After so many years of making and eating quinoa, it’s rather unbelievable that there just might be a better way to cook it. I’ve become a believer. Lighter, fluffier, tastier quinoa than we ever knew possible. I’m guessing you’ll be equally pleased once you taste quinoa made this new way with much less water and cooked both stovetop and in the oven.
Quinoa couscous is another unexpected benefit of my deciding to teach a Moroccan cooking class at the end of this week. I discovered just how delicious regular, par-cooked couscous could taste with a little extra care in preparing it. Each grain distinct. Amazingly light and flavorful.
Reading up on Moroccan food, I learned that traditionally couscous came from millet and barley as well as wheat. I experimented a few times with gluten-free millet with less than spectacular results. So don’t look for a recipe for “millet couscous” from me any time soon.
Nutrient-rich quinoa became my next playground. High hopes that it might work as a gluten-free substitute. Cooked the way I’ve always cooked it (2 parts water to one part quinoa) quinoa is denser than semolina couscous. More research required. Fortunately I came across a CNN article with information from America’s Test Kitchen on cooking quinoa with less water and the reasons why.
“When quinoa first started getting popular, there was variability in the product; it wasn’t always fully dried. So importers decided that a 2-to-1 ratio of water to quinoa—when cooked using the absorption method—would be a safe recommendation. This was disseminated as the tried-and-true ratio, but in our testings we found we could cut it in half, seeing as most of the quinoa you can buy today is evenly dried. We call for a 1-to-1 cooking ratio, which results in a much lighter dish with more bite and snap. And best of all, it eliminates any possibility of overcooking.”
Borrowing from Ghillie Basan
The Plain, Buttery Couscous recipe in Flavors of Morocco opened my world. Basan’s easy method by far makes the very best couscous I’ve ever eaten. Ignore the directions on every couscous package, unless you only want bland and basic couscous. Basan’s method produces exceptional couscous.
I borrowed her techniques, hoping to transfer them to quinoa. Not so straight forward. The semolina couscous we get in the U.S. is precooked. Quinoa isn’t. After a number of technique changes, adjustments of the ratio of quinoa to water and a final cooking in the oven, I got it right. Light, fluffy quinoa couscous befitting Paula Wolfert’s description.
“A thousand tiny pellets of grain, light, separate and tender, doused with a tagine, arranged into a pyramid, and then served upon a platter at the end of a meal—that is couscous, the Moroccan national dish.” Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
My new recipe for lighter, fluffier, tastier quinoa
For me, the 1:1 ratio preferred by America’s Test Kitchen created quinoa that was a little too dry and too al dente. So here’s what I’m now doing and recommending for perfect quinoa. Delicious in texture and flavor whether hot or cold.
- Cook the quinoa stovetop over low heat.
- Transfer the quinoa (along with a little oil and butter) into the oven in a covered baking dish.
- ½ cup quinoa to ½ cup + 1 tablespoon water, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon butter.
Try it . . . I believe you’ll like it
I’d love to hear what you think of this method of cooking quinoa with these proportions.
BTW, don’t you love my gorgeous Amaryllis blossoms? I had to share them with you, even if they have little [nothing] to do with quinoa couscous. They make me happy 😉
My new favorite way to prepare quinoa. I’ve adapted this recipe from Ghillie Basan’s recipe for plain, buttery par-boiled semolina couscous. Perfect with Winter Vegetable Tagine. This method for cooking quinoa takes slightly more time than other methods. Though, the extra step and less liquid produce the lightest, fluffiest, tastiest quinoa ever.
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and nutrient rich.
Serves 4-6 Printer-Friendly Recipe
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
3/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 2/3 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the rinsed and drained quinoa in a medium-sized pot. Add the salt and the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot. Reduce the heat to just above the lowest setting. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- While the quinoa is cooking on the stove, toast the almonds in the oven until golden, about 7 minutes.
- Transfer the partially-cooked quinoa to a 7 x 9-inch ovenproof casserole dish. Stir in the olive oil. Dot with the butter. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove the quinoa couscous from the oven. Remove the foil. Use a fork to fluff up the grains.
- Transfer the quinoa couscous to a platter or the base of a tagine. Mound it higher in the center. Scatter the toasted almonds over the top and around the sides.
Alternative Method . . . Oven-Baked and Almost as Light and Fluffy
Same list of ingredients though the quinoa will cook in the oven the whole time.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the water on to boil.
- Place the rinsed, drained quinoa in an ovenproof casserole dish. Sprinkle with the salt.
- Pour the boiling water over the quinoa. Swirl in the oil. Dot with the butter. Tightly cover the dish with foil. Put it into the oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let the quinoa sit, covered, for another 15 minutes.
- Remove the foil. Fluff with a fork and serve.