How to Cook Quinoa
How to Cook Quinoa
When I cook quinoa, I find there’s really only two ways it can come out: fluffy and mushy. Mushy quinoa is about as delicious as mushy anything, but perfectly-cooked fluffy quinoa is a real treat. Healthier than rice, with a more distinct flavor and nuttiness, quinoa is the best way to eat grains.
If you were to look up “how to cook quinoa” online, you’d probably be advised to cook it in a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to liquid at high heat. I’ve been cooking quinoa for two years now as a rice alternative, and through trial and error I’ve found a better way to prepare it. Basically, when I use a lower quinoa to liquid ratio at low heat over a long period of time, the grain comes out perfectly fluffy and ready to add to any recipe. Quinoa is not a food item you cook when you only have a half hour to get dinner ready, but if you cook a large batch ahead of time, you can add a little healthy grain to any meal item.
What Is Quinoa?
Pronounced “KEEN-wa,” this relative of leafy green vegetables cooks and eats like a grain with much fewer carbs and much more energy. The flavor is somewhere between brown rice and oatmeal, and when prepared correctly, it has a much more pleasant texture and flavor than rice or other grains.
A cup of quinoa yields just 127 calories, 2 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbohydrates, grams of fiber, and 4.5 grams of protein. That’s more protein than brown rice, fewer carbs, and a much more pleasant taste.
The first step in cooking quinoa is preparing it to be cooked. There are basically two kinds of quinoa you’ll find in the stores: rinsed and unrinsed. I’ve never had much luck with the rinsed form of quinoa–it always requires extra rinsing anyway. You may as well save a little cash and buy the raw unrinsed version.
I like to soak my quinoa for an hour, but if you’re in a rush you can get away with a 15 minute soak. The soaking actually impacts the nutrition as well as the texture–you get more fiber and protein with soaked quinoa.
After soaking, rinse the grains for a couple of minutes in a fine metal strainer. Don’t have a fine metal strainer? Use a regular colander lined with cheesecloth. Quinoa is so small that a standard colander won’t hold the grains in.
Here’s where my recipe differs from the standard quinoa prep: I add one part quinoa to one and one-fourth parts cooking liquid. You can start to get creative with your quinoa at this step, by choosing a cooking liquid that goes with the dish you’ll be putting the quinoa in. For example, if you’re adding quinoa to a standard soup, you should cook in a mixture of chicken stock and water, or beef stock and water, etc. I personally like the flavor added to quinoa by cooking in fish stock, but some people may find it too exotic.
Bring your quinoa and liquid to a solid simmer, then reduce the heat to low. It’s vital to cover the pot before you cook the mixture for 35 minutes. Not 30 minutes, not 40 minutes–35 minutes is by far the best cooking time. Trust me; I’ve made gallons and gallons of quinoa.
After 35 minutes, pull the pot off the heat and let it sit with a cover on for 5 more minutes. If you’ve followed directions, you now have a pot of fluffy beautiful quinoa to add to any recipe you want. Before you add the quinoa to a dish, “fluff” it with a fork. This basically means you “break up” the grain before adding it to a dish.
How to Serve Quinoa
I like to use quinoa the way I’d use rice, especially brown rice. Quinoa takes less time to cook than brown rice and is far more nutritious and tastier. I add quinoa to stir fry recipes, black beans, soups and stews, and even sometimes eat it all on its own with a pat of butter and a little sugar. Really, recipes that are good with quinoa are limited by your imagination alone.
My Favorite Quinoa Dish
I’m a carnivore at heart, even though I try to eat healthy and have as many meatless meals as possible. When I found myself with a nice pork tenderloin and no idea what to do with it, I immediately though of quinoa. Pretty much all the quinoa in the world comes from Bolivia and Peru. This “South American superfood” is still grown in its native farmland, a place where they coincidentally really love their pork products.
Here’s my standard quinoa recipe. I use it to introduce quinoa doubters to this awesome grain.
Quinoa-stuffed Pork Tenderloin
If you try to eat a gluten-free diet or want to avoid a bread stuffing because of carbs, this quinoa stuffing is perfect. You don’t have to add it to pork tenderloin, as I’ve used it with equal success in turkey and chicken as well as beef, but this is a fairly traditional South American pork dish.
1. Cook quinoa using the above directions.
2. Heat olive oil in a skillet and cook a little onion, garlic, apples, raisins, pine nuts, and mushrooms until the onion has softened. Stir in white wine, and cook a full minute until the liquid starts to evaporate. Mix in the quinoa stuffing until it is even.
3. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cut a pork tenderloin from one side through the middle. Open the two sides and spread them open. Pound the tenderloin with a meat mallet to a thickness of a half inch.
4. Season the tenderloin–I use cinnamon, salt, and black pepper. Spoon the quinoa stuffing onto the tenderloin, then roll it up and tie with twin.
5. Roast in your preheated oven until the pork is no longer pink in the center, about 35 minutes. Cover the roast with aluminum foil, and let the pork rest for an additional 10 minutes.
Quinoa is a delicious, healthy, and adaptable grain from South America. Gluten-free and full of protein and fiber, it can be added to pretty much any dish in place of other grains.