4.12.2012

Cook it up right

There’s something I have to get off my chest, today. I hope you’ll bear with me. It’s small, and round, and edible, of course. It’s my favorite grain that’s not a grain at all. Yes, I’m talking about quinoa.


I’m not usually one to make demands about what one must or mustn’t do in the kitchen. At least not in your kitchen. Food is personal, and you’ve got to do with it what you want. You’re the decider! So go ahead and eat your steak as bloody or as burnt as you please. Douse it in ketchup, or mayo, or grape jelly, for all I care. Cook and let cook! Eat and let eat! Except for when it comes to quinoa. This, for the simple reason that I have been enjoying the heck out of quinoa lately, and I think you will, too, if you cook it up right.

For a long time, I made quinoa much like I make rice. (I also have some things to say about the way we’re all taught to cook rice, by the way, but that’s a story for another day.) Anyway, you know how it goes: some measure of quinoa and about twice as much water, simmered down until it has either evaporated or absorbed. There’s a reason I used to do it this way. The box told me to. And so did any number of reputable print and on-line sources. It seemed obvious enough, and depending on how I timed the cooking and calibrated the boil (what does a true “simmer” look like, anyway?), the result was more or less fine. But somewhere along the way, after at least half a dozen times of more-or-less-fine, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the stuff. The flavor was borderline nice, I suppose. There was something faintly nutty there, but it was muted, bogged down. And the texture. Was this how it was supposed to be? Mildly soggy at best, mushy at worst? I nearly typed the word “swampy” in that last sentence, which leads me to wonder just how “fine” my early days of quinoa really were.

Then, in the late summer of 2006, the August issue of Gourmet turned up in my mailbox with a recipe for quinoa with corn, scallions, and mint. I could stop right there, or maybe with the fact that the recipe also includes fresh lemon zest and juice, and a touch of honey, and you’d already know that this recipe had a lot going for it. But what really got me was the cooking method. You start the quinoa on the boil, as I’d come to expect, but carry on only until it’s just coming around to tender. Then, you drain it, and set it in a sieve over an inch of simmering water to steam the rest of the way through to done. The technique is brilliant, and so is the quinoa that comes out in the end. It’s soft without the sog, breaks between the teeth with the lightest pop, and when you fluff it with a fork, you actually fluff it with a fork. Fluff it, not smoosh it. Because the individual seeds remain individual seeds, clump-free, lump-free, and every bit as delicious as all the quinoa you’ve ever eaten has let on it might be, given the proper circumstances.

So there you go. Thanks. I feel much better now.

Lemon-Scented Quinoa with Scallions and Mint
Adapted from Gourmet

The original recipe includes four ears worth of fresh corn kernels, boiled on the cob for five minutes, then removed, or simply raw. It’s wonderful that way in the summer. This time of year, I make it without the corn, and it’s still excellent. Make the dressing with butter or, for a something different, olive oil. I like it both ways.

1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ stick (¼ c.) unsalted butter, or ¼ c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. mild honey
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 c. (about 10 oz.) quinoa
4 scallions, thinly sliced
½ c. chopped fresh mint

Rinse the quinoa in three changes of cold water to remove any bitter coating. Bring a 4- to 5- quart pot of salted water to a boil, add the quinoa, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until just slightly tender. (Think al dente pasta.)

Drain the quinoa in a sieve, then set the sieve over an inch of simmering water in the same pot. (Make sure that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the sieve.) Cover the quinoa with a folded kitchen towel and cover the whole thing with a lid. Steam until the quinoa is tender, fluffy, and dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, still covered, for another 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dressing: Whisk together the lemon zest and juice, butter or oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Gently fold the quinoa into the dressing with a rubber spatula, then fold in the scallions and mint. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if you'd like. Serve at any temperature.

Makes enough for eight.

32 comments:

Lily said...

Very cool! I've always been a bit hesitant toward quinoa for the same reason. Nice to know there's another way.

I wouldn't mind hearing your thoughts on rice, either.

jasmine said...

you really nailed the way i used to feel about quinoa; really left something to be desired when it came to boiling it to death. i cant wait to try this new technique! wonderful blog post, and im a huge fan of your blog. :)
best,
jasmine

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

I'll have to give your method a try. I've always liked the idea of quinoa. But I never really want to make it ... because it has never really tasted all that great. Mushy. Muted. I most certainly identify with swampy, sadly. So thank you, at the very least I have a renewed interest in the grain.

Anna said...

This sounds really good! I do love quinoa plain with beans, or with maple syrup and yogurt for breakfast. I haven't tried adding a lot of other flavors to quinoa, but this looks like a welcome change.

Molly said...

As my sieve has is currently on hiatus, I will tuck this recipe away until the corny days of summer.

A sieve is now on the ever-growing list of things to procure by next April, right underneath a whisk and a French press.

This recipe made my day, Jess. Thank you.

Rosiecat said...

I confess, I've never gotten on the quinoa bandwagon (nor the bandwagons for millet, amaranth, or any number of other grains). But you always point me in the right direction, Jess, so maybe it's time to add quinoa to my life and my kitchen :-)

Happy Friday, my dear.

hannahbeth said...

I recently found your blog and have been enjoying it quietly thus far. But now I have to say, after years of eating my own "fine" quinoa, I cannot WAIT to give this a go!! Eagerly anticipating a new realm of expectations for my go-to quick cooking grain...

