Fluffy, tender quinoa is incredibly easy to make, and so versatile — you can serve it on its own as a side, or in bowls, salads, and other recipes. It takes less than 20 minutes to make, it’s super healthy, and you can keep it on hand and use it all week long in so many ways.
Gluten-free quinoa is mild and delicious, with a satisfying texture, and takes beautifully to all kinds of seasonings and uses. Cooking quinoa is super easy —the most common way to cook quinoa is in a pot on the stove. It’s as easy (if not easier) than making a pot of rice, and it cooks up even more quickly, so it’s a terrific weeknight grain side dish. Try it with everything from Creamy Tuscan Chicken to Dijon and Honey Pork Tenderloins.
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What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa has been one of the most popular whole grains for quite some time now. But even though we think of it as trendy, it was a actually staple in the diet of the Ancient Incas, since it was able to grow in high altitudes of the Andes. Quinoa is actually a seed but is treated and cooked like a whole grain.
Quinoa is pronounced ˈkēnwä or keen-WAH.
Yes! This is a pretty big deal in the world of grains, many of which contain gluten. This is a good grain for those with celiac disease.
Yes! It’s got a crazy high protein count (8 grams of protein in a cup of cooked quinoa, according to WebMD), so it’s a boon to vegetarians and vegans. Other quinoa nutrition benefits: it is high in magnesium, contains a nice dose of fiber, and is high in antioxidants, which can aid in weight loss, help balance blood sugar, and may lower the risk of chronic disease.
Compared to white rice, quinoa has twice the protein, and 5 more grams of fiber per cup. Because it this it will also fill you up faster than rice. It also has more protein and fiber than brown rice.
Some quinoa has already been pre-rinsed (the packages should indicate if it has or not), but this is a necessary step to remove the saponin, which is the bitter coating that occurs naturally as quinoa grows to protect it from being eaten by random wildlife. An additional rinse doesn’t hurt, so when in doubt, rinse.
Use a fine-mesh sieve so you don’t lose any of the grains down the drain, and let cold water run over the grains for a few minutes, shaking the sieve and using your hand to move it around and make sure all of the grains get a good rinse.
You do not need to soak quinoa before cooking.
Cooking quinoa takes less time than you might think. Quinoa cooks up much more quickly than most other whole grains, and any of us who have stood watching that pot of brown rice (which we love!) take its own sweet time to become tender will appreciate that. About 15 to 20 minutes, and you’ve got soft, fluffy quinoa.
When the grain pops open to reveal the germ of the kernel, like a little sprout tail has popped out, that’s how you know it’s cooked!
When quinoa is cooked it makes about 3 times the volume of dried quinoa. So 1 cup quinoa will make about 3 cups dried quinoa, 1/2 cup quinoa will make about 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, and so on.
Types of Quinoa
Quinoa comes in different varieties, with different colors as well, which can be a lot of fun to play with, visually. White, red, and black, are the most common colors/varieties available. Cooking times vary from type to type, so check package directions.
Rainbow quinoa is a blend of white quinoa, which has a tasty, slightly nutty flavor, with even nuttier red quinoa, and black quinoa, which has a bit more crunch. The grains cook in the same amount of time, and the color combo adds an extra pop to all of your quinoa dishes. You can use the blend wherever you would use any single-colored quinoa.
This step is optional, but it really brings out the flavor in the quinoa. You simply place the quinoa in the saucepan over medium-high heat and give it a shake and a stir every few seconds, for a total of about 4 minutes, until it is golden — watch carefully that it doesn’t burn. You can also heat up a couple of teaspoons of olive, vegetable, or grapeseed oil (per cup of quinoa) before adding the quinoa for even more flavor.
Quinoa to Water Ratio
For 1 cup of quinoa, use 2 cups of water.
The ratio of quinoa to water is important. Add the liquid to the quinoa in the pan, whether you’ve toasted it or not. The basic ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid. You can use water (season it with a bit of kosher salt), or you can use any kind of broth. I like to use slightly diluted low-sodium broths (usually vegetable or chicken) and add any extra salt to the finished dish as needed so that the flavor of the grain shines through. You can also add a bit of dry white wine to the liquid for another layer of flavor.
If you are making a vegetarian dish, make sure to use vegetarian broth or water.
How to Cook Quinoa on the Stove
- Rinse the quinoa: Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold water (unless your quinoa is labeled pre-rinsed).
- Simmer the quinoa: Pour the quinoa into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. You can toast the quinoa for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Or add the broth or water immediately and season with salt. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa grains have sprouted their little tendrils. Remove from the heat.
- Fluff the quinoa: Allow the quinoa to sit, covered, for about 5 minutes, then lift the lid, fluff the quinoa, and serve, or cool. If you want to cool the quinoa, your best bet is to spread it out on a large platter or baking sheet.
How to Know When Quinoa Is Cooked
Turn the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer gently until the quinoa is cooked, about 15 minutes. The liquid should all be absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender and have sprung a little tendril-ey shoot — which is actually the germ of the kernel — indicating that it’s done.
How To Serve Quinoa
Quinoa can be used as a side dish, on its own or mixed with any number of add-ins – such as tossed with a sesame oil and honey dressing and some carrots, and topped with sliced avocado. Or make a simple quinoa salad with fresh herbs and scallions.
Add quinoa to soups and salads, or use it as a nice base to scoop various stews and chilies over. It soaks up sauces wonderfully. It’s great hot, warm, or cold, and you can make up a big batch at the beginning of the week, and use it for days. Heat it up for a side dish, add vegetables for a portable salad, and on and on.
Storage and Leftovers
Cooked quinoa will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. Discard it if it has an off smell.
You can also freeze it in freezer-proof containers or heavy-duty zipper top bags. Just press the air out, seal it up, and it will keep for months. Make sure to label the bag with the date and contents, and you can pull out what you need, and seal the bag back up.
Recipes With Quinoa
- Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Dried Apricots
- Sesame-Honey Quinoa and Carrot Salad with Sliced Avocado
- Kale Quinoa Salad
- Southwest Quinoa Casserole
- Red Quinoa Salad with Arugula, Artichoke Hearts, and Olives
What to Serve With Quinoa
Quinoa goes with just about anything. Think of serving it any place you would serve rice or simply cooked potatoes. Try:
Other Basic Grain Recipes
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How to Cook Perfect Quinoa on the Stove
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water or broth (or a diluted or delicate broth, half water, half broth)
- Kosher salt (to taste)
- Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold water (unless your quinoa is labeled pre-rinsed).
- Pour the quinoa into a medium saucepan over medium high heat. You can toast the quinoa for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Or add the broth or water immediately and season with salt. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa grains have sprouted their little tendrils. Remove from the heat.
- Allow the quinoa to sit, covered, for about 5 minutes, then lift the lid, fluff the quinoa, and serve, or cool. If you want to cool the quinoa, your best bet is to spread it out on a large platter or baking sheet.
- Quinoa is gluten-free.
- You can tell when quinoa is done because the little sprouts will have released from the grains.
- Make sure to let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes, covered, before fluffing it.
- Cooked quinoa will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. Discard it if it has an off smell.
- You can also freeze it in freezer-proof containers or heavy-duty zipper top bags — just press the air out, seal it up, and it will keep for months. Make sure to label the bag with the date and contents, and you can pull out what you need, and seal the bag back up.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.