Have you eaten much quinoa?

It’s strange stuff, a plant-based complete protein, with all nine amino acids. A nutritional powerhouse respected by the Incas as the “mother grain.” But most of us have no idea what to do with it, much less how to pronounce it.

I’d been avoiding those little beads since the Great Quinoa Disaster of 2010, when I cooked it for the first time and wound up with a bowl full of nasty, gritty stuff that tasted like old pennies.

So, I wasn’t even tempted to try quinoa (that’s KEEN-wah, in case you were wondering) again until I saw this recipe for Toasted Quinoa, Corn and Avocado Salad in Marie Simmons’ “Fresh & Fast Vegetarian.” A big, summery, main dish salad with toasted quinoa, fresh sweet corn, diced tomatoes, scallions, creamy avocado and a small handful of cilantro tossed with a bright lime-jalapeño dressing.

And there, in Simmons’ section on quinoa, I finally learned what I’d done wrong the first time.

Before you cook quinoa, you have to RINSE it.

Doh.

Quinoa requires rinsing, because it’s covered in saponin, a natural bitter-tasting compound that protects it from being eaten by birds. Just pour your quinoa into a fine-mesh sieve, place it under running water for about a minute, and it’s ready to be toasted.

You could make a salad with the vegetables and lime-jalapeño dressing alone, but the toasted quinoa adds a nutty flavor and the extra bit of crunch this salad needs to make you feel like you’re eating a meal. It’s a bright, refreshing, filling main dish, just right for a summer lunch or dinner.

And about as far from dirty old pennies as you could possibly get.

Consider me schooled.

Toasted Quinoa, Corn and Avocado Salad

From Marie Simmons’ “Fresh & Fast Vegetarian”

Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
    Lime-Jalapeño Dressing:

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
  • 1 cup diced (1/2 inch) firm, ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup thin-sliced (1/4 inch) scallions (white and green parts)
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced (1/2 inch)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer under cold water for at least 45 seconds. Shake the strainer to remove as much water as possible.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, stirring, over medium heat until it is light golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add 2 cups water to the quinoa, and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and appears to be uncoiling, 18 to 20 minutes.
  4. Let stand, uncovered, until cool, about 10 minutes.
  5. To Make the Dressing: Sprinkle the cumin in a small skillet, and toast over medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the skillet is cool to the touch, add the oil, lime juice, jalapeño pepper, garlic and salt. Transfer to a large bowl, and whisk to blend.
  6. Add the cooled quinoa, corn, tomatoes and scallions to the dressing, and toss to blend. Spoon the salad onto a large platter, and sprinkle the avocado and cilantro on top.