Quinoa is a grain-like food that is the seed of a species of goosefoot. It is native to the mountainous regions of South America and makes a good substitute for white rice or couscous. It is not a true cereal grain, however, as it is not classified as a grass but is more closely related to beets and spinach. To cook quinoa, one uses techniques similar to those for preparing rice. Quinoa seeds have an outer coating which is high in saponins, compounds which are bitter tasting and can be mildly toxic.
When preparing to cook quinoa that is unprocessed, the outer coating of saponins must be removed. This is easily accomplished by soaking the quinoa in water for a few hours, rinsing and re-soaking. Rinsing vigorously under running water for several minutes while agitating the seeds will also work. Removing the saponins makes quinoa more palatable and digestible.
Most pre-packaged or boxed quinoa has already been treated to remove the saponins. If using this type of quinoa, it is not necessary to rinse it before using. If you are uncertain, read the packaging. It will indicate if the quinoa requires rinsing or if it is suitable to use straight from the package.
Once the saponins have been removed, it is ready for cooking. To cook quinoa, most cooks treat it much like white rice. It is usually combined with water in a ratio of two parts water to one part quinoa, brought to a boil, and covered. The heat is then turned down and it is cooked at a low simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
Another popular way to cook quinoa is in a rice cooker. When using one of these appliances, follow the directions for cooking rice, but substitute quinoa. Rice cookers vary in capacity and cooking times, so follow the specific directions for the particular cooker being used.
Sometimes, quinoa with a firmer, slightly drier texture is desired. In this case, after simmering for ten minutes, drain the quinoa, and steam it for another ten minutes. This can be done by placing the quinoa in a wire strainer and placing it over a small amount of liquid in a sauce pan. Cover with a lid and bring the liquid to a boil. Be careful to not let the liquid boil away completely.