quinoa FAIL. Help?
February 12, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I just threw out a whole batch of quinoa, and I'm not that bad a cook. Best tips and advice on mastering this staple?

I'm a rookie to quinoa and figured it would work similarly to rice, so I tried using my rice cooker with a batch today. I just dumped the resulting goopy, gelatinous soapy-tasting, horrid smelling mess into the compost. This is the first EPIC FAIL I've had at cooking anything in, well, a very long time.

I read about the saponin content, so before I cooked it, I rinsed the raw seed quite thoroughly through a sieve this morning. As an aside, I don't like the water waste, so maybe some tips on facilitating this process, too.

Please share your best quinoa tips, tricks and recipes. Couple of modifiers:

- no raw tomatoes (cooked or sundried is okay)
- no meat, poultry or seafood ingredients (eggs and dairy are fine)
- mint and/or mushrooms are likely not going to go over well (I can try)

posted by lonefrontranger to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Best quinoa ever.
posted by peep at 6:43 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Regarding rinsing, I use either Ancient Harvest or Bob's Red Mill (bulk) quinoa, and both are pre-rinsed. I've never rinsed or washed the grains before cooking, and no problems. Can't vouch for other brands.
posted by peep at 6:50 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've always just treated it as rice, add to 2x as much boiling water as quinoa you're cooking, boil for a bit then turn the heat way down and steam; put meat/veggies/sauce on top. No need to over think.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:50 PM on February 12, 2010

This recipe was very tasty - it actually calls for farro, but since can be hard to find, I (and a lot of the reviewers) substituted quinoa. It also calls for chicken but it's not at all an integral part of the recipes. You can look through the review to get an idea of the substitutions other people have made - you can add tofu, or different herbs if you like. It's a cold/ room temperature salad, so you can make ahead.
I don't have a rice cooker so I have no idea if they're suited to cooking quinoa. Maybe it's just the rice cooker? I just followed the instructions (I got the Bob's Mill brand) right on the bag, cooked it stove-top and it came out just right.
posted by queseyo at 6:55 PM on February 12, 2010

I've had great success treating it like couscous or orzo. I make a salad of quinoa, olive-oil-sauteed diced vegetables (red peppers, onions, carrots), and roasted corn (frozen is fine, just spread it on a cookie sheet, spray a little oil, roast at 450 until it's blackened in parts), flavored with lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. You could go the North African-style route with the same vegetables sauteed in olive oil, but with cumin and turmeric and soaked currants instead of corn.

As for how to cook it, I follow the instructions on the box! -- stovetop, with their given measurements for quinoa and water (I may have used broth), and cooking until the little squiggly things pop out.
posted by palliser at 6:56 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Did you see this Ask MeFi thread?
posted by queseyo at 6:57 PM on February 12, 2010

Get a box of one of the brands peep mentioned and cook it in a small pot according to the package instructions. Try it that way before trying a rice cooker again.

This is an enjoyable quinoa recipe: Quinoa and Black Beans
Ha! OK, I just typed that and then looked at the link peep posted. I guess I'm seconding that, then. Made it a while back and it was good.
posted by wondermouse at 6:57 PM on February 12, 2010

David Lynch cooks quinoa. (youtube)
posted by Mrs. Buck Turgidson at 7:14 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always soak my quinoa for 15 minutes to half an hour before rinsing and cooking, just like rice. I don't remember where I read to do that, but now it's just habit, and I've had friends mention that they don't normally like quinoa, but they like mine because it's less bitter. So maybe soaking would help, in addition to rinsing? As for recipes, I just substitute it in places I would normally use rice, but I know 101 cookbooks has lots of quinoa recipes.
posted by sa3z at 7:15 PM on February 12, 2010

Supa Tasty Quinoa!
posted by Sustainable Chiles at 7:20 PM on February 12, 2010

I've never had to think that hard about quinoa, but the one time I tried in the rice cooker was not my favorite. I just put 2:1 water:quinoa in a pot, bring to boil, turn down, and let go for 20-30 minutes until the quinoa is generally unfurled ("wormy"). Sometimes I will add dry chicken broth powder or Mexican seasoning packets (Goya saffron or tomato + cilantro) to the water, but generally I use it with something saucy or as part of a salad so it's not critical.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on February 12, 2010

Do you buy it in bulk or in a box? You need to rinse it if you buy it in bulk, but not if you buy it packaged.

The quinoa should not come out the way you're describing, obviously. You must have been doing something wrong, but I don't know what.

Here's what I do to cook the quinoa itself. Bring a cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of quinoa, bring down the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 20 mins. or until the water is pretty much gone. All other ingredients should be cooked separately.

I use quinoa a lot, but I don't so much follow recipes. It's more of an all-purpose foundation. If I'm sauteing or roasting vegetables, I'll mix them with quinoa -- that's the recipe. For instance, I'll saute portabella mushrooms and asparagus (I peel both of those, except the asparagus tips, and remove the mushroom gills) in olive oil with garlic, then mix with quinoa and top with parsley and feta cheese, and squeeze some lemon at the end. It's nothing fancy -- it's just a combination of a few ingredients I like, and the quinoa binds everything together. Since quinoa is very mild, it works best with plenty of seasonings, especially spicy ones (dried chili flakes, cayenne pepper, or Tabasco sauce).

