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The How-To Guide: Cook Perfect Quinoa

The How-To Guide: Cook Perfect Quinoa

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Quinoa is hot. The gluten-free, protein-packed whole grain remains one of the most popular ingredients on our web site and Pinterest boards. Month after month, you guys light up the search fields, looking for our best tips on cooking with quinoa.

So how do you cook quinoa [KEEN-wa]? It's not quite like pasta where you boil water, cook pasta to al dente, and then drain. No, quinoa is more like rice--add the right ratio of water to grains and let the grains absorb it all slowly over low heat. But what is the right ratio? It's a discussion we've had around the tasting table many times, especially in recent weeks as we're working on several new quinoa recipes.

Conventional wisdom suggests a simple 2-to-1 ratio. However, we think that leaves grains a bit soggy and watered down. In her book "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals," (which we chose as one of the best cookbooks of the past 25 years) Maria Speck calls for a 1 3/4-to-1 ratio. We tried that and thought it was still a bit damp, but it was getting closer to ideal.

The sweet spot: 1 1/2-to-1. That's 1 1/2 cups of water to every 1 cup of quinoa.

Here's how you cook perfect quinoa:

1. Thoroughly rinse your quinoa under cold water, and drain it in a fine-mesh sieve. Better yet, let the quinoa soak for about 15 minutes in cold water, then drain the grains through a fine-mesh sieve. Quinoa has a natural protective coating called saponin. If you don't rinse it well, the quinoa will be bitter because of this coating. Much of the quinoa sold in the United States is pre-rinsed. If the box or bin does not say the quinoa is pre-rinsed, assume it's not and rinse it anyway. An extra rinse or soak won't hurt the quinoa or affect the cooking process.

2. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and the rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. You'll know the quinoa is finished cooking when it appears as if each grain has "popped" open. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork.Yield: About 3 cups.

For a tasty change, try cooking your quinoa in unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson) instead of water. The stock imparts a lot of flavor to the quinoa without big nutritional changes.

Last year, we tasted several different brands of boxed quinoa for our Taste Test Awards. See our winner and runner-up here. Plus, find a collection of 15 quinoa recipes.

Have your own tips for cooking or flavoring quinoa? Share them in the comments. We'd love to hear!


Ingredients

  • ▢ 2 cups chicken/beef/vegetable broth , Note 1
  • ▢ 1 cup quinoa , Note 2
  • ▢ ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

Notes

Nutrition Information

While light and fluffy in texture, quinoa is very filling and satisfying! It’s great as a side dish, or breakfast porridge, or even in a salad.


How to Cook Quinoa (Tutorial)

Quinoa is great in both savory and sweet dishes. Use this technique to have perfectly fluffy quinoa every time.

Step 1: Rinse Quinoa before Cooking

Most people are tempted to skip this step but I recommend it for better flavor and texture.

Grains and seeds like quinoa are stored in large barrels and can contain a bitter flavor or dust on the outside if not rinsed. Rinsing your quinoa will yield better flavor. However—and this is part of the trick in step 3—when you rinse it you’re adding water to the dish. Read on to step 3 for what to do to avoid soggy quinoa. Let as much water drain out as possible after rinsing. I let it sit in the fine mesh colander for 30-60 seconds to let the water properly drain out.

Step 2: Use the Correct Size Pan

Using the right size pan is important in all cooking techniques, but especially here as the quinoa needs to absorb all of the water without cooking too slowly or too quickly. I use a 3-quart pan for anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup quinoa, and a 4-5 quart pan for more. Use a 6-quart pan for 2 cups of quinoa. There is some wiggle room there, just don’t try to cook a small amount of quinoa in a huge pot, or a large amount of quinoa in a small pot as it will either overcook or undercook.

Step 3: The Trick! Add The Correct Amount of Water

Here’s the trick to cooking your quinoa to turn out fluffy and not soggy:

The water to quinoa ratio is 2:1, so you’ll need 2 cups of liquid (water or stock) for 1 cup dried quinoa. However, since we rinsed it, there is a little water in the quinoa already. Use just shy of a 2:1 ratio for perfectly fluffy quinoa.

See the measurements and ratios in the printable recipe card below.

Step 4: Bring to a Boil, Reduce to Simmer

Now for the easy part! Set the stove to high and bring it to a boil, then cover and reduce it to a simmer. Depending on your climate, elevation, and stove, it can take 2-5 minutes to bring it to a boil.

Step 5: Cover, then Set a Timer

Once you reduce to a simmer, COVER the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and set a timer for 10 minutes.

Covering the pan prevents too much water from evaporating out. Your quinoa should take 12 minutes to cook , but I say set a timer for 10 minutes to start checking it then.

The quinoa is done once all of the water is absorbed.

Step 6: Let Sit for 15 Minutes, Then Fluff with a Fork

Once the water is absorbed, remove it from the heat. Give it a stir and cover and let it sit for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff it with a fork. Voila! Perfectly fluffy quinoa.

I sometimes let mine sit for a few hours on the stove to cool to room temperature while I’m cooking other things. You can use your quinoa hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.

If storing in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 5 days.


How To Cook Fluffy, Tasty Quinoa

Quinoa has come a long way — all the way from the back shelves of health food stores to national supermarket aisles. Its high protein content, sweet and nutty flavor, and delicate texture have made quinoa a popular substitute for starchier pasta and rice (although once you try it, you’re not likely to think of it as a “substitute” again!). Quinoa is an easy grain to love.

Several of us here at Kitchn like to make a big pot of quinoa on the weekends and eat it throughout the week with curry, grilled vegetables, or braised meat. It’s one of the most delicious, fast-cooking lunch staples we know. Here’s how to cook great quinoa — not mushy or bitter, but delicate and perfectly fluffy.

