Just like rice

Quinoa should be treated as a go-to staple, not as an offbeat health food.

qinoa 88 (photo credit: )
qinoa 88
(photo credit: )
Quinoa seems to be a foodstuff most people have heard about by now, yet very few actually cook it regularly. A good explanation for the phenomenon might be that for a long time it was almost always confined to those little half-kilo, overpriced, plastic-wrapped bundles in health-food stores, and was less available elsewhere. I used to feel that quinoa was an oddity, fit only for rigidly healthy loonies who eat things like wheat grass juice. Yet, I've found over the past few years that my notions were simply an unfortunate cultural misconception, and certainly pure slander on a culinary level. Yes, the stuff is a food fit for health gurus, but it is also a very versatile "grain" (it really is a relative of spinach), offering a great chewy "bite" and rich nutty flavor. Now that it's widely available in bulk at well stocked spice shops and in the organic co-ops that are springing up everywhere, there is no reason not to treat quinoa at least as a heavy-hitting rice, bulgur or couscous substitute, if not a go-to staple. Like any perfect gift to humankind from above, there is a catch. The seeds are naturally coated with a very bitter and slightly toxic gloss, which needs to be rinsed away. Store-bought quinoa has usually already been washed to remove the bitter saponin coating, yet a good rinsing at home will remove any last trace of bitterness. One can either rinse the seeds in a colander under running water or soak the seeds in cold water for a couple of minutes, then change the water and soak once again for a few minutes more. The most straightforward way to cook quinoa is just like rice. After it has been rinsed (as is also the case with rice), add 2 cups of water or stock for every cup of quinoa, along with some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to minimum and cover tightly. Cook for 17-20 minutes, until translucent, soft and fluffy, yet still offering that trademark quinoa al-dente "bite." GERMINATED QUINOA MEXICAN SALAD 4 1⁄2 cup of your favorite dry beans 4 2 bay leaves 4 1 tsp. nutmeg 4 Juice of 2 limes, or 11⁄2 lemons 4 1 garlic clove, minced 4 1 tsp. cumin 4 1⁄4 to 1 whole fresh chili, seeded and minced (optional) 4 1⁄3 cup olive oil 4 1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped 4 1 red pepper, diced 4 1 cucumber diced 4 3 Tbsp. shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted The day before making the salad, soak the rinsed quinoa in cold water for an hour. Drain, and leave on the counter in a strainer for 12 hours (cover the strainer with a kitchen towel to keep out insects). While you're at it, soak the beans in plenty of water for the night. The following day, place the beans, bay leaves and nutmeg in a medium pot with 4 cups of water and cook until very soft (about 2 hours). Add 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper during the last 20 minutes to season the beans. Combine the lime juice, garlic, cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper in a mixing bowl and gradually add the olive oil while whisking vigorously. Alternatively, combine everything in a small food processor or blender and blitz to a thick dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning and acidity. Rinse the germinated quinoa, drain, and place in a large mixing bowl. Drain the beans and add them, but don't forget to remove bay leaves. Add the coriander, pepper, cucumber and pumpkin seeds. Add some of the dressing, mix gently, taste, and continue adding until the right intensity of flavor is reached. Other serving suggestions
  • Double the dressing amount and use the extra to marinate chicken breasts that have been cut into nuggets. Dip in flour or cornstarch and pan fry in a little olive or sesame oil. Serve over the salad.
  • Turn the dish into a stir-fry: Omit the cucumber and replace with mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplants, thin strips of beef, etc. Stir fry everything, gradually adding each item by cooking time, holding off with the quinoa and the dressing. During the last 3-4 minutes, add the quinoa. When done, turn off the flame and dress. QUINOA HOT CEREAL 4 2 cups milk 4 1 cup quinoa, rinsed as described 4 1⁄4 cup instant rolled oats 4 1⁄2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract 4 1 tsp. cinnamon 4 50 gr. dried apples, diced 4 25 gr. toasted pecans or other favorite nut 4 25 gr. raisins 4 Fresh fruit Place the milk in a medium pot over medium-low heat. While warming, cut a slit across the vanilla pod and scrape off all the seeds into the milk (if you're using the pod). Throw in the pod as well. Add the cinnamon. Gradually bring to just under a simmer. Add the quinoa and oats, stir, and then cook covered for 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is soft and plump. Remove the vanilla pod. If you are using vanilla extract, add it at this point. Gently stir in the honey or sugar to your liking. Divide into serving bowls and sprinkle over the toppings, adding a touch of cream or extra milk, if desired.