find that 1:1.9ish works even better for both rice and quinoa. Just a personal feeling, but 1:2 will still do the trick so don't worry about fussing over the last drop. 

Quinoa seeds have a natural coating of saponin, which can account for a slightly bitter or soapy flavour. To avoid that, measure out your quinoa and place it in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse it thoroughly with cold, running water for about two minutes. Then shake to drain sufficiently. 


Warm a dry pot over medium heat and add the drained quinoa to it. Although it should be well drained, it will still contain excess moisture in it. Stir the quinoa in the pan to allow the excess moisture to slowly evaporate over the course of a minute or so. In turn, this will slightly toast the quinoa which will bring out a nuttier flavour. 

Add the liquid, You could simply use water with a little salt in it, stock or a combination of the two. In this demo I'm using half water-half chicken broth. Do whatever suits you.

Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. 

Give the contents of the pot a quick stir and then replace the lid. Reduce the heat down to low and allow the quinoa to cook, undisturbed for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this period.


After 15 minutes have elapsed, remove the pot from the heat but allow to sit for a further 5 minutes before removing the lid. Fluff the quinoa with a fork. All of the liquid should be absorbed at this point. The quinoa will appear larger, fluffier and a number of them will have sprouted. 

As long as the quinoa has had a little seasoning there is nothing stopping it from being a ready-to-eat side dish at this stage. It can be used to replace rice or couscous in a variety of applications and doesn't do a bad job of sopping up additional sauce so it can be served along with a stew, curry or tagine. Most experts agree that quinoa is in itself a whole protein so it can replace the meat or seafood in a dish. Quinoa is fantastic in salads, either as the base or a contributing addition. 

You could mix it with cereal or granola and fresh fruit for a healthy breakfast option. You could use it to stuff a variety of vegetables like bell peppers and pumpkin, you could even stuff chicken with it. Add to any kind of fritter or savoury cake for a cheeky, healthy twist. Form into patties with a beaten egg and whatever else you want for vegetarian burgers. Quinoa can be used as a very non traditional yet very effective replacement for rice in sushi. It an even be incorporated into puddings, pastries and cakes for dessert.

Your options don't end there, be creative! As long as at the end of the day it makes it to your digestive system, there's no wrong way to eat it. Try a variety of ways to incorporate more into your diet and which methods you enjoy most. 

For the demo on  this blog, I used this batch of quinoa to add to a massaged kale salad with grated carrot, chopped radishes, cashews, sultana raisins and scotch bonnet pepper that I topped with blackened chicken breast. This made for a very satisfying dinner and a number of lunches for the week. 

Having a passion for food is a great thing, but it shouldn't overpower our necessity to be healthy human beings. Quinoa is a fantastic ingredient to keep us on the right track and when prepared properly is quite delicious. What do you have to lose? If you have the option of buying quinoa packaged or in bulk, opt for the bulk option. You will get a better deal on the exact same product. 

Last month I featured quinoa in another application with shrimp. I hope that I have inspired you to make a quinoa dish soon. Your body will thank you for it and it doesn't have any bland or yucky, flavours or textures like so many other "healthy foods" do so long as it's prepared properly.

Please refer back to this post whenever you need to for inspiration. I'm happy to help you with any questions or remarks you may have for the comments section below. 

Thanks everyone and trust that I'll be back soon with more ammunition to make you be the best foodie and cook you can be,

Until then,

PS: Quinoa seeds come in different colours from white to reddish, brownish and even black. They all have the same nutritional value and cook the same way. You can even mix these varieties for a more festive looking dish.  

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