Ever had quinoa that tasted a little too earthy? Maybe a little soapy? Had some crunchy bits? If the answer is “yes,” that’s probably because the person cooking it wasn’t preparing the dish properly. This is sad because quinoa is as ubiquitous to the vegan diet as kale and tofu. To remedy this, we’re giving you five simple suggestions that will change the way you cook quinoa forever.
1. Toasted tastes better
The secret to perfectly nutty-tasting, fluffy-as-heck quinoa? Quinoa expert and co-founder of I Heart Keenwah Ravi Jolly says the key is toasting the seeds. “Toasted quinoa boils more evenly, absorbs more water, so the end result is lighter and fluffier than untoasted quinoa,” Jolly says. Toasting quinoa is an old-world tradition maintained to this day in Bolivia, where the farmers toast their freshly-picked quinoa over smoldering heat while still in the husk before rubbing the seed clean from the plant. Toasting quinoa unlocks its nutty flavor in the same way roasting cashews or peanuts does. Jolly also claims that toasted quinoa cooks up fluffier than untoasted quinoa.
2. To rinse or not to rinse
If you’ve ever had bitter quinoa, the culprit is likely saponin, a protective coating that naturally occurs on the quinoa seed. Incidentally, saponin is also an ingredient in many natural soaps and detergents, which explains why it’s less-than-delicious on your quinoa. Several blog posts on the subject suggest rinsing before you toast, but quinoa experts recommend rinsing your quinoa after you’ve toasted it or buying pre-rinsed or pre-toasted quinoa. You’ll get a more even toast on a dry seed, and toasting helps to remove saponin as well.
3. Perfectly plump
Another underappreciated aspect of cooking quinoa is the quinoa-to-water ratio. Similar to rice, couscous, or any other dried food that plumps when you cook it, quinoa gets its fluffy texture from absorbing water. A 2:1 ratio of water to quinoa is recommended (one cup of water for every half cup of quinoa). Be careful not to add salt until after the quinoa is fully cooked, or it won’t properly absorb water. For extra flavor, you can substitute vegetable broth for water, too. As your quinoa simmers, leave the lid on to trap as much moisture as possible. Finally, allow the quinoa to rest for 10 minutes off the heat with the lid still on to finish the cooking process.
4. Try this at home
To toast quinoa at home, add quinoa to a dry pan (no oil) and heat over a medium flame. Stir frequently or the quinoa will burn, ruining the batch. The toasting is complete once the quinoa starts popping and a nutty aroma starts wafting through your kitchen. When done correctly, the quinoa should smell like peanut butter or toasted sesame seeds. To finish the preparation, rinse the quinoa before combining it with two parts water. Simmer over low heat in a covered pot for 15 minutes, let rest for 10 minutes with the lid on, fluff with fork, and then serve.
5. Buy this at home
For a more authentic and evenly toasted quinoa, I Heart Keenwah offers Toasted Quinoa. This organic, fair-trade heirloom Bolivian royal quinoa is toasted while it’s still in the husk. No rinsing is required, and the quinoa cooks in 15 minutes. If you’re concerned with ethical or sustainability issues associated with consuming quinoa, look for fair-trade, Non-GMO Project verified, and organic certified brands to ensure the crops weren’t treated with pesticides and that the farmers who grew the quinoa receive fair compensation.
6. Breakfast, bowls, and beyond
Many vegans are familiar with the Buddha bowl, a concoction of various grains, greens, beans, and other things piled into a dish for a fast, nutritious meal. Toasted quinoa makes the perfect base for this, adding protein and iron that rice just doesn’t have. The key to a banging Buddha bowl is to mix up different textures, temperatures, and flavors so every bite is a little different. Beyond the Buddha bowl, toasted quinoa also makes delicious overnight “oats,” or try topping cooked quinoa with maple syrup and fresh fruit for an oatmeal upgrade. Add some nutritional yeast and your favorite vegan bacon crumbles for a healthy spin on cheesy grits. You can also substitute toasted quinoa for rice to make sweet “rice” puddings. Grind uncooked toasted quinoa in a spice grinder for a gluten-free, high-protein flour—try it in banana bread!
Natalie Slater is the author of Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans.
Photo courtesy of Ravi Jolly