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So often on Chopped we see chef contestants open their mystery baskets to find such odd, uncommon and downright scary ingredients — pre-cooked pig snout, pickled beef tongue or grasshoppers, anyone? — that it can seem nearly impossible for home cooks to put them to work in everyday meals. On other episodes, however, the ingredients are far less intimidating yet not quite familiar. That’s where we come in. Each week during the brand-new season of Chopped Champions, FN Dish will break down the whats, hows and whens of an approachable, family-friendly ingredient and share deliciously simple recipes for using it, so that you can show off your best culinary chops at home. Following last Tuesday’s round-2 competition, the focus is now on quinoa, which made an appearance in the entree round alongside squab, karela and peanut butter and jelly spread.
Extremely similar in taste and texture to the red quinoa that was featured on Champions, white quinoa boasts a subtle nutty flavor and becomes chewy-tender when cooked. These tiny morsels — a bit smaller than couscous — look and feel like a grain, but they’re actually seeds from a plant closely related to spinach. To become soft, quinoa needs time to simmer in liquid, which is why several of the Chopped competitors struggled to fully cook their variety in such a short amount of time. When it’s ready to eat, quinoa bursts open, shedding fine, slightly crunchy spirals to reveal a light, fluffy superfood that’s packed with protein and good-for-you nutrients. Since quinoa absorbs the liquid in which it’s cooked, try boiling it in chicken or vegetable broth instead of water for added flavor; if you don’t have broth on hand, just add a few drips of lemon juice to water to take the taste to the next delicious level.
Thanks to its naturally mild taste, quinoa can be paired with nearly every flavor and ingredient imaginable, so it’s an easy vehicle for using up refrigerator remnants, like herbs and vegetables, left over from last night’s dinner. Keep a bag of it parked on your pantry shelf and look to it to round out a meal of hearty meat and delicate seafood alike. If you’ve never before cooked with quinoa, try introducing it to your family in the classic preparations below then browse Food Network’s Best 5 Quinoa Recipes for more simple dishes.
In her recipe for Herbed Quinoa (pictured above), Giada cooks the quinoa in a mixture of lemon juice and chicken broth to create a bright flavor, then tosses it with a simple dressing featuring fragrant lemon zest and fresh basil, parsley and thyme. Watch this video to see how Giada preps her satisfying salad in mere minutes.
Food Network Magazine swaps in quinoa for traditional noodles in its comforting Chicken and Quinoa Soup (pictured right) recipe. There’s no need to precook the quinoa in this warming winter bowl; just add it to the Cajun seasoning-spiked chicken broth with carrots and celery and let it become soft there. Before serving, add in a few handfuls of vibrant broccoli and tender shredded chicken to complete the soup, and top each bowl with cool sour cream.
Tune in to the third round of Chopped Champions on Tuesday, January 29, at 10pm/9c.