Crisp and Gluten-Free Breading Ideas
Quinoa is an unconventional choice to replace breadcrumbs in their many possible uses, and the wholesome grain doesn't quite behave the same way as breadcrumbs in most recipes. Making this unusual substitution successfully requires understanding the result you're trying to achieve in each recipe you adapt, and handling the quinoa in a way that best achieves this outcome. The finished product won't be exactly the same as if you'd used breadcrumbs, but you may find that you enjoy the alternative even more than the original.
As a Breading
You can make a thick crispy coating for oven-baked chicken or chicken nuggets by coating your chicken pieces with cooked, crisped quinoa. Prepare the quinoa initially by cooking it like rice. Boil 2 parts water for each part quinoa, then add the grain, cover the pan, and lower the heat until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Spread the cooked quinoa in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake on low heat until it becomes crispy, about 20 minutes. Break up the cooked crispy layer into thick crumbs that resemble cracker crumbs or cornmeal. Coat your chicken with egg or a coating with a similar texture, such as a mustard sauce, and dredge it in the crisp crumbled quinoa before baking or frying.
As a Binder
Quinoa can also stand in for breadcrumbs to bind meatloaf or meatballs. Use raw, uncooked quinoa, and wash and strain it to remove the soapy layer (saponins) that make up quinoa's natural coating. Spread the washed raw quinoa on a baking pan, and cook on low heat until the quinoa is completely dry and starts to smell nutty. This will probably take about 20 minutes, but the cooking time may vary based on how well you've drained the raw rinsed grain. Once the quinoa is nicely toasted, grind it in a spice grinder until it reaches the consistency of breadcrumbs. Mix it with meat to soak up excess moisture and form a paste that's easy to shape. You'll need a little less than you'd need if you were using conventional breadcrumbs, because quinoa is prone to soaking up extra moisture. If the mixture grows dry and crumbly, add a bit of stock.
Quinoa flakes are made by pressing and drying cooked quinoa to create flakes that are somewhat like oatmeal. The flakes are commonly eaten as a breakfast cereal, but they can also be used as a breading or in any recipe where you'd typically use breadcrumbs. Simply process the quinoa flakes in a food processor or spice grinder to form a powder. Use this powder to coat patties or cutlets before baking or frying them.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.