In the often-staid world of grains and seeds, quinoa is a veritable rock star. Packed with sufficient quantities of all nine essential amino acids it earns itself the title of complete protein (it’s also a good source of fiber and minerals). Beyond health benefits, quinoa has a pleasantly vegetal, slightly nutty flavor that lends itself to a wide range of dishes and seasonings. Add in its rich history dating back to cultivation by the Incans (who held it as sacred), and it’s easy to see why quinoa consumption in this country has soared over the past decade.
Most recipes for quinoa pilaf turn out woefully overcooked because they call for nearly twice as much liquid as they should. We cut the water back to ensure tender grains with a satisfying bite.
We usually toast grains in some fat, but we found that doing so gave quinoa a marked bitterness, thanks to some bitter-tasting compounds called saponins that remain on the seeds’ exterior even after they’ve been debittered and rinsed. So we ditched the fat and toasted the quinoa in a dry pan to develop nuttiness without increasing bitterness.
And finally, we finished the pilaf with a judicious amount of boldly flavored ingredients such as chile and peanuts, which ensures the toasted quinoa stays in the spotlight—right where it belongs.