How to Cook Quinoa
Once you know how to cook quinoa, you’ll find so many ways to use this ancient superfood. You’ll love its nutty flavor and fluffy texture. It’s fabulous in place of rice, couscous, or pasta and in your favorite soups and salads.
I’m in love with the amazing, easy-to-cook quinoa, and you will be, too. It’s gluten-free, and adds some serious texture and nutrition to all your favorite recipes.
Cooking quinoa for a dinner party? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa, (pronounced keen-wah) is often considered a whole grain, since it’s cooked like one, in water. Quinoa is actually the seed of a plant that is related to leafy greens, similar to spinach and chard.
Quinoa is also a plant with a fascinating heritage. It comes from the Andes region, and was cultivated in Peru and Bolivia by pre-Columbian civilizations, who used it for thousands of years as a staple in their diet. Quinoa is grown in South America.
It’s still eaten and loved all over the world today, and for good reason. Not only is it delicious, but the health benefits of quinoa are vast and varied.
What does Quinoa taste like?
Quinoa has a mild, creamy, nutty taste that works well in almost any recipe in place of grains, lentils, rice, or couscous.
It’s also fluffy, with just the slightest crunch. I love its interesting texture!
For those of you who have tried quinoa and disliked it, you may want to give it another chance. Quinoa is very bitter if not rinsed properly before cooking, so that may be why you didn’t like it.
Rinsing quinoa removes the saponins on the outside of the seed. Saponins are bitter compounds that are naturally present in quinoa—along with lots of other legumes, vegetables, and herbs. They get their name because they lather up a bit in water, like soap suds.
Boxed quinoa may come pre-rinsed, but it couldn’t hurt to give it an extra rinse, just in case.
Once you rinse those saponins away, you have an amazing, great tasting superfood to add to soups, salads, or anything at all.
How to cook Quinoa:
- It bears repeating, but the most important first step is the rinsing process. I use a fine mesh sieve to rinse quinoa under running water. You can also soak the quinoa in a bowl, using several changes of water, rubbing the grains against each other with your fingers.
- Next, heat the water and quinoa together in a saucepan. Unlike rice, you don’t really have to measure the water for proper cooking—just make sure there’s enough water in the pan so the grain can expand a bit. I use twice as much water as quinoa.
- If you like, you can salt the water, too.
- When the germ, the little belt that runs around the grain, separates from the seed into a coil, the quinoa is done. It’s easy to eyeball, and usually takes about 15 minutes.
- Finally, drain off any excess water, allow to steam for a few minutes, and fluff the grains with a fork.
Superfood quinoa is:
- A good source of protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin and vitamin B6.
- An excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and folate.
- A complete protein, offering all essential amino acids in a healthy balance.
- High in fiber, which can aid in lowering cholesterol levels and digestion and gut health.
- 3 1/2 ounces of cooked quinoa has 120 calories, 2g fat, and 21g carbohydrates.
Is Quinoa gluten-free?
Yes, all varieties of quinoa are safe for gluten-free diets.
Where to buy Quinoa:
You can find yellow quinoa, the most common variety, in almost all grocery stores these days. If you’re lucky enough to find the red, pink, and black varieties, give them a try—they’re delicious too!
Quinoa flakes, an alternative to oats in hot cereal, are also commonly available.
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Can Quinoa go bad?
Quinoa is a fabulous pantry staple with a long shelf life. Uncooked quinoa lasts between 2 and 3 years beyond the date that is printed on the package. Take that, oatmeal!
Cooked quinoa will last one week stored in the fridge. Stored in the freezer, cooked quinoa will last 8-12 months.
Quinoa can taste really bitter if not adequately rinsed, however, so if your cooked quinoa tastes “off,” don’t throw out the whole package. Just wash the grains diligently the next time you cook them.
How to cook Quinoa in a rice cooker:
Quinoa cooking time is super-fast on the stovetop. But if you’re looking for a totally hands-free way to cook quinoa using that rice cooker you have in the cupboard, here’s how to do it:
- Rinse your quinoa.
- Pour the quinoa and water into the rice cooker.
- Add salt if desired and turn on the rice cooker, (using the “white” rice button if your cooker has it).
- Cooking should take around 30 minutes.
- Fluff the quinoa up with a fork.
How to eat quinoa:
Sweet or savory, there are tons of ways to enjoy quinoa in your recipes.
- As a side: make a quinoa pilaf, adding toasted nuts, herbs, or dried fruit.
- As a breakfast cereal: Quinoa flakes, or cooked quinoa treated like oats or porridge.
- Added to soup: Cooked quinoa adds texture and interest to hot soups.
- Added to salads: Quinoa boosts protein in salads and tastes great mixed in with salad greens or other legumes, especially chickpeas! Try my recipe for Quinoa Tabbouleh to get a jump start.
- Quinoa bowl: I love my recipe for Mediterranean Buddha Bowl. Improvise and make a grain bowl with leftover grilled chicken, slices of avocado, and roasted vegetables for a custom lunch that travels well.
Can quinoa be eaten raw?
Quinoa can be eaten raw if soaked in water and sprouted, but some experts recommend only eating quinoa cooked. Below there are some other ways to have fun with cooked quinoa.
How to make crispy Quinoa:
Some cooks like to take things a step further and fry the boiled quinoa in olive oil to make it crispy. (Cooking the quinoa in three small batches helps the quinoa to brown and become crispy).
Here’s how to do it:
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil is sizzling, add 1/3 of the quinoa mixture and smooth it out evenly in the skillet.
- Let it cook for 3 minutes without stirring, so the bottom becomes brown and crispy.
- Stir once then sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from the pan.
- Repeat this whole process two more times with the remaining two thirds of quinoa.
How to make toasted Quinoa topping:
This is a fun, super-crunchy topping that’s used for making cereal bars, yogurt parfaits, or salads.
- Spread rinsed, uncooked quinoa on a baking sheet.
- Roast at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
- When quinoa begins to darken and turn toasted, remove from oven. Be careful not to over-toast.
- Store in a jar in your pantry to add crunch to yogurt, salads, etc.
How to Cook Quinoa
Once you know how to cook quinoa, you’ll find so many ways to use this ancient superfood. You'll love its nutty flavor and fluffy texture. It's fabulous in place of rice, couscous, or pasta and in your favorite soups and salads.
- 1 cup quinoa
- Kosher salt to taste, optional
Using a large, fine-mesh sieve, rinse your quinoa thoroughly under cold water first; this gets rid of the bitter taste.
In a large pot, bring 2 cups water and salt (if using) to boil. Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and leave covered for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork.
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