The Six Most Common Mistakes People Make When Cooking Quinoa. Do you regularly eat quinoa? I do. I became an instant convert when I tried a particularly delicious quinoa porridge at a popular breakfast joint. Made with almond milk, honey, and nuts, it really brought out the flavor of the quinoa.
However, when it came to re-creating that taste experience at home, cooking quinoa proved surprisingly difficult to get just right. It came out either hard, watery, or bitter. What was I doing wrong?
Turns out, I simply hadn’t been educated on the proper method of cooking quinoa. I was treating it like a grain, which, as it turns out, quinoa is not.
It’s not difficult to make quinoa, but there are some specific methods that will help guarantee success. Here, we will outline some of the common errors when cooking quinoa–and how to remedy them so that you can make a perfect batch every single time.
What is quinoa? Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is hailed as a superfood and is certainly becoming popular on menus…but what is it, exactly?
Quinoa is an ancient food–the Incas are said to have called it “The Mother Grain”. While many think of quinoa as a grain, it’s actually closer related to spinach, beets, and chard. When you cook quinoa, you are actually cooking seeds. Quinoa comes in over 120 varieties, but the most common ones are white, red, and black.
With a slightly nutty but fairly bland flavor, quinoa is like rice in that it is a gluten-free dish that is well suited to pairing with other food flavors.
Unlike rice, though, quinoa is considered a “complete protein”–it contains more protein than just about any grain you might compare it to, and all eight essential amino acids. It’s also fairly low in carbohydrates and has a low glycemic index. Combined with the high protein levels, this adds up to a dish that will give you slow-burning, long lasting energy. Plus, it can be used in place of rice or couscous in recipes, and can also be used in recipes both sweet and savory. Now that’s what I call a superfood.
The six most common mistakes people make when cooking quinoa.
These are some of the most common errors that people make when cooking quinoa, including how to fix them.
Mistake 1: You don’t wash it first. It might sound fussy, but please, don’t skip washing your quinoa. Why? Because quinoa contains saponins, which are naturally occurring chemical compounds present in a number of specimens of plant and sea life. When it comes to a culinary setting, the saponin can impart a bitter, soapy taste to cooked quinoa.
Washing the quinoa by placing it in a strainer and running water over it until the water runs clear will ensure that you remove any impurities and bitter taste. Do not soak the quinoa–this can actually make the saponins more pronounced, and can give the finished product a slightly soapy aftertaste.
Mistake 2: You treat it like a grain. Many people automatically think of quinoa as a grain. After all, we eat it the same way as we do grains, and it bears more than a passing physical resemblance to other grains like couscous. However, quinoa is not a grain. It is actually the seed of a plant most closely related to spinach, beets, and chard.
Many people think that quinoa can be cooked just like other grains, but that’s not quite the case. It absorbs liquid differently than most grains, so it can’t just be swapped for them in a recipe or cooked in the same way.
Be sure to follow the proper steps for how to make perfect quinoa for the best results.
Mistake 3: You overcook it. You might be tempted to cook quinoa until it has absorbed every last bit of liquid, but resist that urge. You want to remove the lid from your pan and let the quinoa continue to cook in the residual heat so that it can absorb the liquid, rather than overcooking and sacrificing the quinoa’s texture, rendering it mushy and flavorless.
Mistake 4: You don’t drain excess liquid. Here’s another case for not overcooking: if there is extra liquid, drain the quinoa! Quinoa holds quite a bit of water, so draining it after cooking can help ensure that it doesn’t impart too much moisture on the finished dish you are making. You can drain it by transferring the quinoa into a strainer and gently pressing down on it.
Note: if you let your quinoa sit long enough after cooking, draining may not be necessary, but if you are using it right away, this tip will really help ensure success.
Mistake 5: You don’t add flavor. Quinoa has a pleasant enough nutty flavor, but served by itself, it’s a fairly bland food. In that way, quinoa is kind of like rice; nice as a side but a bowl of it all by itself would be sort of boring!
Quinoa works best when paired with other flavors. Its mild flavor makes it the perfect canvas for other flavors: you could add milk and honey for a simple morning porridge, or cook the quinoa in chicken broth for a flavorful dinner side dish. You can go sweet or savory with this versatile seed.
Mistake 6: You serve it right after it’s finished. Let quinoa rest for a few minutes after draining and before serving. A few minutes’ rest after cooking will allow the quinoa to attain the perfect texture. Drain, and then fluff it with a fork directly before serving for a light-textured side dish.
Delicious examples of quinoa. Once you have mastered the art of making it perfectly, here are some of the tasty places you can take your cooked quinoa.
Quinoa porridge: Make your quinoa with milk (or non-dairy milk) and honey, dried fruits or nuts, or whatever seasonings you’d typically put on oatmeal. It’s a delicious, fiber-filled and protein-packed start to the day.
Quinoa can be used as part of the bulk of a homemade veggie burger patty. Served on a bun, it’s a delicious vegetarian substitute for a beef burger.
Veg out: Broccoli and quinoa are natural buddies in a fantastic main or side dish. Broccoli and quinoa salad is dressed up with a pesto-like sauce and toasted almonds, for a rich and flavorful vegetarian-friendly delight.
Make a cake. Quinoa in cake? Believe it. Quinoa is a key ingredient in a moist, flourless chocolate cake, giving it body and substance without white flour. Perfect for those on a gluten-free diet.
Quinoa is a superfood, but not just in its nutritional benefits. Its ability to act as a chameleon in a number of different recipes and styles of cooking make it a valuable addition to your cooking repertoire. Once you know how to properly cook quinoa, you’ll reap extremely delicious results.
Are you guilty of any of these common mistakes when cooking quinoa?