Quinoa is a South American grain-like crop that is increasingly becoming popular in North American cuisine. While the leaves of the quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) plant can be cooked as a potherb, the seeds, or "grains" (while quinoa is not a true cereal, its seeds resemble and are similarly used like grains), of the plant are probably most commonly found (grains can be found at most major grocery stores), and can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, even popped.
Before cooking with quinoa, be sure to rinse the grains under running water; they are coated with sapopins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using.
For extra depth of flavor, try toasting the quinoa before cooking it. After rinsing the grains, dry them in a towel, then toast them briefly in a dry skillet until they color slightly and have a nutty aroma.
If you've never cooked quinoa before, the grains can be added to a variety of dishes, are easy to use and cook up quickly. Place the rinsed grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish.
For some recipe ideas, continue reading after the jump.
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Video: Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times