Tonight, I tried this quinoa mushroom soup. (I consider the recipe vegetarian because I automatically substitute vegetable stock anytime I see "chicken stock.") As they say, cook the quinoa on its own, then add it to the soup at the end. I actually added a few things to that recipe on a whim -- scrambled tofu, frozen peas, soy sauce -- and it all worked out fine because soup is very forgiving.

Here are tons of illustrated recipes. Intriguing ones I haven't tried: rainbow salad, porridge.

posted by Jaltcoh at 7:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: queseyo, no, I didn't (and I thought I did a thorough search). thanks for that link.

I did soak mine overnight. I'm thinking now that maybe the rice cooker was a bad idea. Thanks for the recipe links, the one both peep and wondermouse posted has a lot of potential.

I'm dealing with a picky eater here and he's been recently diagnosed as slightly iron deficient, so quinoa was one of the natural foods suggestions from the Dr.

Appreciate the info so far, keep 'em coming!
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2010

I would think treating quinoa like rice would result in seriously over-cooked quinoa. I cook my quinoa at 2:1 water:quinoa, simmering for no more than 15 minutes. I like to toast the quinoa in a dry hot skillet for about five minutes first because it adds a warm nutty flavor to it.

I really like this Andean Bean Stew With Winter Squash and Quinoa.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Jaltcoh: I bought a good-sized pile from the bulk bin at the local natural foods store, which is why I soaked it overnight THEN rinsed it in addition.

crush: thanks, I think you're right, it seemed seriously overcooked. I couldn't find much guidance online with ratios for cooking (maybe I wasn't looking in the right place?). Most of the recipes were like "cook according to box instructions", and since I don't have a box, well... yeah.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: I've done it rice style (twice as much water to quinoa, lid on, simmer) with good results but cooking it like pasta is what seems to work best for me to get firm, individual grains. I don't soak (it really doesn't need it) but I do rinse thoroughly, even if it says it's pre-rinsed. I cook it in a large quantity of vigorously boiling salted water (like pasta) for 13-15 minutes the drain well in a fine mesh sieve. It's basically perfect every time.
posted by mostlymartha at 7:44 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Quinoa -- I love it!

As far as my experience goes, you're doing too much. I never rinse it, and soaking it seems like it would make it nasty -- it's not like dried beans or anything. I seriously just take the quinoa, toss it in the rice cooker, and do 1.5 parts water to 1 part quinoa. The rice cooker takes care of the rest.

If you really want to expend more effort to start out, what you should do it dry toast it in a pot until they get a bit brown, then add 2 parts water to one part quinoa, and then treat it like brown rice.

My favorite recipe ever for quinoa is to do quinoa + ground up pistachios (can do in a cheap coffee grinder) + za'atar spice + whatever other spices feel right at the time. Yum.

Also quinoa chili -- quinoa + onions + peppers + tomatoes + beans + chili spice + sauce from can of chipotle peppers mixed all together.

I hope that your future quinoa experiences work out better. It really is awesome.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 7:46 PM on February 12, 2010

Try cooking it in broth. I use chicken but I'm sure that veggie would be good, too. Add some steamed veggies and your protein of choice (chicken for me, tofu for you?) and you've got a fairly balanced all-in-one meal.
posted by Aleen at 7:48 PM on February 12, 2010

I think you ended up with a soggy mess because of the soaking over night. I rinse and use 2 cups of water for every cup of quinoa.

To reduce water waste I put some water in the sink and shake the sieve in the shallow water to rinse.

Cooking in broth is really good, I sub quinoa for rice in any dish.
posted by sadtomato at 8:08 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: Quinoa makes a great breakfast! I mix cooked quinoa with raisins, walnuts, a bit of honey and cinnamon, a splash of rice milk to moisten it a bit, and sometimes a couple of spoonfuls of ground flaxseed. So good! Sometimes I substitute a banana for the raisins.

Here's my cooking method: I quickly rinse 1 cup of quinoa in cold water, for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. I don't really fret too much over the rinsing. I put the quinoa plus 2 cups of water in a saucepan, cover it, and turn the heat on high. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down so it just barely simmers and let it cook for 10 or 15 minutes. That's it! That 1 cup of dry quinoa is enough to last me for three breakfasts, so I store it in a glass container until I'm ready to use it. (I don't add the extra stuff until I'm ready to eat it.)
posted by kitty teeth at 8:11 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't soak it overnight. I never soak quinoa, and cooking it on the stovetop with 2:1 water/quinoa cooks it just fine. I think the oversoaking it and then cooking it is what made it a glutinous mess. Skip the soak, do rinse, then cook on the stovetop.
posted by rtha at 8:11 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: This Black Bean-Quinoa Salad with Basil-Lemon Dressing from Cooking Light is really really good and very versatile. You can sub the veggies to your desire. It's filling and keeps well - I take it in a cooler when I go camping and eat on it all weekend.

