Quinoa has come a long way in the last few years — 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 — though once you try it, you're not likely to think of it as a "substitute" again! Quinoa is an easy grain to love.
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Several of us here at The 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 (not to mention healthy) 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, though it is used in virtually all the same ways as other whole grains. Over the last few years, the popularity of quinoa has grown steadily 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 here: 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.
Why Rinse Quinoa?
Quinoa has a natural coating, called saponin, that can make the cooked grain taste bitter or soapy. Luckily, it's easy to get rid of this coating just by rinsing the quinoa just before cooking. Boxed quinoa is often pre-rinsed, but it doesn't hurt to give the seeds an additional rinse at home. Some cookbooks suggest soaking the quinoa, but in our experience, this is unnecessary.
What Can I Do with Quinoa?
Use quinoa just as you would any other grain, like rice or barley! It makes a fantastic side dish for almost any meal, especially if you cook it with broth instead of water and add a bay leaf to the pot. I like serving it as a bed for stews or baked fish. Quinoa can also be used in casseroles, breakfast porridges, and salads.
Take a look at the list of recipes below for some ideas! What are your favorite ways to use quinoa?
Basic Quinoa Facts
How much cooked quinoa does 1 cup dry quinoa yield? 1 cup dry quinoa yields about 3 cups cooked quinoa.
How much liquid do I need to cook quinoa? To cook 1 cup quinoa, you need about 2 cups liquid.
How long does it take to cook quinoa? 1 cup quinoa will cook in about 20 minutes.
How do I make quinoa less bitter? Nearly, if not all, of the natural bitterness of quinoa's outer coating can be removed by a vigorous rinsing in a mesh strainer.
How do I make better-tasting quinoa? Quinoa is really excellent when cooked in vegetable or chicken broth. Also, add about 1/4 teaspoon salt to each cup dried quinoa when cooking. Try adding other spices and aromatics during cooking as well, like a clove of smashed garlic, a sprig of fresh rosemary, or a dash of black pepper.
Can I use my rice cooker to make quinoa? Yes! Just use the 2:1 liquid-to-quinoa ratio and follow the instructions on your rice cooker.
Quinoa is one of the most delicious, fast-cooking lunch staples we know (not to mention healthy). Here's how to cook great quinoa — not mushy, not bitter — but delicate and perfectly fluffy.
How To Cook Quinoa
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
1 cup uncooked quinoa (any variety — white or golden, red, or black)
Olive oil, optional
2 cups water or broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-quart saucepan with lid
Rinse the quinoa: Measure 1 cup of quinoa and place into a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse thoroughly with cool water for about 2 minutes. Rub and swish the quinoa with your hand while rinsing. Drain.
Toast quinoa in saucepan (optional): Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the drained quinoa. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute to let the water evaporate and toast the quinoa.
Add liquid and bring to a boil: Stir in 2 cups of water or broth and the salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
Lower heat and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to the lowest setting. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes: Remove the pot from heat and let stand for 5 more minutes, covered. Don't peek!
Fluff and eat! Remove the lid — You should see tiny spirals (the germ) separating from and curling around the quinoa seeds. Fluff the quinoa gently with a fork, and serve. If any liquid remains in the bottom of the pan or if the quinoa is still a bit crunchy, return the pot to low heat and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen; Faith Durand)