“What is this again?”

My husband is eyeing his dinner plate with equal parts curiosity and skepticism.

“It’s quinoa,” I chirp. “Red. I got it at Roots.”

He sighs.

“I don’t really like quinoa.”

Neither did I, the first time I made it. It was goopy, tasteless and kind of weird. That translucent ring around its opaque center looks downright unworldly.

But then I learned a no-fail cooking technique to coax fluffiness and flavor from this ancient Incan staple.

While often classified with grains, quinoa is actually a seed. Farmers throughout the Andean mountains have grown the gluten-free crop for thousands of years. Its nutritional benefits include high amounts of protein, magnesium, iron and fiber.

Quinoa comes in white, red and black varieties. And truth be told, it’s kind of high maintenance: A bitter coating surrounds each seed and must be washed off before you cook the stuff.

I began my quinoa adventure with the white variety. It has a subtle flavor and — after learning to cook it correctly — made a lovely dish for my gluten-free friends. But its flavor didn’t quite match the effort it took to make it.

Then I tried red. It was a revelation. Earthy. Chewy. Hearty and robust. Red quinoa would be the ravishing redhead at a dinner party; the Emma Stone of Andean foodstuffs.

“Just try it,” I told my husband. “I really think you’ll like it.”

He did.

And he did.

***

Warm Red Quinoa Salad

Forget, forget, forget(!) any other method of cooking quinoa. Cross out and ignore any directions other than these, from the Gourmet Today cookbook. This method will never leave you with a gloppy, mushy mess:

  • quinoa dryRinse 1 cup quinoa in 3 changes of cold water. (Be sure to use a fine-mesh sieve for this. Otherwise, the quinoa will fall through your colander’s holes.)
  • Bring 3-4 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon salt, then add the quinoa and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Drain in a sieve and rinse in cold water.
  • quinoa steamingBring about 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil in the same saucepan. Set the sieve with the quinoa over the saucepan. Cover with a kitchen towel and a lid, folding the edges of the towel over the lid so they won’t burn.
  • Steam for 15 minutes until the quinoa is fluffy and dry.

While the quinoa is steaming, make a vinaigrette (again, from the Gourmet Today cookbook) by whisking together 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, 1 tablespoon water, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, a pinch of freshly ground pepper, and 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Stir in 1 minced garlic clove.

quinoa radishesFinely chop your choice of hearty vegetables until you have about 2 cups worth. I like to chop radishes, fennel, radicchio and cauliflower, but go ahead and add carrots, celery and peppers if you like.

Lightly toast 1/4-1/2 cup pecans (or walnuts or pine nuts). Add to your vegetables.

Add the hot quinoa, a handful (about 1/4 cup) of roughly chopped parsley and 1-2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint. Toss with the vinaigrette and taste. Add more salt, pepper or herbs if needed to balance the flavors.

Serve immediately for a warm salad, or refrigerate for a cold version. This is also excellent the next day.

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