Amanda Hawkins said...

I'm excited. Really excited. Is it weird that I am excited? So excited, in fact, that I come off sounding sarcastic. But really, I can't wait to try this as soon as possible. Thank you for getting that off your chest.

Mary said...

Hi Jess,

I just discovered your blog from Luisa over at The Wednesday Chef...and I'm so glad that I found you. This is a beautiful blog!

I was intrigued today by your post about quinoa. As with so many grains, proper preparation is key. But a few years ago I learned that "properly prepared" means a lot more than what us modern day cooks think.

To properly prepare grains, so that we receive optimal nutrition from them, we have to look to cultures that have been eating quinoa or other grains for generations (as in centuries). So, with that in mind, proper preparation can mean looking at how folks in their native lands prepared their native (local) grains.

Sally Fallon, author of the book Nourishing Traditions is very knowledgeable about all of this. (I can find it a bit daunting!) Take a look at this article from the Weston A Price Foundation - the Foundation that Sally runs to preserve and educate others about traditional food preparation...

http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/living-with-phytic-acid

I'd love to know what you think about all of this.

Thanks again for sharing such great recipes...and pictures. You and Luisa have such wonderful blogs!

Love,
Mary

A.W. said...

Yippee!! I feel I can finally come out regarding my unappreciation for quinoa! But will definitely give your technique a try and hopefully jump onto the quinoa bandwagon.

queencake and titangirl said...

i had to laugh so much reading this. always wondered about my "fine"quinoa:))shall try this very soon.best from berlin,anja

koshercamembert said...

I never seem to know when my quinoa is done - thanks for the tip. Looking forward to trying it out soon.

Nishta said...

we love quinoa already making it the boring way, so this can only be EVEN BETTER. I love how you make everything sound. miss you.

Anonymous said...

I came to your blog by way of The Wednesday Chef too! Now I click on over to your posts with excitement, and as much for the words as for the recipes. So thanks! Feels good to get that off my chest :)

queencake and titangirl said...

hello again.tried it yesterday with your method and it`s soooooo much better!thnak you!

Julie said...

I've made this one before! Love it. I have a similar method - I drain my quinoa then return it to the warm pot, cover it with a tea towel and lid, and let it steam - the towel absorbs excess moisture as it does, and the result is yes - fluffy! Yum.

redmenace said...

I've made it quinoa this way before and I love it lots. Yes, agreed. Much better than the soggier version recommended by the box. I love the sound of this recipe. Must try it! xo

James said...

Cool technique, I'll have to give it a shot. I use a lot of quinoa, but my approach is similar to that classic saying about cooking liver: the key is "heavy makeup." It should be nice to try something more au natural. Thanks for this!

Linz said...

Hi there! I just posted a link and pic to your Broccoli salad on my blog. It looks amazing, and I can't wait to try it!

http://themilktree.wordpress.com

Thanks!

alanachernila said...

Ha! This happened to me with quinoa too, when I discovered Lorna Sass's quinoa amaranth corn chowder. It was a revelation! Poor, poor, quinoa, always wearing the wrong clothes...

El said...

I'm a quinoa addict so this recipe is right up my alley. Delicious.

Megan Gordon said...

Whoa. Yep, never heard that one. My dad, strangely enough, makes the most fluffy, amazing quinoa of all time and I always ask his secret and he says it's all about "the final fluff." I've tried vigorous final fluffs and gentle final fluffs and have yet to get at transcendent quinoa -- looking forward to trying this method though, Jess. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy (almost) weekend, m

Kelsey said...

Totally trying this technique. My boiled-to-death quinoa often feels gritty even "swampy" like you say, especially with the red sort. Giving this a go, soon.

Meg said...

i'm pretty sure you have just changed my life... well, a good portion of my weekday lunches, for sure. i will be trying this new method with my next batch of quinoa, thank you! oh, and nice to meet you, it's my first time here (first time here, and you've already changed my life. amazing.)

Julia said...

yum! i love love love quinoa, and this new (to me) variation sounds delicious.

notterschool said...

Recipe looks amazing. Can’t wait to try it out :)

Anonymous said...

Great recipe! I made it following the recipe exactly and it tasted wonderful and the texture was great. I just need a bigger sieve. For leftovers, I added veggies and feta cheese and that was wonderful too (I didn't need to add more dressing). This will become a regular for me. Thanks.

GG Mora said...

I can't be the only one of your readers who's getting concerned. Hope everything's OK.

megcjones said...

i've eaten quinoa, but have never had the cajones to make it myself, at home. you made it sound so simple...i'll have to give this a shot. thanks :)

kale said...

ok, thank you! i did not know of that method but it makes a lot of sense and i am going to try it. and i am awaiting your breakdown of rice cookery, because i need some help in that area. i cannot seem to get it just right but i also stubbornly refuse to buy a rice cooker. darn it it is just something i should be able to figure out!

fudgingahead said...

I can't wait to try this! I bought some quinoa a little while ago because I kept seeing people use it and wanted to try...I've been looking for the perfect recipe, and this sounds great!

Lauren said...

This quinoa was wonderful! This technique produced the most comforting, soft little grains to soothe my soul last night after a trying workday. Lemon. Mint. Honey. Perfect. Thank you, Sweet Amandine!