When I first started this bento journey in 2007, I knew I’d never make it if I didn’t (1) learn to cook and (2) expand my palate. Before bento, I was a very limited eater. I still am in some ways, but have grown to like other things. This comes from trial and era. Almost nearly as soon as the blog started, I began to talk about “new-to-me” foods. These were foods I had tried for the first time or were retrying to see if I could grow to like them. Quinoa fell into the first category.
I first purchased quinoa in February 2007, just 4 short months after I’d started Not Exactly Bento. I was looking for a substitute for white rice. I’m not a huge fan of white rice to begin with, but I live in an area where it’s cuisine often calls on rice to be a part of the dish. I had heard of people using whole grains as a sub for white rice and was wondering which ones were used. I knew I didn’t want to use brown rice for a variety of reasons. Then I ran across a mention of quinoa. If you want background information on quinoa as a grain, I’m going to refer you to the Ancient Harvest company website. I have no affiliation with this company. This is where I first got some of my information quinoa from, since that was the first brand of quinoa I purchased. I now buy it in bulk.
Quinoa ended up being a big win on the new-to-me food scale. It was easy to cook. In fact, it was easier to cook than rice for me. It also takes very little time to cook, which is a big plus. It had an easy ratio to remember (1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid). It freezes extremely well. Sometimes, I’ll cook a large batch of quinoa and freeze a portion of it for quick future defrosting and cooking. Most of all, I liked the way it tasted. Quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor. The only thing going against it is that the grains are very small, making it not the greatest substitute for rice sometimes. Don’t try quinoa thinking you’re getting an exact substitute for rice. You aren’t. It is a nice change of pace though.
Cooking quinoa is super simple. All you need is a bit of quino and liquid to really get things going. You’ll also need a pot with a nice, tight-fitting lid. To cook quinoa, you need 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. This means 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. I normally coook a 1/2 a cup of quinoa at a time for just me. For my liquid, I like to split it in half between regular water and vegetable stock. The vegetable stock gives a great flavor to the quinoa and I find I often don’t need to add in extra salt this way.
Most quinoa that is sold at grocery stores have been prewashed for you (or so I have read). Naturally, quinoa has a bitter-tasting coating on it (saponin). This bitter coating protects the plant. I tend to wash my quinoa before use. Place your quinoa into a strainer with small holes (like a metal mesh strainer) and run water through it until the water runs clear. Shake out the excess water and dump the wet grain into your pot (as shown below). There is no need to try to dry the grain after the cleaning process. Also, there is no real need to reduce the amount of liquid in the ratio (or so I’ve found).
In a pot, place a your quinoa. In this example I’m giving, I’m using a half a cup of quinoa. Using the 1:2 ratio, I need a cup of liquid now.
Pour in 1/2 cup of water.
Pour in a 1/2 cup of vegetable stock. You can flavor this with chicken or beef stock instead. Just substitute a 1/2 cup of that for the vegetable stock if you so wish.
To cook quinoa, you want to place the heat on medium-high (which is a number 6/7 on my stove’s dial) and bring it to a boil. Once it begins to boil, immediately throw a top on the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer (a 2 or 3 on my stove).
You want to cook your quinoa until the water is nearly boiled out. The total cook time for quinoa is normally 15 -20 minutes depending on how much you’re cooking. Don’t be surprised after you boil it if you find a few dark bits in the quinoa (as seen above). Quinoa also comes in a red variety, and I find sometimes you get a few of the darker kernels in the mix naturally.
When the water is boiled out, you might find that the grains seem a bit too wet. To remedy this, you need to fluff and steam the quinoa. Using a fork, turn the quinoa over in the pot, which is what I’m calling the fluff. Let this sit on the simmer setting that your pot is already set at for 3-5 minutes, checking to make sure the bottom doesn’t get too brown. If necessary, stir the grains around one more time.
You’ll notice after about 3-5 minutes the grains look much drier. They are now ready to eat or use in another recipe. You can also let the quinoa cool at this point and then package to freeze.
This Photo Friday, I’m sharing with you a way I like to eat quinoa that I’ve dubbed in my head as the Quinoa Scramble. It is a take on the egg rice my mom used to make for us when we were kids.
Until then, be the bento everyone! Have a lovely Tuesday.