Chatelaine Kitchen

Cooking tips: Best ways to cook quinoa and eggplant

Ask Claire: These questions (how to cook quinoa, and eggplant, and the shelf life of flour) and more answered by Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey

Dear Claire, how do you cook quinoa? I used a frying pan last time and it turned out quite well but I had to watch it constantly. Is there a cheat way?
Thanks,
Alex

A: Quinoa is one of my favourite weeknight staples. It’s nutritious, versatile, delicious – and it cooks up so quickly. You can cook it “rice style” by adding one cup of quinoa to two cups of boiling water and simmering it for 15 minutes. But I find the easiest no-fuss way to cook quinoa is “pasta style.” Boil a medium-sized pot of salted water, just like you would for a small batch of pasta. Add the quinoa and let it simmer away for about eight to 12 minutes. You can tell quinoa is cooked when the little white strings or “tails” pop away from the grain. Drain the quinoa, but be sure to use a fine-mesh sieve: the grains can slip right through the holes of an ordinary colander. Now it’s ready to eat – just drizzle it with a little olive oil, or try this pilaf. I add feta and serve it as a main course.

Dear Claire, I’ve had a 10 kilo sack of whole wheat flour in my pantry for two years. It is unopened and I was wondering if the flour would still be okay.
Thanks,
Susan E

A: I am very sorry to tell you that it probably isn’t good anymore. Whole-wheat flour contains the bran and germ of the wheat kernel. While these make the flour more delicious and nutritious, they also contain volatile natural oils, which tend to become rancid over time. Rancid flour isn’t dangerous; it just has an unpleasantly stale taste and smell.

The best way to store whole-wheat flour is in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. This means that unless I’m on a homemade bread-making kick, I tend to buy whole-wheat flour in smaller bags and use it up in pizza dough, muffins, banana bread, and even apple cake as quickly as possible.

Dear Claire, Can you give me some tips on how to properly cook eggplant. No matter the recipe I consistently get it wrong, with it usually turning out rubbery.
Thanks,
Amy

A: I love eggplant, but it’s as if it has two personalities: creamy and delicious or spongy and bland. One problem is the type of eggplant you use. Regular Italian eggplant generally needs to be cooked with a decent amount of oil in order to get tender and creamy. So if you’re making this fabulous involtini, be sure not to skimp on the olive oil when roasting the eggplant slices, and sprinkle the slices generously with salt and pepper.

I prefer to get Japanese eggplant whenever I can. These are long and slender and a paler purple than ordinary eggplant. They are naturally more creamy and luscious, and take well to stir-frys and curries. Once you try them, you’ll be hooked!

Dear Claire, Some recipes I encounter use weight instead of volume, especially when baking. I get it, it’s more accurate but I don’t have – or really want – a kitchen scale. Is there a quick-and-dirty conversion for common ingredients?
Thanks,
Barbara

A: It’s frustrating, but there aren’t really any reliable conversion charts – and if you come across one, don’t trust it. The reason weights are considered “superior” to volume measurements is because they can be so much more precise. And at best, conversion charts can only approximate volumes for ingredients – which defeats the whole purpose of using a scale!

If you’re even a sometimes-baker, do consider investing in a small scale. You can easily find decent ones for less than $50, and the digital scales are light and compact enough to store in the cupboard. A scale makes baking so much easier and neater: you don’t have to wash a ton of measuring cups.

If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: askaneditor@chatelaine.com