Cooks Corner: Keen-what? Quinoa

[keen-wah, kee-noh-uh] I love listening to certain family members try to pronounce the word “quinoa,” or refer to it as “you know, the round rice.” Quinoa is a tasty, easy-to-cook seed. It’s also one of the few foods in the plant world that’s a complete protein; earning it a coveted spot among vegans and vegetarians for its nutritional importance.

In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared the year as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” While quinoa is a new and nutritious food in many areas of the world, it was a major food crop of the pre-Columbian cultures in Latin America, and still remains an important food in areas of the Andes region of South America. Quinoa was singled out by the FAO as a strategy to promote traditional or forgotten crops as a means to combat hunger, food insecurity, and promote healthy eating. Quinoa, however, remains unfamiliar to many people in the practical sense of cooking and recipes.

Cooking Quinoa

Quinoa varies in intensity of flavour and in colour (from pale beige to red, to black). Handled correctly, quinoa cooks up light and fluffy. For hot cooked quinoa, the ratio of quinoa to water is usually 1:2 – that’s one portion of uncooked quinoa to two portions of liquid. One of my favourite ways to cook quinoa is in a low-sodium vegetable broth. The recipe combines:

1 cup quinoa

2 cups vegetable broth

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon finely minced scallion

Once you’ve measured and rinsed the quinoa, place it in a saucepan with the broth and other seasonings. Cover the saucepan and bring the quinoa to a boil over medium heat. Stir the quinoa, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook covered for approximately 15 – 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, remove from heat and let stand covered for about 10 minutes before serving.

Rinse Before Cooking

Quinoa has an outer coating called saponin that makes it bitter to eat unless rinsed off before cooking. To get rid of saponin, always rinse quinoa well before cooking in a fine-mesh wire strainer under cold running water, same as you would rice. Gently rub the seeds together in your hands as you rinse away the saponin. Erring on the side of caution, its best to rinse every brand of quinoa a couple of times – even the brands that say they’re pre-washed – before proceeding with any recipe. You can taste a few seeds to determine if a bitter taste remains. If it does, continue rinsing.

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