The recent fashion for “superfoods” began in some way with quinoa or quinoa, that pseudocereal of Andean origin that suddenly seemed the essential food that you had to try yes or yes. It is not necessary to attribute magical powers but the quinoa Yes, it is a very healthy product that, in addition, can be delicious. The problem is that we don’t always cook it well.
As with tofu, many people reject quinoa out of ignorance, abhorrence of fashion – I don’t blame them – or because their attempts at it in the kitchen have failed. If you have a packet of quinoa languishing in the pantry I encourage you to give it another try; These are the tricks to always cook a perfect and very tasty quinoa.
Neither bland nor watery: the best quinoa is fluffy and slightly crunchy
Although it is compared to rice, bulgur or couscous, quinoa is not a cereal as such. It is considered a pseudocereal because it really is a seed, and that sets it apart with unique nutritional characteristics. It stands out for its high-quality vegetable protein content and essential amino acids; it is also satiating, rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins, and has a low glycemic index.
But this time we want to focus on its gastronomic qualities to cook a quinoa that you want to eat. Cooking it is not difficult: just cook it in plenty of liquid until it is just right, like rice or pasta. However, in the details of that cooking there will be the difference between a watery dough and blandurria or an enjoyable snack.
A really tasty quinoa has to present the grain slightly loose, fluffy and that it presents a gentle resistance to biting. We do not want a porridge with a rubbery or soft texture, bland and sad; only in few exceptions will we be interested in obtaining a creamier finish.
Let’s think about rice or pasta itself, isn’t there a abyss of flavor between the well-cooked rice, with the loose grain, and the pasta al dente? The same thing happens with quinoa. And it may be a bit bland on its own, but the same goes for other cereals or any cooked pasta.
You don’t always have to wash it beforehand
When we started cooking with quinoa we learned that it was essential wash it very well before use. The grains are covered in saponin, a natural substance that ingested in large quantities could be toxic, although its beneficial properties and applications are also being studied.
It would be very difficult to become intoxicated by ingesting an excess of saponin through food; however, it has a very bitter taste. When quinoa began to be commercialized directly from Andean plantations, it surely did arrive untreated, but today almost all brands have washed the grains previously to eliminate that bitterness for the consumer.
Today almost all quinoa is sold already washed
In any case, it is best to read the manufacturer’s instructions and taste the quinoa before and after cooking. If it still contains high amounts of saponin, it will show when sucking on a raw grain. Otherwise the best is save this step, not only because of the loss of time and water, but also because it will make cooking a bit difficult.
Toast raw quinoa before cooking
I like to do this trick too, depending on the recipe, with other cereals, raw or cooked legumes or even with seeds. If we have pre-washed the quinoa it is also a almost essential step to completely eliminate that first moisture, and we will also achieve a better flavor, with hints of walnut or dried fruit.
Ideally, use a heavy-bottomed casserole or frying pan, which transmits heat well, over high heat. We can use a little oil to prevent it from sticking and to enrich it even more, but it looks very good roasting it alone. Depending on the dish, it may also be advisable to brown it together with spices, ground or whole, such as caraway, cumin or turmeric.
By previously roasting the raw quinoa we will obtain a better flavor and texture
If we cook it long enough to very high temperature We can even “inflate” it a little, as if they were tiny popcorn. You just have to be very careful that it does not jump and not burn it.
Another good option is fry it with other ingredients, just as we would do when preparing, for example, a rice. It is as simple as poaching some onion, garlic and tomato, incorporating the raw quinoa with some spices and sautéing the whole for two or three minutes before adding the water.
Reduces the volume of liquid
Theoretically, you have to follow the instructions of each manufacturer to know the exact ratio of dry quinoa and water or broth. However, most brands ask for double – or triple! – liquid, almost always causing that the quinoa is watery or overcooked.
To avoid this, try cooking it with a ratio of 1: 1 and 1/2; for example, a glass of quinoa with 1 and 1/2 glasses of water. You can always add a little more liquid towards the end if you come up short. And it is rare that that happens.
