Today, let’s take a closer look at an ancient grain that has become insanely popular in the past few years. Packed with health benefits, quinoa is a versatile ingredient with countless culinary applications. It’s easy to prepare at home, but there are a few tricks to getting it just right. Learn how to cook quinoa on the stovetop with this quick and easy tutorial!
Quinoa has certainly been having a moment over the past several years. However, if you prepare it incorrectly, you’ll likely wonder why on earth people actually like it. Poorly cooked quinoa can be very mushy and have a very unpleasant aftertaste. Who wants that?
I’ve cooked a lot of quinoa at this point, and I’ve figured out a simple stovetop method that works well for me every time. But before getting into how to cook quinoa, let’s do a brief ingredient overview and cover some frequently asked questions.
What Is Quinoa?
Though it looks and acts like a grain, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is actually a seed! Native to the Andes Mountains, quinoa is a member of the amaranth family that has been grown for thousands of years for its edible seeds. This Ancient Grain offers a hearty texture and nutty flavor, so it’s a perfect addition to salads and soups, and also works as a substitute for pasta and risotto.
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin E. Most notably, it contains every amino acid including lysine, which is essential for healthy tissue growth.
Which Quinoa Is Best?
At the grocery store, you might be surprised to see a colorful array of quinoa on the shelf. Quinoa is available in three varieties: white (also called golden), red, and black. Choosing between these varieties is largely a matter of personal preference.
The most common option, white quinoa, offers the mildest flavor, softest texture, and fastest cooking time. Black quinoa is the crunchiest and requires a longer cooking time, while red falls in between. The red and black varieties make a vibrant addition to salad or risotto, but all three colors are rich in nutrients and flavor.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Because it’s often used instead of grains or pasta, many people assume that quinoa contains gluten. But good news—it’s totally gluten free! Because it’s made from seeds, quinoa is technically a pseudocereal, which makes it a great substitute for traditional grains if you have a gluten intolerance.
Quinoa Facts & Cooking Tips
Start with a Rinse: Before cooking, it’s very important to rinse raw quinoa to remove saponin, a natural coating on the grains that can cause a bitter, unpleasant taste. Simply soak the grains in cold water for 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with fresh tap water.
Ratios & Cooking Times: One cup of dry quinoa yields about three cups cooked. Follow a ratio of 1 cup dry quinoa to 2 cups water to achieve a perfectly fluffy texture. Cooking times vary based on the variety you choose (see above), but one cup will generally cook in about 15 minutes. Some recipes call for 20 minutes, but I find this can lead to overcooked quinoa. I prefer it a bit more toothsome. I’ve seen recipes that suggest lowering the water to 1 3/4 cup water, but that doesn’t necessarily make a difference in achieving perfect results. The key is to not overcook it. If there’s extra water in the saucepan when the desired texture is reached, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer.
Spice Things Up: To add extra flavor, swap out water for chicken or vegetable broth, plus ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of dry quinoa. You can also add fresh herbs, aromatic spices, or even crushed garlic for a burst of flavor.
Break Out the Rice Cooker: If you need a hands-off cooking method for busy weeknights, try making quinoa in your rice cooker. Use the same ratio of dried quinoa to water that you would on the stovetop, and simply follow your rice cooker’s instructions. Don’t let it sit in the rice cooker for too long after it’s finished, though, or the residual steam might overcook the quinoa.
Quinoa Serving Suggestions
After learning how to cook quinoa, you’ll want to start adding it to your meals. Not sure where to start? There are so many option! You don’t need a fancy recipe, just toss a handful over your next salad, or add it to soups and chilis. For specific recipes:
One of my favorites is this Quinoa, Apple and Almond Salad with Honey Lemon Mint Vinaigrette. It’s light and filling, with vibrant flavors and textures. You can also make Quinoa Granola. This Summer Quinoa Salad from Hip Foodie Mom also looks fantastic.
How to Cook Quinoa
Now that you’ve learned the basics about this versatile grain, it’s time to get cooking! Learn how to cook quinoa with this simple recipe. It makes the perfect pot of quinoa every time.
How To Cook Quinoa
- 1 cup white quinoa
- 2 cups water (homemade or low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock may be substituted)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer, then place the strainer in a bowl. Fill with cold water and soak for 5 minutes.
- Discard the soaking water and thoroughly rinse quinoa under running cold water for 30 seconds. Shake to remove excess water.
- Transfer quinoa to a medium-sized pot and add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the quinoa is fluffy and soft, but not mushy (I recommend tasting a bit to check for doneness). The germ will have spiraled out from each grain. If the quinoa has reached the desired texture before all of the water absorbs, drain any excess water through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Fluff with a fork to separate the grains before serving. Cooked quinoa will keep up to one week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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