About 10 years ago, my husband brought home a small bag of quinoa from the local health food store. I don’t remember if he called it a superfood, but he did note that it was packed with fiber AND protein, making it a rare grain indeed.
The problem was that we had no idea how to make it edible. We learned the mechanics of making quinoa pretty quickly: Rinse it thoroughly before cooking, and then simmer it like you would rice.
Our cooked quinoa was bland, however. We added broth. We salted. We oversalted. We added herbs. We added spices.
We gave up.
Fast forward to 2008. Quinoa is officially a superfood, and recipes abound. It’s also more readily available, so no more trekking to the health food store for expensive 8-ounce bags of grain.
I finally got my act together with quinoa last year, after I found a couple of basic recipes and started experimenting.
My first discovery: You REALLY need a well-made strainer with tiny holes to properly rinse the grains. Covering the quinoa with water and then pouring it off just makes a huge mess, no matter how careful you are. Just pour the dry quinoa into the strainer and turn on the tap for a minute or so, making sure the water runs over all the grains.
I adapted a Rachael Ray recipe as my go-to quinoa dish, cutting it in half and making a few tweaks. The original calls for a blend of cilantro, basil and parsley. I NEVER have parsley in the house, and I rarely have cilantro AND basil. Her recipe also called for a mixture of black olives and green olives; the husband determined that he preferred the dish with green olives only.
Splurge for the pine nuts: They MAKE this dish. I toast mine in a skillet over low heat until they’re slightly fragrant and starting to tan and I’m a little freaked out that I might burn them. So they’re probably under-toasted, but delicious nonetheless.
I get most of my quinoa at Costco, which sells it in 4-pound bags, and augment it with a pricier red quinoa from the bulk bins at Earth Fare. I don’t think the red quinoa changes the taste much, but it does make the dish more colorful.
The husband prefers quinoa as the base for chicken, but I eat the leftovers meat-free.
Quinoa with Herbs and Olives
(Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Quinoa with Herbs and Mixed Olives)
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the quinoa and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Stir in 1 1/8 cups water, season with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let the quinoa stand for 5 minutes. Add the olives, pine nuts and herbs and toss with a fork to combine. Season with salt to taste.