Recipe and tips on how to cook quinoa perfectly so that it's more like a fluffy pilaf than mushy oatmeal. At the bottom are 5 fabulous ways to use your next batch of perfect quinoa.Jump to Recipe
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Whether or not you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, quinoa should be one of your staples. And if you're trying to move to a more vegetarian diet, this is a fabulous way to get more protein – and tons of nutrients – into your day.
So you need to know how to cook quinoa perfectly. Not too soggy. Not undercooked. But first, what actually IS quinoa?
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is technically a seed from a plant related to spinach, beets and Swiss chard. Its germ, which is the equivalent of a yolk in an egg, is arguably the most power-packed part of any know seed. In most grains, the germ is little more than a speck. But quinoa's germ completely surrounds the rest of the seed.
If you're trying to follow a more vegetarian diet, check out this post on how much protein you need every day and ways to get it.
What's the difference between white, red and black quinoa?
According to the Whole Grains Council, there are roughly 120 different varieties of quinoa, which is a LOT of quinoa. The three most commonly seen varieties are:
White quinoa is most common variety found in markets, and is more tan than white. White quinoa has the most delicate taste and cooks up the lightest and fluffiest of all the varieties you might see. This is your pick for a fluffy pilaf.
White quinoa cooks up in about 15 minutes.
Red quinoa is a brownish-red, and is slightly chewier and heartier texture than white quinoa. It holds its shape better during cooking, making this variety a better choice in salads than white. The flavor is more savory than the white variety, and somewhat nutty. It's found in most markets.
Red quinoa can take a few more minutes to cook than white quinoa – typically 17-18 minutes.
Black quinoa is the least common of these 3 types, and may be difficult to find in your market. It has a texture similar to red quinoa, and an earthy sweet flavor. It has the lowest fat content of the 3, but also the lowest iron value.
The cooking time is similar to red quinoa.
Is quinoa healthy?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes and no. First, the good news.
Quinoa is a powerhouse of nutrition. It's high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and vitamin E. A superfood by any definition. Overall, it has more than 3 – 4 times the nutrients as brown rice.
It's naturally gluten-free.
Important for vegetarians and vegans, quinoa is a complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Since essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, they must come from food.
Quinoa is a great source of both protein and fiber, with 4 grams of protein and 1.8 grams of dietary fiber contained in 1/2 cup cooked quinoa.
Like anything else, too much of a good thing can cause problems. It's all a balance. Therefore, it's good to remember that a serving is 1/2 cup.
Cooked quinoa is 21.3% carbs, making it a high-carb food.
Because of its high fibre content, consuming too much can cause digestive system issues.
Quinoa contains a number of irritant toxic compounds for the intestines, which can cause inflammation, digestive problems and difficulty in absorbing nutrients. For most, these compounds do not cause any problems. But all the more reason to remember that 1 serving is 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa.
How To Cook Quinoa Perfectly Every Time
The biggest problem most people have when cooking quinoa, is ending up with a pot of mush. If you want fluffy quinoa that's more pilaf than, say, oatmeal, you've come to the right place. Over the years, I've make a lot of quinoa, and here are my top tips:
- Most pre-packaged quinoa today has been pre-washed, but I still recommend rinsing it before cooking. Pour the uncooked seeds into a large bowl, add water, and gently rub the quinoa seeds between your hands until the water becomes cloudy, usually less than 15 seconds. Dump the seeds into a colander and rinse for 20 – 30 seconds.
- Use 1 1/4 cup water to each cup quinoa. Most packages recommend too much water IMHO, and I live at 7100 feet where it's very dry.
- Add any spices you want for added flavor. Quinoa on its own is quite bland. Nutmeg goes surprisingly well with quinoa.
- Cover the pot and maintain a medium simmer for 15 minutes. When the water is absorbed, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. A higher simmer cooks off the liquid before the seed is cooked. A low simmer often results in cooking the quinoa with liquid left over. This can contribute to soggy quinoa. Fine the right balance for the pot you use.
- Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.
Why do I need to rinse quinoa?
This removes the bitter-tasting saponin covering of the seed. Saponin is a natural protection from pests for the quinoa plant as it grows, but can be a digestive irritant when consumed.
Want more vegetarian and vegan dish ideas? I can help you. I have three newsletters for different topics: 1) Weekly Recipes, 2) Vegetarian Meal Plans, and 3) Monthly Vegetarian Tips for helping you to move to a more vegetarian diet. Choose which newsletters are most relevant to your lifestyle and you'll also get my 5 SECRETS TO FUSS-FREE VEGETARIAN DINNERS.
Equipment you'll need
How to Store Quinoa
Store uncooked quinoa in a cool, dark place, preferably in a glass jar with the lid tightly closed. It can stay fresh for at least 1 year.
Cooked quinoa can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Store it in recycled jars or plastic-free bags, such as Zip Top containers or Stasher bags. It can be frozen for up to 8 – 10 months. I recommend freezing it in Stasher bags, as they're air-tight.
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How to Cook Quinoa Perfectly
Rinse the Quinoa
- Pour the quinoa into a medium or large bowl, and add enough water to cover it. Gently rub the quinoa between your hands for 15 – 20 seconds to remove the bitter saponin coating.
- Strain the quinoa through a fine mesh strainer and spray with water for 20 seconds to rinse very well.
Cook the Quinoa
- Spill the rinsed quinoa into a medium pot, and add the water and salt.
- Pro-tip: Use either vegetable broth or 1 teaspoon Vegetable Better Than Bouillon to the water for more flavor.
- Cover the pot and bring to a light boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer for 15 minutes. Depending upon what your pot is made out of, you may need to move the lid slightly to the side to vent the pot and keep it at a low simmer.
- Once all the liquid is absorbed, remove from the heat, and keep covered for 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.
5 Fabulous Ways to Use Quinoa!
ZUCCHINI FRITTERS WITH QUINOA, POTATOES AND FETA CHEESE
HEALTHY MEXICAN CASSEROLE WITH QUINOA
BROCCOLI CASSEROLE WITH CHEESE AND QUINOA
VEGAN QUINOA-BLACK BEAN WRAP WITH HUMMUS
QUINOA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, BLACK BEANS AND GRAPES