Quinoa was a staple crop of the Incan empire, a plant that produced both spinach-like leaves and grain-like seeds. Although its cultivation had dwindled after the Spanish conquest, quinoa has seen a revival in recent years as consumers have developed an interest in unusual and nutritious foods. Quinoa is a seed, rather than a true grain, and it is rich in nutrients not found in the true grains. It is also gluten-free, which is good for those who have a gluten-free diet. Quinoa can be cooked like rice, or puffed up by popping it like popcorn.
Pour the quinoa into a fine-meshed strainer, and rinse it thoroughly under cold running water. Quinoa seeds are coated with a bitter substance called saponin, which must be rinsed off before it is eaten. Some brands are sold already rinsed, but do not skip this step unless you are sure the grain is palatable.
Spread the rinsed quinoa on a baking tray, and allow it to air dry or dry it in your oven at the lowest setting, with the door propped open. Stir the grain regularly, to ensure even and thorough drying.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over a moderately high burner. Pour 1 tbsp of vegetable oil into the pot, and swirl it to cover the bottom completely.
Pour in enough quinoa to make a single layer across the bottom of the pot. Cover tightly with the lid, and shake the pot continuously as the quinoa begins to pop. The seeds are much smaller than corn, and will scorch quickly if you are not diligent.
Pour the popped quinoa into a waiting bowl once the sound of popping slows. Wipe the pot out and repeat the process, until you have popped as much quinoa as you will need.
Season the puffed quinoa and eat it as is, or use it as an ingredient in bars, cookies and baking.
Quinoa popped at home will not be as light and fluffy as the commercially puffed product used as a breakfast cereal. Like puffed rice or wheat, those grains are produced by a commercial vacuum process, which doesn't lend itself to home duplication.