quinoashrimp1So, having spent all of yesterday evening laboring over little pots of quinoa, I’m kind of done with the miracle seed. Big take-away? Rinse it and look to other ingredients for flavor. The quinoa is a fine grain substitute that adds fun, crackly-popping texture and supremely ethical protein, but not big taste. At least, as far as this round goes. I’ve only used one brand of the regular quinoa. The red, as suggested, might be an improvement.

Rinsing get the thumbs up, irritatingly. Not only does the manufacturer recommend it, so too does the Wikipedia. FINE. My tests also confirmed that the unrinsed quinoa–both toasted and not–definitely possessed an unpleasantly bitter edge. (A noteworthy comment from someone who’s been dubbed “Bittermelon” due to his taste for the astringent veggie.) My question, then, is why the hell don’t the producers do this? They’re already harvesting the friggin stuff, picking out the rocks, and putting it in little plastic baggies. Hmph.

Toasting was less of a clear winner. Of the four batches, Mr. T. preferred the rinsed, untoasted best. The rinsed toasted batch, which I expected to be the winner–if only for the amount of effort involved–was only so-so. It was still slightly damp from its rinsing, so it didn’t take color as easily as the unrinsed batch, but it still toasted up in the dry frying pan I used. It took WAY longer to cook than the other batches, though, and I’m not sure why. Maybe if it had dried completely, it would have behaved better. I can imagine rinsing a whole lot and then drying/toasting it in the oven, but only if one is truly committed to quinoa, and would want to eat it fairly unadulterated. But even the most hardcore eaters of morning quinoa porridge would want to swirl in a bit of jam or syrup or something, so I’m bestowing the laurel crown on the quinoa that gets a quick rinse just before cooking. For now, at least.

Of course, at the end of this production, I had four bowls of plain quinoa and needed to make dinner. Woo. Taking inspiration from an Asian-influenced salad from the Times, I whipped up a loose little sesame-lime dressing, diced a firm-ripe avocado, shredded up some cilantro and green onion, and boiled a few shrimp. The called-for cucumber would have been nice, and avocado AND shrimp is perhaps overkill, but it’s what I had. I also thought that the extra oil and the buttermilk in the original dressing was both heretical and nasty, so I did my own thing as far as THAT goes. Very tasty.

quinoaraw2Asian Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, NYT
Serves 4

1 c quinoa, rinsed
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
1 1″ piece fresh ginger, peeled
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
Sriracha, to taste
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp honey
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 English cucumber
3 green onions
Handful fresh cilantro
1 firm-ripe avocado
16 shrimp, cooked & cooled (optional)
1 tbs black sesame seeds

Prepare rinsed quinoa according to package directions, adding the 1/4 tsp salt to the water. While quinoa is cooking, make the dressing and prep other ingredients.

To make the dressing, grate the garlic and ginger into a large bowl using a ginger grater. You’ll end up with about 2 tsp of garlic-ginger pulp. Add lime juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice into thin half moons. Slice the green onion into thin rings. Pick the cilantro leaves from their stems and peel and dice the avocado. Pitch everything into the bowl with the dressing as you go along. Add the sesame seeds and toss to combine. Mix in quinoa. Portion onto plates, top with optional shrimp, and sprinkle with additional sesame seeds.

(If you want your salad room-temperature-ish, let your cooked quinoa cool a little bit before mixing it into the salad.)