So You Bought Quinoa - Now What?

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So You Bought Quinoa – Now What

I talk with Jay about his experiences preparing Quinoa, an amazingly nutritious food you should be eating now.

Depending on who you ask, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), a grain-like staple originally grown in the  Andes mountains of South America, is kosher for Passover. Since quinoa is definitely not a grain—it is actually a member of the goose foot family related to spinach and beets—the question remains whether quinoa is kitniyot ("tiny things"), grain-like substances like rice or legumes similar enough to grain that Ashkenazi Jews deemed them forbidden on Passover centuries ago. The Orthodox Union (OU) thinks quinoa might be kitniyot and Star-K says it definitely is not kitniyot. In either case, kosher supervising authorities suggest buying quinoa that has been produced in plants that process only quinoa, so there is no possibility of chametz contamination. They also suggest checking the quinoa carefully to insure that there's no chametz mixed in.

Since quinoa is still relatively new to most of us, I asked Jay, our "Senior Quinoa Correspondent," to try some out and give us his thoughts.

So, Jay, what did you find out?

Well, Jamie, I bought some quinoa and tried it. The seeds are round like couscous. Quinoa takes about the same time to cook as white rice (~10 minutes) but has more protein and micro-nutrients than whole-grain brown rice. So, we're talking about some really nutritious stuff.

What about the taste?

Quinoa has a nutty or grassy flavor that some might find a little bitter. This is the result of bitter compounds called saponins that cover the seeds. These are removed through soaking in water. Commercially-available quinoa comes pre-soaked to remove the saponins. Otherwise, quinoa is pretty neutral. I found that it takes on flavors well. I especially liked making pilaf with dried fruit and nuts. The sweetness of the fruit really rounded out the flavor.

How is the consistency?

Quinoa is not quite as fluffy as rice  and it has a little more resistance when you chew it. In a lot of ways it is like brown rice but the size of the cooked seeds is smaller than a brown rice kernel.

Any cooking tips?

Well, I followed the package instructions. Essentially quinoa has the same 2 to 1, water to "grain" formula as rice. Quinoa also cooks in about the same time. But I did find that rinsing the quinoa first or letting it soak in water and draining it reduces the grassy flavor. If you do soak it, you may need to reduce the amount of cooking water or cooking time. Otherwise the quinoa can turn out a little mushy or waterlogged.

Browse through all our Quinoa Recipes here.

Most important question, did you like it?

Yeah, I did. I must be honest, though. The grassy flavor can be off-putting at first, but once I seasoned the quinoa I really liked it. Remember, quinoa is completely gluten-free and has a lot of protein, so it is an amazing product to add to everyday meals in place of other starches. If you don't eat kitniyot on Passover, quinoa is a welcome change from potatoes.

That's great stuff. Thanks, Jay.

There you have it folks. Quinoa—a nutritious alternative to rice. Try some this Passover or anytime.