Although it behaves like a grain, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is actually a seed related to Swiss chard and beets that cooks up relatively quickly. This super food was prized by the Incas for its nutrition and sweet, grassy taste. Today, it can be cooked like rice and served as a pilaf, used for stuffing and even ground into flour. With a little experimentation, raw quinoa can provide a gluten- and wheat-free substitute for breadcrumbs in meatloaf.
Quinoa comes in several shades of maroon, pink, brown and creamy white. In the U.S. markets the red or ivory are the most commonly found in health food stores and some supermarkets. Look for it in whole grain form available in boxes, bags or bulk, as “quinoa flakes” for making breakfast cereal or as quinoa flour for use in baking.
Washing is an important step when cooking with whole grain quinoa. The seeds are coated with a bitter, soapy substance called saponin naturally produced by the plant to discourage birds. Measure the amount of grain needed into a sieve and toss the grains in water, allowing them to bump up against each other. Let the water drain out until you are ready to use.
Quinoa will double in volume when cooked, soaking up two cups of liquid for every cup of grain, and cooking in about 15 to 20 minutes. For a soft breadcrumb substitute, soak the quinoa first in boiling or very hot water. This will soften the outer layer of the grain and help keep your meatloaf moist. For a firmer, crunchy texture, use the raw quinoa without soaking, and consider increasing the amount of liquid in your meatloaf to keep it from drying out. Using quinoa flakes (no soaking necessary) can also serve as a binder.
Toasting nuts and seeds helps to bring out their nutty flavor, and quinoa is no different. To toast, place the grain in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, tossing frequently, until the grains turn golden and start to pop. These toasted grains will behave differently than un-toasted quinoa, soaking up less water and giving texture to your meatloaf. The toasted grains can also be coarsely ground into a meal. Use the toasted grains (ground or whole) as you would the breadcrumbs.
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