I mean, I get it! All those typical preparations of quinoa leave you with an earthy and bland taste, and there you are, looking for other tasty ingredients to turn quinoa into something like an exciting salad. No worries! We are going to fix that problem today by making whole-meal quinoa that's delicious on its own; no company is needed, but you can if you desire to push it. But what's the answer?
Well, leave it to this home cook from Iran, and every grain (seed here) gets a pilaf-style preparation.
Pilaf-style cooking is when grains are prepared with varying combinations of herbs, vegetables, spices, and proteins. Hence, in many middle-eastern cultures, this popular method of cooking has resulted in dishes that are whole meals in themselves.
Pilaf-style cooking in Persian cuisine is a major way of life, and we like to apply the technique of pilaf-making and steaming to a variety of grains other than rice. Grains that could be prepared successfully with this technique include white and brown rice, wild rice, large bulgar, wheat, buckwheat, farro, amaranth, and of course, quinoa. To push this to an ultimate weirdness, I want to mention that in Persian cuisine, even pasta dishes are prepared pilaf style and are called "macaroni," but that's another post.
The process of pilaf making is very similar to steaming a plain grain, but it includes other mix-ins such as sauteed onion, herbs, vegetables, and proteins. The mix-ins are commonly prepared before boiling the grain and added once the grain is parboiled and ready to be steamed. You will need a pot with a lid for this recipe.
Finally, the most important concept about pilaf style cooking is the ratio of grain to liquid, which differs from grain to grain and varies depending on the brand and type. I know most people are hesitant to steam grains because they are afraid not to achieve that beautiful fluffy texture at the end. My answer to all these is a measuring cup and willingness to try something more than once, take notes, and apply changes. You're guaranteed to find a sweet spot, and once you stick to the same brand over and over again, you will always get the same result. This is why I only buy my tri-color quinoa from Trader Joe's because I have figured out its grain-to-liquid ratio to the tee.
Now that you know the key to making a pilaf-style grain, I suggest you explore the delicious world of steaming grains and enjoy eating jeweled rice or fluffy grains more often. Let's do this.
16 oz tri-color quinoa (roughly 2.5 cups)
3 tbsp cooking oil
1 large yellow onion, diced small
1 large red bell pepper, diced small
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp curry powder
3 cups vegetable or protein-based broth
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter, cubed small
Fresh lemon wedges for garnish
1) Put the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse with lukewarm water until clean.
2) In a medium nonstick skillet, heat cooking oil over medium heat. Add the onions with a pinch of salt, pepper, and sauté for 10 minutes until golden. Next, add the bell peppers, garlic, curry powder, and tomato paste. Stir well and cook for 3 more minutes to combine flavors.
3) Meanwhile, mix the vegetable stock and quinoa in a medium nonstick pot and bring to a boil. Season it with salt if needed, stirring occasionally.
4) Once quinoa has absorbed most broth liquid (80-90%), add the sautéed mixture, stir well, and cook for 2 more minutes.
5) With the back of a wooden spoon, make multiple hollow hole impressions through the quinoa to help the seeds with steaming. Dab the top of the quinoa with small butter pieces and cover the pot. Raise the heat for one minute to create a rush of steam, then reduce heat to medium-low and steam for 25 minutes. Uncover and fluff quinoa with a fork. Serve hot or cold with fresh lemon for squeezing on top.
- Select a nonstick pot between 6-10" in diameter that is deep enough.
- The timing and liquid measurement of this recipe work best for tri-color quinoa. Brown and red quinoa can take longer to cook than gold ones. Quinoa also comes in green, purple, and orange.
- Always follow the package direction and measure the liquid. Similar to rice, quinoa can become mushy or undercooked if the liquid is not measured accordingly.
- If preferred, add cooked chicken or beef when adding the sautéed mixture to quinoa and let everything simmer together.
- You want to wash the quinoa to eliminate any last hints of bitterness from its natural coating (saponin). However, most manufacturers these days adopt many different techniques to remove that unpalatable astringent, bitter taste from the quinoa before packaging.
- For an easy non-vegetarian version of this dish, consider a store-bought rotisserie chicken, cut it into bite-sized pieces ahead of time, and add it when mixing the vegetable mixture with quinoa before steaming.