I sub feta cheese for the tofu and add cucumber for a nice "crunch". You could sub red bell pepper for the raw tomatoes. I use edamame instead of lima beans. The fresh basil is a really nice addition, so I would try to include that (instead of dried). Sometimes I use Red Quinoa half and half with the regular (comes in a box) - tastes (& cooks) the same but adds a nice look.

I just cook the quinoa as suggested in the recipe on the stovetop and it comes out perfect every time. I hope you give it another chance as it can really be delicious. Good luck!
posted by ourroute at 8:40 PM on February 12, 2010

Others have nailed it. One of the reasons that I like quinoa, in addition to the high iron content and nutty flavor, is that it cooks faster than rice (non-instant at least). I think that your mistake, which is understandable given how it looks and the fact that you bought it bulk without the benefit of instructions, was that you treated it like brown rice. It's actually closer to a really hearty couscous (or that's the way I've always treated it). Soaking and cooking in a rice cooker was overkill and I imagine your problem was that it was overcooked.
posted by kaybdc at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never heard of soaking it overnight. Don't.

Nthing broth vs. water. Veggie boullion might do.
posted by jessicapierce at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2010

Oh and not that this is as much help as a specific recipe but because of the quicker cooking time, I substitute it for rice, particularly brown rice. So any time that you would consider using rice as a starch or base, substitute quinoa. You can also substitute it for couscous, although it has a heartier flavor and more texture, it works just as well as couscous in salads and as a base for veggies (steamed, roasted, in a tomato based sauce, etc.).
posted by kaybdc at 9:15 PM on February 12, 2010

I put quinoa in a cup-type coffee filter, and then steam it in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water. Once it's cooked (it doesn't take more than 10 minutes, tops) my personal favorite way of serving it is to simply tip it out of the coffee filter into a bowl, and mix in some ground cumin, lime juice, cayenne pepper, and salt. Done, and yum.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:34 PM on February 12, 2010

You can actually sprout quinoa by soaking it. I tried it for a sprouted quinoa bread recipe once, but I think it took longer than overnight. So you likely had it partially sprouted and then it just fell apart with the boiling water. You can sprout it on purpose some time and use it raw in salads.
posted by smartypantz at 10:04 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also toast it in a dry hot skillet before I add water, broth or tea.
posted by hortense at 10:34 PM on February 12, 2010

Some people also just don't like quinoa very much. I tried all sorts of things - I don't. No pre-soaking, though.
posted by Namlit at 4:02 AM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I've marked some really good answers that seem to be leading me to more correct technique or that are suggesting spice/ingredient pairings that will work well for us. I'll try toasting it first for sure. I've had quinoa in salads and at restaurants before and it was great, so it's not that I don't like it, I just screwed it up, badly.

This whole thread was helpful, thanks again to everyone for their contributions.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:57 AM on February 13, 2010

I make a batch of quinoa in the rice cooker almost every week. Using the rice cooker, you need to use less water than if you were making it on the stove top. I put in just a tad less than 1 1/2 cups of water (or stock) to 1 cup of quinoa. I've never rinsed or soaked it, and have never had an issue with the bitterness - apparently many brands come pre-rinsed.

My favorite recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone" - Couscous with Dried Fruit and Lime-Cumin-Cilantro Vinaigrette:

Cook 1 cup of quinoa, toss with diced dried fruit (any mix of raisins, apricots, cranberries, currants and peaches have all worked well), diced red pepper, chopped scallion and chopped cilantro. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil, lime juice, more cilantro, and a spice mix of mustard powder and cumin (fresh crushed toasted cumin seeds are best, but it's still very good with cumin powder). Toss with quinoa, add some salt and pepper to taste, then top with some toasted nuts - pine nuts or slivered almonds are good.

This comes out very good even if you're missing some ingredients - it can be made with whatever dried fruit is on hand, lemon instead of lime, without the cilantro, without the nuts. It's flexible and very, very tasty.
posted by skwm at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa is one of the best recipes for quinoa I've ever made, and it's a quick preparation. Savory, bright flavors -- we make this all the time and can't get enough of it.
posted by misformargaret at 11:17 PM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Update: I made quinoa tonight with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, lime and cilantro. I rinsed it in a mesh sieve, then cooked it pasta-style as suggested above. I'll toast it next time, but I was running late with dinner and didn't feel it necessary to toss in the extra step.

It was really good. Thanks everyone for the suggestions and the help!
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:24 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

After several bad experiences with quinoa bought in bulk, I stick with Ancient Harvest brand and I follow the directions on the box. I prefer red quinoa.

I keep cooked quinoa in the fridge and add it to soups, chili, and use it to make tabouli salad. When adding to soup, Quinoa is a nice addition to store-bought vegetable soup.
I also like to mix cooked quinoa into amaranth porridge or oatmeal -- gives a nice texture.
posted by valannc at 6:31 PM on February 22, 2010

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