What Is Quinoa?

Cultivated in the Andes for over 5,000 years, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been called “the mother grain” and “the gold of the Incas.” Technically, it’s not a grain but a seed, although it is used in virtually all the same ways as other whole grains. The popularity of quinoa has grown steadily over the years, as people have discovered its pleasant nutty taste and superfood qualities. As a complete protein source also high in iron, magnesium, and fiber, quinoa is not only one of our healthiest pantry staples, but also one that’s incredibly easy and quick to cook.

Which Quinoa to Buy?

I’ve read that there are 1,800 (!) varieties of quinoa, but there are three main types found in markets in the U.S.: white, red, and black. White quinoa has the most neutral, easy-to-love flavor — start with this one if you’ve never tried quinoa before. Red and black quinoa both have their own distinct personalities, and I find them to be a little bolder and earthier in flavor than white quinoa. They’re fun in salads or other dishes where their color really pops!

The standard cooking method outlined below will work for any kind of quinoa you find.


The nutritional benefits of quinoa

Quinoa is high in protein. It is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa also contains a modest amount of high-quality fat, carbohydrates and dietary fiber and is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin E.

Quinoa is also gluten-free and cholesterol-free and is typically grown organically, meaning it’s unlikely to contain pesticide residue.

According to the FDA, one cup of quinoa contains:

  • 222 calories
  • 8 grams protein
  • 3.5 grams fat
  • 39 grams carbohydrates
  • 5 grams of fiber

The pressure cooking time for quinoa is 1 minute. Yes, just ONE minute! One minute is the actual cooking time and does not include the time that it takes for the Instant Pot to reach pressure and then release pressure. All together, your quinoa will be in the pressure cooker for a little over 20 minutes.

The quick cook time keeps the quinoa from burning to the bottom of the Instant Pot. During the natural release, the quinoa will finish cooking in the hot, steamy environment inside the pot. This produces the best fluffy quinoa.


3. Ginger Miso Quinoa

Third, on our list is a more Asian-inspired dish that uses ginger and miso. It's salty, it's a bit spicy and it's incredibly versatile!

Serve this Ginger Miso Quinoa with:

  • a veggie stir fry
  • in a grain bowl with tofu
  • next to a thick curry or stew (it would be great with our sweet potato curry!)


Quinoa is popular in vegan and vegetarian diets and is naturally gluten-free. It forms part of the starchy food group which accounts for around a third of our recommended food intake.

Unlike rice, many people associate quinoa as a superfood. It’s full of nutrients, fibre and contains all essential amino acids making it a complete source of protein. Quinoa is also a fantastic source of calcium, magnesium and magnates B vitamins and vitamin E.

So compared to white rice, quinoa is healthier and lower in cals but it is roughly on par with wholegrain.


The Final Note

It is now clear that cooking quinoa is much simpler than what it is normally thought to be. All you have to do is mix the ingredients, each in a particular quantity that is suitable for getting the right flavor, and simply let it heat for a few minutes. Quinoa also offers several flexible options in terms of its recipes. It can be used in a salad, it can be used alongside roasted vegetables, and not to mention its use as a protein-rich grain served along with cooked meat or vegetables.


How to Add Quinoa to Your Meals

I can’t talk about quinoa enough it’s the “superfood” that deserves all the attention it gets. Imagine a grain that contains all nine essential amino acids and is high in fiber, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals—magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin E—while still being gluten-free. That’s quinoa.

If you’re new to the game, quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah, but is often mispronounced kwin-OH-ah, which is a reasonable mistake if you’re looking at it phonetically. Just avoid “Real Housewives of New York” star Ramona Singer’s rendition, KWEEN-wah .

Quinoa Confession: It’s Actually a Seed!

The real reason quinoa is such a great grain is that it’s not technically a grain. It originates from a grain crop, but is actually an edible seed that’s just prepared and enjoyed the same way grains are. If you have a hard time digesting grains, quinoa is the way to go. It has a similar texture and experience, but even more protein, and a great nutty flavor.

There are over 100 types of quinoa, but the most common and commercially available are white, black, and red. They’re often found near the specialty rices, beans, and grains section in the grocery store, and are really easy to prepare.

Wunder Basket Organic Mixed Quinoa, 5 pounds for $22.99 on Amazon

A blend of red and white quinoa if you like to mix it up.

How to Cook Quinoa

1. Rinse it. If purchased from a bin, or a box that doesn’t preface that it’s been pre-rinsed, you’ll have to start by putting it in a fine strainer and running it through cold water. Quinoa has a natural soapy coating called saponin, so rinsing it for a few minutes under cold water should help to remove that.

2. Place the quinoa on the stove in a covered pot, using two cups of water for every one cup of quinoa. Quinoa holds a lot of water, so a cup of dry quinoa makes about three cups cooked.

3. Bring the water to b oil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 13 to 15 minutes. Watch for the quinoa to become translucent, and for the white ring to wrap around each seed.

Once your quinoa is cooked, fluff it with a fork, and enjoy it as a side (dressed up with whatever seasonings you like), or drop it into soups, salads, or wraps it’s a pretty easy way to add nutritional value to meals and works well with practically any flavors and ingredients.

Quinoa Recipes

If you want the quinoa to take center stage, here are seven recipes with quinoa incorporated.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Autumn Vegetables and Ginger-Scallion Dressing

This vegan recipe combines the umami flavor of soy sauce and sesame oil with hearty fall vegetables for a warm, filling meal, perfect for a cold day. Get our Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Autumn Vegetables and Ginger-Scallion Dressing recipe .