Passover’s dietary restrictions and complex food rules are a challenge for some people. Prepared/packaged foods are not as readily available, compared to during the rest of the year. Those looking for a quick meal are often stuck with a piece of matzah or some leftovers from the seder. While I probably spend more time in the kitchen than most people, I’m always on the lookout for shortcuts when it comes to meal prep, striving to cook recipes that can be made in advance to accommodate my family’s hectic schedule. Even better is when I can cook a batch of one ingredient, such as quinoa, and then make several recipes from it.
Quinoa, though grain-like in flavor and texture, is actually a seed and is permitted during Passover. Quinoa has served as a source of energy for thousands of years. An Andean plant from Bolivia and Peru, it was cultivated by pre-Columbian civilizations and used as the primary food source prior to the introduction of cereal grains by the Spanish explorers. Today it is considered a “superfood” due to its exceptional nutritional profile. Quinoa is an excellent source of plant-based protein, is rich in fiber and contains high levels of many minerals. I use it throughout the year in many of my meals. It is inexpensive to purchase in bulk, cooks quickly and can be the base of a multitude of delicious recipes.
Years ago, quinoa was a specialty ingredient that could only be found in hippie health food stores. These days, quinoa is stocked in nearly every grocery store. I tend to shop in natural food stores and co-ops, which always have several varieties of quinoa in their bulk foods section. White, red, black and rainbow quinoa are the common types. All have the same superb nutritional profile, so the only difference is the color and a slight flavor variation. I prefer rainbow quinoa, which is a mixture of the three colors, mainly because I like how it looks once it’s cooked.
Cooking quinoa is very simple, as it only requires water (or another liquid such as broth) to cook. The first step, prior to cooking, is to rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Why? Because quinoa is naturally covered in a bitter substance called saponins. The quinoa plant evolved to be covered in saponins as a way to protect itself and ward off the threat of pests; saponins are bitter tasting and toxic for predators, but easily removed by thorough rinsing. Place the desired amount of quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and let cool tap water cover the quinoa. Continue to rinse until the water runs clear, usually no more than two minutes. Drain of excess water before proceeding with your recipe.
An optional step in cooking quinoa is to sprout it. Sprouting is a way to potentially increase the essential nutrients found in a grain or legume. When quinoa is sprouted, the grain begins to germinate for a short while, making it more nutrient dense and easier to digest, as the nutrients are more bioavailable. To sprout quinoa, place the desired amount of rinsed quinoa in a large bowl, cover with water and soak for an hour. Rinse and drain the quinoa, then place in a sprouting jar (easily found in a natural foods store or online), and continue to rinse and drain every few hours until germination begins. The quinoa grains will grow little “tails,” indicating that germination has occurred. This usually takes one to two days. Continue with your recipe from this point, or let the quinoa dry completely, covered with a paper towel, so it doesn’t attract dust, and then store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks. (See more on sprouting quinoa here.)
To cook quinoa, use a ratio of one-to-two quinoa to water, or slightly less. For the three recipes I share here, all of which can be easily made in advance and enjoyed throughout Passover, I cooked two cups of dry quinoa in three and three-quarters cups of water. After rinsing the quinoa, combine it with the water in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat, but leave the lid on to allow the quinoa to steam and continue to absorb any remaining liquid. After steaming for ten minutes, remove the lid and gently fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Place the cooked quinoa in a large bowl and use in these recipes for days of delicious, quick and nourishing meals.