Q: Is quinoa a grain or seed? How do you prepare quinoa so it’s not mushy?
A: These questions about quinoa come up often. Although quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a seed that comes from the goosefoot plant, it’s commonly put into the grain category for a couple of reasons. (Quinoa is also related to spinach and beets.)
First, it’s treated like a grain because you cook it like a grain. Secondly, quinoa’s nutritional properties, especially its fiber, mirror those of grains like millet and amaranth.
Known for its nutritional qualities, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, meaning it’s a complete protein. Other key benefits: 1 cup cooked quinoa contains 8 grams protein and 5 grams fiber.
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Cooking tiny, disc-shaped quinoa is, for the most part, easy. Once cooked, quinoa becomes soft and the flavor somewhat nutty. But before cooking quinoa, it’s recommended that you rinse it first under cool water. Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool water. Rinsing rids quinoa of the saponin, which is bitter, that coats the seed.
You can also toast the quinoa before cooking. Doing so will enhance or intensify quinoa’s nutty flavor. To toast, rinse the quinoa first in a few changes of water. Add it wet to a dry skillet and toast, while stirring, until it begins to turn golden.
But there are other schools of thought on rinsing and toasting quinoa. According to the makers of I Heart Keenwah snacks, most quinoa is sold prerinsed. So, on their website www.iheartkennwah.com, they recommend toasting and then rinsing, saying that quinoa “won’t roast as well if it is soggy and not fully dried.”
Although quinoa cooks quickly, it still retains a little crunch. To tell if it’s done, look for the slight white crescent-shape to appear.
To cook 1 cup of quinoa to serve as a side dish, place it in 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are tender, about 15 minutes.
Like many grains, quinoa is a great addition to summer salads or mixed with some of summer’s bounty and served as a side dish. You can use quinoa as the main ingredient in a salad or add it to potato salad or a mixed greens salad. When using quinoa in salads, I find a vinaigrette works better than a creamy dressing. The tiny seeds tend to get lost in creamy dressing-based salads.
After a holiday weekend of potato and pasta salads, this quinoa tabbouleh hit the spot. The dressing is citrus-based, and the salad has all the typical additions of traditional tabbouleh. Serve it as a side salad or with pita or lavash bread.
Yield: Serves 8 as a side dish
From “Fit Fuel: A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well, Getting Fit and Living Your Best Life” by Robert Irvine, (Irvine Products, $29.99). Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
1 pound raw quinoa
1 1/2 quarts water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/3 cup finely chopped mint
3/4 cup chopped curly parsley
1 bunch green onions, washed, ends removed, sliced thin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pita or lavash bread, optional
Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cold water. Place the quinoa in a medium saucepan and add the water. Bring to just a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and continue to cook for 10-12 minutes, or a few minutes longer for softer textured quinoa.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and grapeseed oil; set aside.
Once cooked, transfer quinoa to a large bowl and add the tomatoes, mint, parsley and green onion. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and, if desired, serve with pita or lavash bread.