How To Cook Fluffy, Tasty Quinoa

How To Cook Fluffy, Tasty Quinoa

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Emily Han
Aug 8, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

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.

How to Make Fluffy Quinoa: Watch the Video

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

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.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

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 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 one cup dry quinoa yield? One cup dry quinoa yields about three cups cooked quinoa.
  • How much liquid do I need to cook quinoa? To cook one cup quinoa, you need 1 3/4 cups liquid.
  • How long does it take to cook quinoa? One 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 1/2 teaspoon kosher 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 same liquid-to-quinoa ratio and follow the instructions on your rice cooker.

Tester's Notes

Many readers found that our original recipe, which called for 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water, resulted in a gummy product. After testing the original as well as multiple other quinoa-to-water ratios, I discovered that 1 cup quinoa to 1 3/4 cups water is the perfect ratio for perfectly fluffy quinoa. We have updated the recipe to reflect the change.

-Grace, August 2018

How To Cook Quinoa

Makes about 3 cups; serves 4 to 6

What You Need

Ingredients

  • 1 cup

    uncooked quinoa (any variety — white or golden, red, or black)

  • 1 teaspoon

    olive oil

  • 1 3/4 cups

    water or low-sodium broth

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Equipment
  • Fine-mesh strainer

  • 2-quart saucepan with lid

  • Spoon

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. Toast the quinoa in a saucepan. Heat the 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 2 minutes.

  3. Add liquid and bring to a boil. Stir in the water or broth and the salt. Bring to a rolling boil.

  4. Lower heat and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to the lowest setting. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.

  5. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let stand for 5 more minutes, covered. Don't peek!

  6. 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.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover quinoa can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

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