The nutty, earthy flavor and gentle crunch of quinoa—a seed, not a grain—often ends up mushy and flavorless. For a better way, we looked to Deborah Madison, who cooks hers in carrot juice to up its sweetness and mute bitterness.

We also liked a quinoa by Erik Ramirez of Brooklyn’s Llama Inn. He makes a famously madcap quinoa pilaf studded with bananas, bacon, cashews and avocado, playing up contrasts in taste and texture.

For our pilaf, we found straight carrot juice too strong for the other flavors, but cutting it with water proved just right. We liked a simple combination of chewy-sweet dates and crunchy almonds.

A three-step approach kept our pilaf light and fluffy: toast the quinoa first, then cook it with less liquid than usual and, finally, let it rest before fluffing it with a fork.