Cook with lid on low heat
Once everything has come to a boil it is recommended to bring the fire power to almost the minimum, cover the pot or casserole and cook unopened for about 15-20 minutes. We do not want the hot steam to be lost, so avoid the temptation to peek inside until at least 10 minutes have passed.
The exact time will vary depending on the brand, type of fire, or variety of quinoa. We will use the package directions as guidance, but in the end you have to be guided by experience. A well-cooked quinoa will begin to be transparent, with that characteristic more marked outer ring, but we do not want it to separate.
It is always preferable to reduce the volume of liquid and adjust the cooking time to allow the grain to rest once cooked. Check that all the water has been absorbed when the quinoa is already al dente, or if it lacks very little, and recovers quickly. Let stand 5 minutes away from the heat and then aerate with a fork, gently.
It is the idea that is applied to the preparation of precooked couscous, helping the grain to separate with the fork while still hot, to achieve that fluffy texture. For an extra point of flavor add a splash of extra virgin olive oil, black pepper or some spice before resting.
Even easier: cook the quinoa like pasta
One day when I had a lot of trouble in the kitchen, I thought not to complicate myself and I prepared the quinoa as if I were cooking pasta. It’s a ridiculously simple method which works wonders:
- Put a large pot or casserole with plenty of salty water to heat.
- When it is boiling with joy, add the quinoa and reduce the heat a little.
- Cook for about 15 minutes, until al dente, slightly firm.
- Drain quickly with the help of a strainer, without rinsing it.
- Let cool in another container or on a tray, spreading it out so that it loses heat.
Re-toast once cooked
This step is optional but highly recommended if we want a firmer and looser guinoa. Once cooked, try sautéing it in a pan with some oil, adding some spices if you want. Keep the fire soft so as not to burn her, we want the moisture to evaporate completely and mark the grain so that it is toasted a little.
Do you cook or enrich?
Quinoa can be a great garnish to accompany stews, dishes with sauces or the dressings and vinaigrettes of a salad, but cooked on its own it can be bland. If you’ve applied the above tricks and it still seems tasteless, try cooking it in something other than water.
In addition to adding spices to the roasting phase, you can put in the water some bay leaves, cloves, curry leaves, a bouquet garni, garlic cloves … or also a splash of soy sauce, tamari, worcestershire , tabasco, miso or vinegar. Will also earn a lot if we change the water totally or partially for broth.
There is another technique that I learned cooking white rice just as valid for quinoa: brown a couple of sliced garlic cloves with good extra virgin olive oil and sauté the freshly cooked quinoa. If we are making a more exotic dish, adding a cinnamon stick and some cloves will work wonders.
Alternative ways to cook and serve quinoa
We said at the beginning that quinoa is very versatile, and that also applies to cooking techniques. Preparing it as we have seen so far, we can use it in all kinds of recipes: stir-fries, pilaf, salads, side dishes, a poké bowl, veggie burgers, wraps … But there are alternative ways to cook it.
- Adding a few handfuls directly raw to soups, stews, stews and stews, for example to enrich a casserole of lentils or chickpeas.
- Leaving it semi-cooked to finish your cooking in the oven, stuffing peppers or other vegetables.
- Grinding the raw grain to obtain a flour that we can use to thicken or make a vegan and gluten-free béchamel sauce.
- Cooking it as if it were rice in a paella, or applying the same idea to a rice baked.
- Adding the quinoa to sweet doughs, of cookies and cakes, or bread doughs.
- Using it to enrich the filling croquettes, meatballs, dumplings …
- Cooking the quinoa in milk or vegetable drink to make a creamy dessert, rice pudding style, a pudding or porridge with fruit. If you prefer a more “biting” texture, mix the cooked grain with the cold milk, or by heating it very slightly.
Cooked quinoa can be kept for 3-4 days in perfect condition in the fridge, as long as it has cooled down completely and we use a good clean, hermetically sealed container. Also freezes smoothly, …