Quinoa, “Keen-Wa,” I love it! Have you tried it? If you haven’t I hope that what you read here will convince you to sample it.
I can’t remember when I first tried quinoa, but I do know that I liked it immediately. In my opinion the little grains (which are actually seeds) look fun, have a pleasing texture, a mild pleasant flavor and cook in about 15 minutes! Additionally it is full of all kinds of things that are really good for you, most notably protein, fiber, amino acids, and it is gluten free. If you’d like to read more details about the crop, its history, and botanical information check out this article in Wikipedia.
Quinoa can almost always be substituted for other grains in recipes. For instance, serve it as a side dish in lieu of rice, to make fried “rice”; make a nutrient-packed tabbouleh salad that is very similar in texture to couscous, or cook like a porridge instead of oats for breakfast. (Full disclosure: I haven’t tried making it for breakfast yet, as you know I like my oatmeal.) Served hot or cold it is seriously a super food. If I have convinced you to add quinoa to your shopping list, look in the bulk or natural foods section of your local store, however, not all grocery stores carry it. I have found an organic variety at Costco in a large bag (surprise, surprise).
When you are ready to dive right in and make some it is really simple. Quinoa in its natural state should be soaked and rinsed prior to cooking. Generally the quinoa in the grocery store has already been through this process but you may find it retains a bit of bitterness. It helps to give it a quick rinse one last time before you make it at home. Measure the amount you want to cook into a mesh strainer and swish it under the tap. You may want to withhold a touch of cooking liquid, play with it to see what happens. Use a 1:2 ratio for cooking, so 1 cup of grain to 2 cups of liquid. Since quinoa has such a mild flavor, I almost always cook in broth or toss about a tablespoon of bouillon into the water. (This is a great tip for any grain, particularly if you are not adding other ingredients prior to serving.) Combine it all into a rice cooker and flip the switch or, in a medium sauce pan, bring the liquid to a boil, add grain, then cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. It should be fluffy when fully cooked but not hard.
When you are ready to expand from the basic recipe, try tossing in some spices during cooking like curry powder, cumin, cardamom, or smoked paprika. Once it has cooked you could add some diced veggies or fresh herbs to make a side dish. For an awesome one pot meal top the whole thing off with some [leftover] diced chicken, lamb, shrimp, even tofu and you are all set for a great meal!
Have fun in the kitchen and keep playing with your food, it is the best way to discover new things.