The first time I made quinoa, I failed to rinse it. I chewed through the bitter grains, marveled at the little spirals, but wound up tossing most of my bowl (and the rest of the batch) into trash. It was bitter, almost foul tasting, and I couldn’t figure out why on earth would anyone willingly eat this stuff, health reasons or whatever. Turns out, I had to rinse the grains thoroughly prior to cooking. I had no idea. We didn’t cook this wonder starch in Russia, so when I asked my mother for her quinoa experience, she shrugged – she had no idea what this quinoa fad was.
What went wrong? I failed to read the instructions on the box, which explicitly said to rinse it. But why did I have to rinse it? I had to look it up. The very useful and succinct article on quinoa gave me a few answers.
Quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah, is an ancient grain. Wait, no, technically, it’s not a grain, but is the seed of Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. And apparently it’s close relatives with beets, Swiss chard and spinach! Kind of a cool piece of trivia, but this is why you have to rinse it…
Before cooking, the seeds must be rinsed to remove their bitter resin-like coating, which is called saponin. Quinoa is rinsed before it is packaged and sold, but it is best to rinse again at home before use to remove any of the powdery residue that may remain on the seeds. The presence of saponin is obvious by the production of a soapy looking “suds” when the seeds are swished in water. Placing quinoa in a strainer and rinsing thoroughly with water easily washes the saponin from the seeds. In South America the saponin which is removed from the
quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.
So the reason my first serving of quinoa didn’t taste right is because I was eating it with, um, soap. Let this be a lesson to ye all – read the instructions first. I’ve gotten myself into plenty of trouble trying to make a meal without reading the instructions first. Trust me – this simple step makes your life a lot easier.
2 cups quinoa (about 10 oz)
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup roasted pine nuts
1/2 cup scallions
1/3 cup curly parsley
zest of 1 lemon
Orange Lemon Dressing
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
Roast pine nuts in a pan with a splash of olive oil, until golden brown, set aside over a paper towel to drain.
Slowly sautee the finely chopped onion until they brown nicely, caramelized – feel free to throw in a bit of brown sugar just to emphasize their sweetness. Set aside. Chop the scallions and the parsley – set those aside as well.
Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a large sieve each time.
Cook quinoa in a 4- to 5-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve over same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don’t worry if lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam until quinoa is tender, fluffy, and dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (still covered) 5 minutes.
Place the quinoa into a large bowl and add the pine nuts, onions, scallions and parsley. Combine the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the quinoa. Serve immediately or chilled.
Side note: I cut up a chile pepper and ate mine mixed in, and I added a side of kale because I wanted a “meaty”, green vegetable to complement my quinoa.