Working With Quinoa—Some Pointers

I know you’re excited to jump into the world of quinoa and start crafting your own
masterpieces in the kitchen, but if you’ve never worked with quinoa before, there are a few
things to keep in mind before you begin.
First, buying and storing quinoa. While available in prepackaged containers as well as the
bulk aisle of some grocery stores, it’s important to inspect your quinoa source for any evidence
of moisture. Proper storage compartments should be covered, and you should try to shop at
stores with a high turnover of the product to ensure freshness. Much like rice, quinoa expands
in volume when cooked, so keep this in mind to avoid buying too much. When you get home,
store your quinoa in an airtight container.
Throughout this book, you’ll see some recipes that call for quinoa flour. While most stores
that carry quinoa will also carry quinoa flour, don’t worry if it’s not readily available. You
can make quinoa flour easily using a blender or food processor to grind quinoa grains into a
fine powder, and you’ll find the exact steps that you need to follow right in this book.
Many plants have evolved to develop self-defense mechanisms against natural predators,
and quinoa is no exception. To thwart birds and insects that would otherwise feast on it, each
quinoa seed, in its natural state, has a coating of saponins that make the crop bitter and
unpalatable. The good news is that the saponins are easily removed with a quick rinse in cool
water. While most commercially available quinoa has already been processed to remove this
saponin layer, it’s still a good idea to rinse your quinoa before cooking it, just in case there’s
any residue left over from the processing. Soap-like bubbles in the water are a sure indication
that the quinoa seeds still have saponins on them.
To properly rinse quinoa, place it into a fine-meshed strainer under cold running water,
using your hands to agitate the water and rub the seeds together. You may taste a seed to test
for bitterness—if it’s not bitter, your quinoa is ready!
As an alternative to rinsing, and if you have the time, you may also soak quinoa for 8 to 12
hours. This softens the grain, reduces the cooking time and also has the benefit of germinating
the quinoa, resulting in increased digestibility and improved nutritional value.
It’s also important to understand when quinoa is done. Thankfully, nature’s design of the
grain helps you to see when it’s ready just by looking at it—the germ will have partially
separated from the grain, making each quinoa seed look like a comma. The grains will be
translucent, and texturally, each should have a little resistance, similar to al dente pasta. This
is of greater importance when you’re preparing quinoa rice-style on the stovetop in boiling
water or stock. When you’re stirring it dry into a soup or stew, you don’t have to keep as close
an eye on it, as it will most certainly be done when your meal is ready.