The quinoa you'll see in most stores is white (like the one in the picture). Red and black quinoa are a little harder to find. Here is a picture of the black one tossed with tuna to make a salad. If you are in the Boston area, you can get red and black quinoa at Christina's spices in Inman Square. What's the difference in taste? Black and red quinoa have more crunch than white. Think of it as wild rice vs. white rice.
How do you cook quinoa?
Let's start with the basics. First of all, ignore the directions on the box. They are pretty bad for most grains, but particularly for quinoa. You'd think that the people who sell these products would know the best way to cook them. But I am guessing they are constrained by how much info will fit on the back of the box and by consumers' laziness. If the instructions imply that it's a little harder than "combine x cups of grain with y cups of water, bring to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes" the helpless home cook will get so overwhelmed, he won't buy their product.
But stick with me, and helpless home cook you'll be no more! Here is how to prepare quinoa that will knock the socks of your guests.
Quinoa with Onions
This recipe uses the risotto technique of toasting the grain in the pan and then gradually adding the liquid until the grain is cooked al dente. Luckily, quinoa risotto is much easier to prepare than true risotto. Quinoa doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot the way rice does, so there is no need for constant stirring. You might want to hang around in the vicinity of the kitchen, but most of the time, you'll be free to do something else (like make a nice little mushroom ragu or roasted veggies to put on top of your quinoa ;)
To adopt this recipe for quinoa that is served cold, skip the onions in the beginning and the butter in the end. Reduce oil to 1/2 Tbsp, and when the pan is hot, start by toasting the quinoa (Step 2). I prefer white quinoa for hot preparations and red/black quinoa for cold, but you can experiment until you find your favorite way to eat them.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp butter
- Set a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil, onions, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until onions are nicely browned, 12-15 minutes. While the onions are cooking bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
- Add quinoa to onions and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
- Add the wine and wait for it to absorb.
- Add 1.5 cups water and 1.5 tsp kosher salt (=3/4 tsp table salt). Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers very gently. Cook stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed. You don't need to stir much in the beginning, but as the amount of liquid in the pot gets low, start stirring every couple of minutes.
- Taste the quinoa. If it's too hard, add another 1/4 cup of water and continue to cook stirring occasionally. Continue to taste and add water until it's almost soft, but still retains a bit of crunch. The total cooking time after you add the water is about 20 minutes.
- Take off heat, stir in the butter. Taste and add more salt if needed.