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
12 Recipes with Quinoa
- Quinoa with Chickpeas, Asparagus, and Fresh Peas
- Golden Quinoa Salad with Lemon, Dill & Avocado
- Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa Chili
- Grilled Halloumi & Quinoa Salad
- Black Bean And Heirloom Tomato Quinoa with Lemon Dressing
- 3-Egg Omelet with Quinoa, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese
- Quinoa Tabbouleh
- Quinoa Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash
- Quinoa Salad with Radishes and Greens
- Sweet and Crunchy Quinoa Salad
- Tex-Mex Quinoa Salad
- Tuna & Cucumber Quinoa Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
How To Cook Quinoa
Makes about 3 cups; serves 4 to 6
What You Need
uncooked quinoa (any variety — white or golden, red, or black)
Olive oil (optional)
water or low-sodium broth
2-quart saucepan with lid
Rinse the quinoa. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse thoroughly under cool, running water. Rub and swish the quinoa with your hand while rinsing. Drain.
Toast the quinoa in a saucepan (optional). Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the drained quinoa and cook, stirring constantly, to let the water evaporate and toast the quinoa, about 1 minute.
Add liquid and bring to a boil. Stir in the 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! Uncover — 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.
Storage: Leftover quinoa can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.