Friday, August 15, 2008


Melissa at Baking A Sweet Life has done something no other food blogger was able to accomplish for months. She got me to participate in a food blogging event. Her secret weapon was quinoa. "Quin-what?" you say. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It's been one of my favorite grains since I tried it 4 years ago. It has a slight crunch and goes particularly well with seafood and poultry. But I've served it as a risotto-style first course and topped it with roasted veggies for a great vegetarian meal.

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.

Serves 4

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
  1. 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.
  2. Add quinoa to onions and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the wine and wait for it to absorb.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Take off heat, stir in the butter. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Can be made in advanced and rewarmed on medium heat with a little water to prevent sticking. Stir frequently when rewarming.


jo said...

I once had a conversation with Lorna Sass about quinoa and she suggested that rinsing the grain to remove saponin (bitter compound) is no longer required for most commercial quinoa as it is done during the processing of the product for sale. Years ago when we shopped in co-ops (as she put it) it was necessary.
We received in a big batch of the red at cac and have been using it. I like the nuttier taste.

Helen said...

Hi Jo,

Thank you for rescuing me from the rinsing! I never liked this step. You have to wash the strainer and all... I always did it because Cook's Illustrated said to do it and I figured they tested it both ways.


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tantra flower said...

Just another example of why your blog is quickly becoming my favorite food blog ever. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

DwarvenChef said...

I discovered Quinoa in culinary school and have had it as a pantry staple ever sence. Good to see it pop up in good places :)

MrOrph said...

I love incorporating quinoa in our diet now. I only discovered it about 4 months ago. I have found the red variety at WF and recently made a salad with it. It was really good.

I will definitely be trying this risotto!

cathy said...

I made quinoa last night for the very first time. We thought it was good, but I think that it could be better. I'm going to try your quinoa with onions recipe. Thanks!

Helen said...

Hi Cathy,

Do try this method. The recipes on the boxes of quinoa don't do it justice.


Mario Bergés González said...

I didn't have white wine in the kitchen, and tried it with red cooking wine. Since I was already changing the recipe, I also added porcini mushrooms and some dried italian herbs to the mix. It was great!

Helen said...

Just tried Jo's suggestion of not rinsing the quinoa. It was just as good and I didn't have to wash the strainer. Thanks Jo!

Katerina said...

Thank you for introducing this grain [to me] - now it's one of my favorite! Even our little ones liked it - I mix it with yogurt to make it more "sticky" and easier to feed. Thank you

- Katya