When I go out to eat at restaurants (not very frequently), I find myself focusing on small details. I’ll look over the 40 oz. Porterhouse steak and instead focus on the weird perfectly fried thin onions strings, or whatever.
A few weeks ago, I was in San Francisco and found myself at La Mar for dinner. We had a big group and food just kept coming out, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. Everything was delicious but the item that intrigued me the most was a very tiny garnish on the dessert I had. On the menu it was just described as “caramelized quinoa” but basically it was super crispy little quinoa grains that were salty and sweet at the same time.
As is often the case, I have no idea how they made it, but that didn’t stop me from trying. The result is this Kettle Quinoa! The trickiest part to it is just cooking the quinoa perfectly. If you screw it up the kettle part won’t work. But, if you nail it, you’ll have a delicious pantry item that keeps fine for a good amount of time and you can sprinkle them on anything and everything!
- Rinse quinoa well with cold water. Then simmer until just cooked through. Be very careful to not overcook it. If it’s too sticky or soggy, this recipe won’t work as the quinoa will never get crunchy.
- When the quinoa still has a very tiny bite to it, like al dente pasta, strain quinoa and return it to a hot pot off the heat. Cover and steam for a few minutes.
- Fluff cooked quinoa with a fork and spread out on a baking sheet to cool and dry for 10-15 minutes. Quinoa should be dry to the touch and room temperature. It should easily separate into individual grains.
- Add 2 cups of cooked quinoa to a bowl with melted butter, brown sugar, and salt. Stir together well.
- Spread out quinoa on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes. Check on it after 10 and 15 minutes and stir it if the edges are getting to browned.
- When quinoa is browned and crispy remove from oven and let cool.
- Store kettle quinoa in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge. Sprinkle it on everything!
This recipe will only work if you nail the quinoa. Overcook it even slightly and it won’t happen. My quinoa key is to use a mesh strainer to rinse the quinoa and use it to stop the cooking right when I want.
Once the quinoa is rinsed well with cold water, add it to simmering water and let it simmer until the grains are just tender. They should still have a tiny bite to them. Think of al dente pasta.
When they are there (maybe 10 minutes), I strain them in the mesh strainer and then return them to the hot pot. Cover the pot but remove it from the heat and the quinoa will continue to steam for a few minutes.
Then fluff it with a fork and quickly spread it out on a sheet pan to rapidly cool and dry the quinoa.
If you do it right, it should be very easy to separate the grains. It should almost feel like thick sand when you pick it up.
If it’s gummy or sticky at all, start over. It’s gotta be dry and separate for this to work!
Okay. The hard part is honestly over.
Now just measure out the amount of cooked quinoa you want and add it to a bowl with butter, brown sugar, and salt. This will basically create a subtle caramel topping on each grain of quinoa. Stir everything together really well.
Spread the seasoned quinoa out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil and bake it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, but I’d check it at 10 minutes and 15 minutes just to make sure it’s cooking evenly.
I get that I didn’t use an actual kettle to make this, but whatever. You cook the quinoa in a kettle, technically, so don’t beat me up on it!
The resulting quinoa should be salty, sweet, and crispy!
Ideally, the grains will still be fairly separate.
What to do with this stuff? Well, so much!
The restaurant I first had it at served these little nuggets over chocolate mousse so I sprinkled them on chocolate pudding. YUM.
You could also sprinkle them liberally on any salad or soup. They add a nice interesting crunch to anything. My son was just eating them straight out of the bowl also!
If you have some time and are looking for a fun cooking project, try this Kettle Quinoa!