Quinoa is rapidly growing in popularity though for most, it is still a relatively unknown food. Luckily, preparation is fast and easy and once you have mastered it, you will find that it can be used in a wide variety of recipes from bread to salad to burgers and cookies.
A tasty and nutritious food, quinoa can happily - and beneficially - replace couscous, rice and numerous grains in many of your favourite vegetarian recipes.
Ironically this "new superfood" is one of the most ancient of foods, cultivated in the Andes for millenia and known to the Incas as "Mother Seed". Moreover, it isn't even technically a grain.
Quinoa (pronounced "Keen-wa") is a member of the Chenopodium or goosefoot family. That means that it is closely related to many of our well known leafy vegetables like spinach and chard. There are many types, including red and black seeds, but the most common is the cream-coloured variety pictured here. In this guide on how to cook quinoa, the cooking method is the same regardless of variety, though some darker varieties may require slightly longer cooking.
The question of soaking quinoa is probably one the points that has caused some confusion about its preparation. Traditionally it was necessary to rinse quinoa very well and soak it for a couple of hours before cooking.
This is because quinoa seeds are naturally coated with a substance called saponin which gives the grain a bitter flavour.
These days, commercially sold quinoa has almost always been pre-washed, making soaking unnecessary. However, I would advise you to check with your retailer that the quinoa you are buying has been pre-washed as I imagine this may not be the case in every country. If you feel happier soaking, 15 minutes soaking in plenty of cold water should do it. After soaking, rinse well and drain.Personally, I just give it a good rinse. I apologise if this sounds obvious but don't use a normal colander for this. Quinoa seeds are pretty tiny and they will escape down the sink if you do! A good quality, strong handled strainer or sieve is best for this.
Quinoa benefits from roasting it before cooking. This is not an essential step but roasting means that the cooked quinoa will have a better flavour.
To roast your quinoa, place a pan over a medium heat. Add 1 cup or 180g of quinoa (enough for 3-4 people) and stir for a few minutes. Do not use oil or water. Dry roasting is what's required here. Soon the grains will begin to emit a pleasant roasted aroma and may start to pop.
At this point, add 2 cups or 475mls of water for 1 cup of grain. Cover and bring up to the boil, turn the heat down very low and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
When discussing how to cook quinoa, cooks differ about the ratio of quinoa to water and I've seen recipes vary from using 1½ times the water to up to 3 cups of water to quinoa. Using twice the volume of water works fine for me. I think rather than the amount of water you use, the crucial step in ensuring it is fluffy and not soggy is having the patience to let it sit after cooking.
When the water is absorbed, remove from the heat. Open the pot, cover the quinoa with a clean cloth, replace the lid and leave covered for 5-10 minutes. This will ensure that the quinoa is light and fluffy.
Serve in place of rice or couscous, or try one of my quinoa recipes.