Daunting as it can be to prepare a new type of food, cooking quinoa couldn't be easier to master. First, grab a bag at your local grocer, since quinoa is available at virtually all chains nowadays. "White quinoa is softer, milder and fluffier," says Kaufman, whose personal preference is for tri-color quinoa, which includes white, red and black. "It's the prettiest and combines the flavor and texture nuances of all three."
The only mildly bothersome aspect of quinoa cooking lies in the prep work. Kaufman strongly recommends rinsing quinoa thoroughly before beginning, even if your bag says it is prewashed. This is because quinoa naturally has a bitter coating called sapponin, which will affect the outcome of the dish. Because the seeds are pretty tiny, I've found it easiest to use a fine skimmer/strainer spoon to get the job done. Rinse until the water runs clear and you're good to go!
Kaufman prefers a rice cooker for her quinoa, but I've always used a small pot, and have enjoyed great results. The ideal cooking ratio is one part quinoa to two parts water. Be mindful that one seemingly tiny cup of the dry stuff will swell to three cups of cooked quinoa. Once the liquid and quinoa are combined, just cook it the same way that you would rice. Bring the pot to boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed, and the seed spirals are prominent (sounds weird, but I promise you'll know what I mean when you see it). Typically, the process from start to finish is 15 to 20 minutes, and requires little elbow grease.
Quinoa cooked plain is great mixed in or on the side of practically any main course, but there are ways to punch it up. Kaufman recommends adding extra flavor by incorporating chicken or vegetable broth during the cooking process, or including smashed garlic or herbs for panache. In more elaborate dishes, you can substitute it for any kind of grain, for instance a quinoa salad for a rice salad. Veggie burgers and meatballs also benefit from the added nutritional punch that quinoa can provide in place of standard fillers like breadcrumbs. I had a quinoa burger recently and was surprised to discover that I actually preferred it to the regular red meat variety. Who woulda thought?