As I perused the aisles of my local organic market for something interesting in the cereal products, I discovered a bag of puffed quinoa. I had heard so much about what a superfood quinoa was but had yet to try it myself. I figured this was a good product to start with as it required no preparation. The next day I opened the bag, poured it in a bowl, tossed some dried cherries and walnuts on top, added some almond milk and voila–the perfect breakfast. It’s packed with plant-based protein, omega-3s, gluten-free (always a plus) and quick and easy to boot! This became a regular in my breakfast food rotation. (For more about what quinoa is and why it is a superfood click here.)
Eventually, the sad day came when my precious bag of quinoa puffs was empty. After many unsuccessful attempts to replace my new go-to breakfast I decided to take matters into my own hands and try making it myself. Easier said than done. But, I’m not going to complain, that’s my job–to do the work–so you won’t have to!
What I learned about using quinoa . . .
It’s helpful to know that a lot of people use the terms puffed and popped quinoa interchangeably. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to puffed quinoa as the result of cooking it with liquid (like rice) and popped quinoa as the result of cooking it dry (like sesame seeds or popcorn). Also very important, you should either wash your quinoa before using it or buy a package that states that the quinoa is “pre-washed” or “sprouted”. Quinoa seeds (it’s technically a seed, not a grain) have a sticky coating called saponin. This gives the seeds a bitter flavor that serves as a natural defense against insects and animals. It is necessary to wash the coating off for both taste and digestion. To wash the quinoa yourself simply place the dry seeds in a very fine metal strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. After draining well, transfer the quinoa to a parchment-lined baking sheet and let it dry overnight or in a barely warm oven for a few hours. Remember to stir occasionally to ensure even drying. If your intention is to puff the quinoa (cooking it like rice) you can skip the drying step!
So here’s the low down on cooking quinoa . . .
Lets get the lesson-learned out of the way first. You cannot pop quinoa in a popcorn maker. I tried using my Cuisinart Easy Plus Popcorn Maker and the only thing that was easy was how quickly it burned. The quinoa seeds are so tiny that the paddle could not keep them moving and they just burned up before they did anything else.
Popping quinoa on the stove top
. . . is much like the traditional way of making popcorn. Take a heavy-bottomed pan and heat it to a medium-high temp. Putting a teaspoon or so of oil in the bottom is an option if you want salt or some other seasoning to stick to the popped seeds. If you prefer a purist approach, or intend to use the popped seeds as an ingredient in another recipe, the oil can be omitted. You’ll know the pot is ready when you toss a few seeds on the bottom and you here the quiet whisper of their pop. At this point you can sprinkle enough seeds to cover the bottom of the pan and begin shaking the pot as the seeds continue to pop. It is important to keep them moving so they don’t burn. If your pan is shallow you may want to use a lid. They don’t jump as high as popcorn but they do get their exercise. If your pot is three or more inches deep then it is probably ok to omit the lid. Just like with popcorn, once the popping sound slows, pour the seeds onto a tray or into a bowl to cool. If you intend to season them you would apply the seasoning immediately after removing them from the pot.
Popping quinoa in the oven
. . . produces a much milder outcome. To do this simply pour enough seeds to cover the bottom of a baking tray and put them in the oven at 225 degrees. You can shuffle the seeds on the tray a bit every half hour or so but don’t leave the oven door open or you will lose the majority of your heat. I let mine bake for about 2 hours and they came out a nice golden color with a lighter roasted flavor than those on the stove.
Puffing quinoa on the stove top
. . . is much like cooking rice. The quinoa-to-liquid ratio is 1:2. So for every 1/4 cup of quinoa you need 1/2 cup of liquid. Some people like to use a broth instead of water. In a pot place the quinoa, liquid and an optional pinch of sea salt then stir. It will more than double in quantity when prepared this way. If I use a 1/2 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of liquid it usually yields almost 2 cups of puffed quinoa. Place over a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and allow the quinoa to simmer until water is absorbed, approx. 15 minutes based on quantity. You will know when the quinoa is done because it will look like it has popped open—revealing the germ of the kernel (click “after” picture below to see what the cooked kernel looks like up close). Remove from heat and allow to sit 5 minutes and follow-up by fluffing a little with a fork.
There are so many wonderful culinary spins that one can take with quinoa. We’ve already added the popped quinoa as a cold breakfast cereal and puffed quinoa as a hot breakfast cereal to our regular morning lineup. I’m so happy to have a plant protein that our whole family enjoys!