Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Not so keen on quinoa

Not so keen on quinoa

April 17, 2014

It’s pronounced Keen-Wah.

And here I’d been saying Quin-OH-ah all that time – like any normal person would. Quinoa is the kale of 2014, an ancient grain that, when combined with black beans, is the perfect protein.

I’d tried it before, back when I was still pronouncing it wrong, and proclaimed it utterly yucky. It had a bite, like radishes, and was mushy and sticky. As I had with kale and its perfect cancer-fighting powers, I decided my diet would just have to do without the perfect protein of quinoa.

But then I ordered a salad at a burger joint; it arrived at the table with a fluffy heap of grain off to one side. I recognized the quinoa from the tiny curled threads in every grain. It was not mushy, but kind of crispy and fluffy and separate. And not radishy. I gobbled it, and vowed to try quinoa again at home.

It is not inexpensive. A bag of the organic stuff will set you back, like, a thousand dollars. But I was dreaming of that salad, so I lobbed a bag of it into my shopping cart.

The directions on the bag tell you to treat the quinoa like you would rice: boil and let it sit. But that’s what I’d done the last time, and it was mush. An Internet search turned up page after page of items titled “How Can I Make my Quinoa Crispy?” and “Help! My Quinoa is Mushy!!”

I selected a recipe that had the fewest steps, in this case 114 steps.

I doused the grain in cold water, let it sit, drained it, rinsed it some more and dried it, placed a kitchen towel over the wet quinoa and pressed the water out, which made the grain stick to the towel. I thought about using my blow dryer.

Next, I heated up a skillet and put the grains in to toast them. I was to do this until a “warm, nutty smell” emerged. I have a cold, and my nose isn’t really so keen; five minutes into the toasting I was sniffing the air so vigorously I inhaled my top lip. But I think I detected a warm nuttiness, just as the grains were turning brown.

Next I added broth to the skillet and brought it to a boil. “You will see little threads emerge from each grain,” said the recipe. I leaned in close for a look, but saw no threads. I went for my reading glasses. No threads. By then the lid was boiling off the skillet and grains were escaping out the sides. Looking back, I believe this is where my quinoa went south.

As the pot boiled and the threads refused to appear, the quinoa turned a sickly olive drab color. Although there were still no threads, I went on to the next step.

Drain the quinoa again, dry it, and return it to the pan over low heat. As I held the skillet over the sink, the liquid escaped down the drain, leaving a clump of something that looked like the darker sand you encounter at the beach while digging down about a foot – hard and grainy and pebbly. Is this what they mean by crunchy quinoa?

It couldn’t be. I’d cooked the quinoa into something hard and rocky – perhaps the first cook in history to take an ancient grain, add heat and water, and turn it in the wrong direction.

I dumped the hard clump of it into the trash, $10 worth of perfect protein, wasted. I made french fries to go with the chicken. Baking in the oven, they had a warm, nutty smell.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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