Beth Dolinar

Not so keen on quinoa

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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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