Learning how to pronounce quinoa can be hard enough (keen-wah), but learning to cook it properly doesn’t have to be a chore. The good news is that fluffy, perfectly done quinoa provides a big payout and isn’t as complicated as you might be thinking. It’s good to get a handle on how to cook it so that you have another tool in your healthy food toolkit for feeding yourself or your family.
Getting Familiar with Quinoa
Shopping for quinoa couldn’t be easier. You simply buy a bag of it the next time you’re out at the store. You can’t go wrong here, but you’ll want to make sure that you’re buying it in seed form and not quinoa flour or quinoa flakes. Those are different forms of quinoa that are recipe-specific, so only buy them if you are following a recipe that calls for them and follow those directions.
If a bag of unprocessed seeds scares you because you don’t know what to do with them to get them table ready, take a deep breath, it’s not so hard. You can liken it to rice or other grains, but try to allocate some mental space just for quinoa because it has some qualities that other seeds and grains just don’t have. The good news: once you get the five-step process down you’ll be able to rely on it again and again.
Why Bother Cooking Quinoa at all?
It’s worth the time to both learn how to cook quinoa and why it’s good for you. It’s one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and because it shares characteristics with popular side dishes like rice and couscous. This means it can be put next to all sorts of things like chicken, beef, and seafood, paired with a vegetable and you’ll have a well rounded meal with a good nutritional breakdown. For more reasons why you should be eating it, see our list of 18 Benefits of Eating Quinoa.
How to Cook Fluffy and Tasty Quinoa – Basic Instructions
You have to get your mind around the idea that cooking quinoa can be easy. If you think it will be hard you will prove yourself right. Trying to cook it is the best way to learn, and after a few attempts you’ll be a master. The relative low cost of quinoa means that you don’t have to fret too much if the first two or three attempts end up in the bin, so be sure to do a few practice rounds if you’re planning to cook it for an important event. If you get it right three times in a row, no worries, it keeps well and reheats quickly.
Step One – Measure It Out.
Get your quinoa ready by measuring it out, one cup of quinoa, and two cups of either water or broth, your choice. This is an important step, and is similar to cooking rice, and there are plenty of variations to it. This is how to cook just quinoa as a side dish, so if you’re following a quinoa recipe be sure to follow those instructions as things change when you are mixing quinoa with other ingredients or have a specific use for it.
Step Two – Rinse, Rinse, Rinse.
This is potentially the most important step because the more thoroughly you rinse it off the better the taste will be later on. Use cool or cold water for this process. Don’t let the water do all of the work, stick your hands in there and rub the quinoa. Swish it around so that you’re getting all of the surface area of the seeds and rinsing away all of the saponins, the part that is sometimes repurposed in detergents and antiseptics. Once you’ve given it about two minutes drain it and move on to the next step.
Step Three – Dry It Up.
Dry the quinoa quickly by placing it in a saucepan. This helps to speed the process along and only takes a few minutes. The trick is to make sure to coat the bottom of the saucepan with a bit of olive oil so the quinoa is also getting a bit toasted while it dries. It might sounds illogical since the next step involves pouring the two cups of liquid on it, but it’s necessary to make sure that it comes out right and there’s no additional moisture.
Step Four – Heat Things Up.
This part is easy, you simply add the water or broth you measured in step one and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once it’s rapidly boiling you’ll want to cover it up and lower the heat so it can simmer for a full 15 minutes. As long as you put it at the right temperature this shouldn’t require much babysitting and you should be able to prep other foods in your meal at this time.
Step Five – Let It Be.
This is the part that is pretty easy, but that many people will skip over and screw up their quinoa. You want to take it off the burner but don’t open it. Leave it covered and let it just rest for a total of five minutes. After that time you take off the cover for the big reveal and you’ve got fluffy quinoa that is al dente and ready to eat!
That’s really all there is to it. Clean up is pretty easy, and if you’ve cooked it right it shouldn’t be sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can store any leftovers and use them in your lunch the next day. You can buy quinoa in bulk because it stores quite well, especially if you end up using it on a regular basis.
If you have any of your own personal tips to add to these instructions, be sure to leave them in the comments below. It’s always great to bounce ideas off of each other and share both successes and failures because it helps to refine the process.
What to Watch Our For
Here are some common mistakes that are made when cooking quinoa which if these happen to you you might be afraid to try it again in the future. Avoiding missteps is almost as important as knowing the right steps to follow.
Skipping the Rinse Job- The rinsing is where it all happens. Let’s say you didn’t know that you should rinse it and you just measure out a cup and dumped in the water. What you’ll end up with is a bitter taste because of the saponins that are on the outside of the quinoa seeds. It’s good practice to overdo this step, the more you rinse it the more you’ll enjoy the finished product. Set a timer and rinse for a full two minutes, as this can seem like an eternity and you’ll likely rinse it for less time without timing yourself.
Treating It Like Rice- Quinoa cooking is a bit like rice cooking, and you can even cook quinoa in a rice cooker by modifying the process a bit. They both expand when cooked, but when you cook quinoa it’s not necessary to add anything extra like butter or salt to have it come out great tasting and fluffy. Be sure to consult the recipe you’re following if there are different ingredients that you should be using along with it. You can also feel free to play with the process a little, but keeping it simple works best in most cases.
Treating It Like Couscous- Quinoa can look a bit like couscous when it’s finished because of its size and texture, but the two are cooked differently. Couscous doesn’t need to be rinsed before it’s cooked, and doesn’t need to be dried off either. You bring the water to a boil first when cooking couscous and the cooking times are different. You can swap out quinoa for couscous as a side dish for any main dish like chicken or fish and get a similar experience with more nutrition.
Overcooking It- Cooking your quinoa for two long is a sure way to turn you off to the experience. If you let it boil for too long it will turn to mush, and if you let it rest while covered it can get too watery. This is the part of the process where it pays to be particular about time. There’s really not much you can do to salvage overcooked quinoa, so scrap it and start again. Long live egg timers!
Undercooking It- Rushing the process can be just as disastrous as losing track of time. If you take the quinoa off the stove too soon, or don’t let it rest long enough with the lid on, you’ll end up with quinoa that is not pleasing to the tooth, or that isn’t quite as fluffy as it could be. Once you nail it and have perfectly cooked fluffy quinoa, you won’t settle for anything less and wouldn’t dream of under-doing it again.
So what did we learn here today? First, don’t be afraid of quinoa if you’ve been avoiding it up until now. It’s just a seed that thinks it’s a grain and is super easy to cook. Next, remember that there’s only so many ways that you can screw it up, and if you do it’s just a quick 15 minutes or so to whip up another batch, so all is not lost. And lastly, it’s a food that you can keep a supply in as your go-to side dish that’s easy to make on its own and plays well with other foods.