How To Cook Quinoa (+5 Recipes To Try)

Mar 25, 2024

what is quinoa, how to cook quinoa, quinoa recipes

When we talk about seeds in our diets, you might think of sunflower or pumpkin seeds for snacking, sesame seeds for adding crunch to bagels or your favorite Asian-inspired dishes, or even poppy seeds sprinkled atop pastries. But there’s another seed that’s been making waves in the culinary world, one that deserves equal, if not more, recognition: quinoa.

Quinoa—often thought of as a grain—isn’t a “new” dish or ingredient in a historical context. It’s actually been a staple food in the Andean regions of South America for thousands of years (the Incas even revered it as the “mother of all grains” and it played a central role in their culture and diet).

The recent surge in quinoa’s popularity, especially in North America, Europe and Australia, is more a rediscovery or a new appreciation of this ancient food, loved for its unique blend of nutrition and versatility.

But how do you unlock the full potential of this tiny yet mighty seed in your kitchen? Whether you are new to this superfood or looking to refine your techniques, we’ll walk you through the essential steps to achieve fluffy, flavorful quinoa every time.

Hungry for more? Try one of our cooking classes! You’ll get hands-on tips from our resident chefs and tackle everything from knife skills to patisserie bakes and global cuisine!

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What is quinoa?

Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-wah, is a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. It’s commonly mistaken for a grain due to its grain-like cooking and consumption methods. However, quinoa is a pseudo-cereal, not a true grain, as it doesn’t grow on grasses—but rather on a plant more closely related to spinach and beets.

Quinoa’s mild, nutty flavor and fluffy yet slightly crunchy texture have made it a popular ingredient in a range of dishes, from salads and soups to pilafs and even as a base for breakfast bowls. The adaptability of quinoa in cooking has contributed to its growing popularity across various cuisines worldwide.

What are some of the key health benefits of quinoa?

Quinoa has been dubbed a superfood due to its nutritional profile: it’s a complete protein, packed with all nine essential amino acids (a rarity in the plant kingdom). This makes it an invaluable component of vegetarian and vegan diets.

Here are the key nutritional advantages of quinoa:

  • Rich in nutrients: High in B vitamins, magnesium, iron and zinc.
  • High in dietary fiber: Promotes healthy digestion and may aid in weight management.
  • Antioxidant-rich: Contains antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol, combatting free radicals.
  • Gluten-free: Ideal for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
  • Low glycemic index: Beneficial for blood sugar control, making it suitable for people with diabetes.
  • Heart health: Can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels due to its high fiber content.

How to Prepare Quinoa

Preparing quinoa is straightforward and similar to cooking other grains, like rice. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure perfectly cooked quinoa every time.

Rinse the Quinoa

Rinsing quinoa is an important step in its preparation due to the presence of saponins, a natural compound that coats the outer layer of the quinoa seeds. It’s a simple but crucial step: just place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it under cold running water for a minute or two, until the water runs clear. Here’s why rinsing is crucial:

  1. Removes bitterness: Saponins have a bitter, soapy taste that can affect the flavor of the quinoa. Rinsing thoroughly under cold water removes these compounds, ensuring that the cooked quinoa has a clean, nutty flavor, free from bitterness.
  2. Improves digestibility: For some people, consuming saponins can cause stomach irritation or discomfort. Rinsing quinoa reduces the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues.
  3. Enhances texture: Removing the saponin coating can also help to improve the texture of the cooked quinoa, making it fluffier and less sticky.
  4. Reduces foam and suds: Saponins can create foam or suds during cooking, which can be minimized by rinsing.

Cooking Quinoa

Once your quinoa is rinsed and ready, cooking it to perfection is a straightforward process that’s similar to rice. The quinoa is done when it looks like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel.

  • Water ratio: The basic ratio for cooking quinoa is two parts liquid to one part quinoa (2:1). You can use water, but for added flavor, consider using vegetable or chicken broth.
  • Boil and simmer: Bring the liquid to a boil, add the quinoa, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Be sure to cover the pot to prevent moisture from escaping.
  • Cooking time: Let it cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid. You’ll know it’s done when the seeds become translucent, and the germ (the little spiral) separates and curls around the seed.

Pro Tip: If cooking quinoa in a rice cooker, simply add the rinsed quinoa and the appropriate ratio of liquid (2:1) into the cooker. Select the regular rice cooking setting if your rice cooker has multiple options. The rice cooker will handle the boiling and simmering process, adjusting the cooking time automatically. Check the quinoa after the cooker indicates it’s done; it should be fluffy, with the seeds translucent and the germ spiraling out.

Post-Cooking Tips

  • Let it rest: Remove the pot from heat and let it sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. This resting period allows the quinoa to steam further, enhancing its fluffy texture.
  • Fluff with a fork: Use a fork to fluff the quinoa gently. This step helps to separate the grains and keep them light and airy.

Quinoa Recipes to Try

From being a simple side to transforming into the star of the meal, quinoa’s adaptability makes it a fantastic ingredient for both everyday cooking and special occasions. And whether you’re looking for a hearty main or a refreshing salad, there’s a quinoa dish for every palate. Here are five of our favorite quinoa recipes to inspire your next meal.


Hungry for more? Try one of our cooking classes! You’ll get hands on tips from our resident chefs and tackle everything from knife skills to patisserie bakes and global cuisine!

Explore Our Cooking Classes

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