By Lauren Chattman
Searching online for something fun to do with popcorn, I paged through the same old recipes for popcorn balls, caramel corn and cheese popcorn. Was there nothing new under the autumn sun? Then, I came across some information that almost made my head explode. Until a few days ago, I didn't realize that grains other than popping corn have hard impermeable hulls protecting starchy interiors. When quinoa, millet, amaranth or sorghum are heated, pressure builds up inside the grains until they pop. I immediately got out my jar of quinoa to give this a try.
Quinoa is an ancient grain-like crop that has been cultivated in the Andes for thousands of years. Its nutritional value is beyond compare. Not only does it have twice as much protein as corn, but its protein is complete, containing all nine essential amino acids. When it comes to fiber and minerals, quinoa is also a powerhouse. And according to some studies, it may slow atherosclerosis and protect against certain types of cancer. I was excited by the prospect increasing quinoa's presence in my family's diet by employing this new cooking method.
I heated a little bit of vegetable oil in a pan and stirred in my quinoa. After a few minutes, a toasty aroma began wafting through the kitchen. I quickly realized that without constant stirring, the kernels on the bottom would quickly burn. Luckily, quinoa kernels are much smaller than corn kernels, and although they will jump a few inches, they won't fly all over the kitchen the way popcorn will when popped in an uncovered pan.
In less than 10 minutes, most of the kernels had popped and the mixture was nicely browned. It's better to scrape the quinoa out of the pan when many but not all of the kernels have popped, so it tastes pleasantly toasted and not burnt and bitter. Unlike unpopped corn kernels, unpopped quinoa kernels can be eaten along with the popped ones without risk of broken teeth.
I had a cup or so of popped quinoa. Now I had to figure out how to use it. This wasn't a fluffy snack I could eat out of hand at the multiplex. It was, however, a crunchy and flavorful addition to my homemade granola. After I enjoyed popped quinoa granola for breakfast, I thought of 10 more ways to use it in my cooking every day:
1. Add to bread dough for a whole-grain boost with no resulting heaviness.
2. Add to oatmeal cookie dough, instead of nuts, for crunch.
3. Use it along with puffed rice cereal in a marshmallow treats recipe.
4. Use along with chopped nuts and dried fruit to make chocolate bark.
5. Stir into waffle or pancake batter.
6. Use as a thickener in Mexican-style mole sauces.
7. Sprinkle onto salads or steamed vegetables, as you would sesame seeds.
8. Knead into tortilla or flatbread dough.
9. Use instead of bread crumbs, to top macaroni and cheese or other baked pasta dishes.
10. Combine with panko bread crumbs, as a coating for chicken fingers.
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