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.