Quinoa (or rice) pilaf

A man was killed trying to get the ancient grain to the U.S. Let's make sure he didn't die in vain

Topics: Eyewitness Cook, Cooking techniques, Food,

Quinoa (or rice) pilaf

Quinoa is the kind of food that I didn’t think was food. Sure, I mean, technically it fits the bill: you can put it in your pie hole and it has calories and such. But every mention of it being The Incan Supergrain or the Miracle Food or the Mother Food of the Ancients made me inch away like I was getting stared down by an angry bottle of patchouli. Look, I’m thrilled it’s one of the Earth Mother’s only vegetable-based complete proteins, but when you start trying to sell food to me like that, I’m calling you a dirty hippie and running away. I ate some carob once. I’m not going back down that road.

But I did some tune-changing when a chef of mine in culinary school made me try some. It was delicious! (One case where fear and an iron fist is more effective than gentle suggestion.) The odd, musty, ginseng-like smell of raw quinoa gave way to a lovely nutty, grassy flavor when cooked, with wonderful texture that pops ever so slightly between the teeth. (It didn’t hurt that we served it with a coconut milk-drenched shrimp stew, but still…) The key, as always with any grain, is to cook it properly, and I’ll show you how below.

The reason quinoa is on my mind today, though, is because of a wild story over on the Atlantic Food Channel on the poor Colorado trio who first tried to bring quinoa to the U.S. market from South America in the 80′s. It’s a spooky tale of curses, murder, and shamanistic hoo-doo. Really. You won’t believe the metaphysical wrath that befalls the dudes who just wanted to sell a few pounds of this stuff while standing in a Boulder health food store (which, frankly, should have been karmic punishment enough). Check it:

The shaman removed the curse, and Gorad’s headaches went away. Regarding Cusack, Gorad had never put much stock in the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. He believes somebody, maybe a hunter, fired off a gun, and that the bullet was guided by the same unseen force that caused his headaches. He notes that the indigenous populations who grew most of the quinoa have had a history of bad relations with outsiders ever since the Spanish came in the 16th century. The notion that now they were coming for the mother grain may have been too much to bear.

Happily, quinoa is now widely available with little bloodshed. If you’re like my ladyfriend or Salon’s own Boss Lady Joan Walsh (who said, when I proposed this story, “I can see someone getting killed for that. Quinoa is the most disgusting thing that’s ever been served.”), you’re not really thrilled. But make it pilaf-style, and I’d bet someone else’s life you’ll love it.

Quinoa pilaf
Serves 4 – 6 as a side

2 C quinoa
3 C water (or stock, if you want to get serious)
Olive oil, or any fat of your choosing
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 325. This is also what I do when making rice. Yes, I’m Chinese. No, I can’t make rice on the stovetop. I used to be filled with shame about this, but then I realized that every Chinese home I’ve ever been in has a plug-in rice cooker, so now I feel much less bad about it.
  2. Put a heavy 2-qt (or thereabouts) saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Be generous with it: think of the poor cursed quinoa Quixotes. When the fat is hot enough to shimmer, add the quinoa and stir, coating all the grains in oil.
  3. Toast, stirring. The sound in the pot should be a bit squeaky. When the smell is a little like toasting nuts, a little like popcorn, and it starts to sound like a sizzle, add the water or stock; the pot should be hot enough for it to boil instantly. Keep cooking it over high heat until it maintains a boil. Add a few pinches of salt, give it a quick stir, put the lid on, and drop it in the oven.
  4. 16 minutes later (13 for rice), pull it out and uncover. The quinoa should be cooked, throwing steam but with no liquid in the grains. (If it’s still wet, put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.) Gently stir to fluff the grains, letting it steam off to dry for a few minutes. Taste it. Doesn’t it taste like brown rice’s cooler cousin? Does it pop in your teeth? Then you’ve done it right. Season with salt and pepper, stir, and serve.

Note: This is also the method for perfect basic long-grained white rice pilaf. If you want to get fancy, toast some aromatics (garlic, onion, spices, etc.), in the oil before adding the quinoa or rice. Also note that if you increase the quantities of this recipe, it might take more time in the oven, but check it at the recommended times anyway.

To serve: Serve this with anything you would eat with rice. Though there isn’t quite the same level of starch in quinoa to pick up very loose sauces, it’s still great, and richer and creamy sauces work especially beautifully. One thing I like to do is spread the cooked quinoa out to let it steam off and cool and make a salad with it: fold in raw and roasted vegetables, nuts, grated parmigiano cheese, and dress it with vinegar or lemon juice and nice olive oil.


Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>