August 4, 2006
The Quinoa Virgin

rawquinoa.jpgBack in May, I visited the twice-yearly salon des saveurs with a couple of friends and readers of this site. "I am so grateful to you guys for introducing me to quinoa!" enthused my friend Taina. "We just love it!" Um. That would be Barrett. Or Justin. One of those vegetarian types anyway. I shamefacedly admitted that I am a quinoa virgin. I haven't even tried out the recipes of my co-contributors.

So last week with the conservative Critic off fishing in Canada (they caught big fish, just so you know) I decided to redeem myself and give the stuff a try. And you know they were right. It's a lot tastier than couscous and has a much more interesting chewy texture. But it's not as chewy and stodgy as, say, barley. I love anything with a nutty flavour (you'll see that adjective come up frequently when I am enthusing about a recipe I really love). And yet it makes the perfect backround for fresh vibrant flavours like tomato and fresh basil. I liked it so much I'm going to try to convince the Critic to give it a go.

Quinoa Goat's Cheese and Tomato Salad

I nearly called this Quinoa Caprese, but I figured someone was bound to notice that it calls for goat's cheese and not buffalo mozzarella. The goat's cheese gives a delightful sharp bite to the salad and it also makes it more substantial. I frequently find that vegetarian recipes seem to be missing a bit of weight and cheese completely makes up for it for me. On the other hand, it's a tasty salad to accompany a bit of protein in the form of sausages or other meat from the barbecue. If you are so inclined.

I read quite a few recipes before trying my hand at quinoa myself and found that there are many different theories on the best way to prepare it. One one called for washing the grain several times, partially cooking it, washing again, and then cooking it again. I decided to follow the directions on the package which seemed logically and much simpler.

quinoasalad.jpg1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 Tbs olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, cut in chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup goat's cheese, cut in small (1 cm) cubes
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced

Put the olive oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan and heat it. Rinse the quinoa once in a strainer under running water. Drain it well and then add it to the sauce pan. Stir for a few minutes until coated and heated through. Then pour in two cups of water and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a medium flame and allow it to cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Once the grains have swollen and become slightly transluscent, turn of the flame and cover. Leave for about five minutes and then fluff the grains with a fork. Once the quinoa has cooled, toss it with the rest of the ingredients. Before serving, taste to see if it needs a bit more olive oil, lemon juice or salt (or some combination thereof) to round out the flavours.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at August 4, 2006 8:27 AM Print-friendly version

I enjoy quinoa enormously, but I find for a week afterwards tiny little grains showing up in the weirdest places in the kitchen.

One of my experimental goals is to work up a quinoa crusted savory pie.

Posted by barrett on August 4, 2006 at 9:08 AM

Yum. Quinoa always seemed so intimidating to me (so many different ways of preparation etc.), but you've inspired me to give it a go. Thanks!

Posted by VeuveClicquot on August 4, 2006 at 11:29 AM

Just found your blog. I love quinoa. You can take cooked quinoa (1 cup), low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt, sliced strawberries, sliced kiwi fruit. Mix all together. Yum!
You get protein, dairy, fruit, fiber, grains, what more could you want.

Posted by Suzanne Krause on August 4, 2006 at 10:18 PM

Still trying to like quinoa. Last weekend I made the Quinoa with Corn, Scallions and Mint from Aug 2006 Gourmet Magazine. It was disappointing but maybe it was the recipe itself not the quinoa. Anyone try this particular recipe?

Posted by Lu on August 5, 2006 at 8:30 AM

Only had quinoa for the first time few weeks ago, after reading about pretty much everywhere. My first attempt was mango & quinoa cream, which was lovely, so now I'm ready for quinoa salads:)

Posted by Pille on August 5, 2006 at 2:23 PM

Lu, I think that - like couscous - quinoa depends on a flavourful recipe to be successful. On it's own it has a slightly nutty flavour but it isn't really striking. The main thing is the texture, which you either love or loathe in my experience. The Critic LOATHES grainy textures, which is very sad for me!

Posted by Meg (in Chicago at the moment) on August 5, 2006 at 4:30 PM

I believe the reason for the several washes is to remove the saponins which quinoa contains. Without doing this, quinoa tastes bitter/soapy. Can you confirm if this is accurate/necessary? Thanks.

Posted by kit on August 6, 2006 at 4:38 AM

This sounds so nice and simple. I'll probably substitute the goats cheese ( not available) with buffalo paneer though it probably won't be as flavourful.

Posted by Jyotsna on August 6, 2006 at 8:08 AM

Kit --

Some (but not all) varieties of quinoa do have heavy saponin coatings in the wild, and a few decades ago the quinoa that was sold in the US still had those coatings so the washing was important (not only for the flavor, but also because saponin is an antinutrient that robs quinoa of most of the nutritional effectiveness that quinoa is so famous for), but I believe almost all quinoa that you get in the US now is either pre-washed, or polished to remove the saponin coating. If you want to be sure, just dunk your quinoa in some water, and see if it foams up; if so, then you've got unwashed/unpolished quinoa and you probably want to go through the full rinsing process.

Posted by Sweth on August 6, 2006 at 3:35 PM

I've been highly intimidated by quinoa recipes too- despite the box waiting in my kitchen for the past two months. Your recipe inspired me to improvise my own salad. I’m hooked!

Posted by postergirl on August 8, 2006 at 12:57 AM

While on holiday last month in the US I sang quinoa's praises to lots of friends and family, who have since tried it themselves and are now converts too.
Too Many Chefs has begun a trend!
Now must try it sweet instead of savory; sounds yummy!

Posted by Taina on August 11, 2006 at 3:25 AM

Youve probably heard the rumour that quinoa is the new rice. While this is true, its better than rice because its a complete protein and rice is not. In simple terms, its equal to eating a piece of chicken because its a complete source of amino acids which are the building blocks of every single cell in your body. Sufferers of anxiety and depression are more often then not deficient in these vital amino acids as they are the raw materials for neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free-bees, meat-eaters whove tried it, all love it.

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