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How to Cook Quinoa: Plus Tips, Nutrition, And More

We love quinoa for its nutty, earthy flavor and fluffy, slightly crunchy, somewhat chewy texture.

Of course, we also love quinoa because it's quick and easy to cook, and once it's cooked, quinoa is so versatile: Turn quinoa into side dishes and salads, soups, pilafs, stews, grain bowls, or even cakes. Here's how to cook quinoa -- and recipes for all your quinoa creations!

 

Quinoa Stuffing

Try this recipe: Quinoa Stuffing | Photo by Allrecipes

What is Quinoa?

It’s a seed, not a grain, but you cook it like a grain. And “grain” is typically how folks refer to it. Quinoa (say KEEN-wah) is kind of like buckwheat and sort of like amaranth, which it’s related to. Quinoa is also closely related to spinach, chard, beets...and, uh, the tumbleweed.

 

Cranberry and Cilantro Quinoa Salad

Try this recipe: Cranberry and Cilantro Quinoa Salad | Photo by Clarisa

How Healthy Is Quinoa?

Nutritionally, this little seed is a big deal. Quinoa is a healthy, highly nutritious whole grain, a “wonder food,” or “superfood” if you prefer. Quinoa earns such high praise because it’s a complete protein, (or "whole protein," which means quinoa includes all nine essential amino acids). It boasts more protein than brown rice, barley, millet, or potatoes. But quality protein isn’t quinoa’s only claim to nutritional fame; it’s also a good source of fiber, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, and potassium; it’s a rich source of iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc; and it brings some calcium, too. Quinoa can also brag about what it does not have. Quinoa is gluten-free. It stands in deliciously for pasta and white rice.

Plus, according to a recent study, eating quinoa every day could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory illness.

Let’s look at the quinoa basics. First, which quinoa should you buy?

Types of Quinoa

There are many, many varieties of quinoa, and lots of colors. But what you’ll typically find in the markets are white, red, and occasionally black varieties.

 

Rainbow of Quinoa

Quinoa Rainbow | Photo by Meredith

White Quinoa

White quinoa cooks up fluffy and has a nice neutral essence and mild, nutty flavor. It’s often the easiest quinoa to find.

Red Quinoa

You’ll get an earthy flavor from red quinoa and chewier texture. Red quinoa will also add a little burst of color to dishes.

Black Quinoa

This is perhaps the more exotic of the three. It can have a crunchier texture than white. As with red quinoa, black quinoa is maybe a little bolder, earthier than white. And it may take a few minutes longer to cook.

But no matter which type of quinoa you choose, you can prepare it the same way.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa doubles down on its wonder-food status by also being quick cooking and wildly versatile. You make quinoa essentially like rice, only it’s more forgiving. Honestly, it’s tough to mess up quinoa.

But before cooking quinoa, give it a thorough rinse in a mesh strainer. You want to wash away a bitter, soapy-flavored coating that naturally forms on quinoa. It’s called saponin, and it’s easy to rinse away. Incidentally, the saponin helps quinoa thrive at high altitudes -- the coating protects it against the strong rays of the sun and the bitter flavor keeps the birds away.

For deepen the nutty flavor, rinse and drain the quinoa, then toast it in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Remove from the pan to halt the cooking, then cook the quinoa using your stovetop, rice cooker, pressure cooker, or microwave.

One cup dry quinoa produces three cups cooked quinoa.

How to Cook Quinoa on a Stovetop

  • To cook 1 cup of rinsed and drained quinoa, add 2 cups of water or broth and ¼ teaspoon of salt (optional).
  • Bring it to boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

How to Cook Quinoa in a Rice Cooker

  • To cook 1 cup of rinsed and drained quinoa, add 2 cups of water or broth and ¼ teaspoon of salt (optional).
  • Turn on the rice cooker to the white rice setting.
  • Let it rest for a few minutes after it's done cooking, then fluff with a fork.

How to Cook Quinoa in a Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot

  • To cook 1 cup of rinsed and drained quinoa, add 1.5 cups of water or broth and ¼ teaspoon of salt (optional).
  • Seal the lid and press the RICE button, or manually set it to cook for 12 minutes on low pressure, or follow manufacturer's instructions.
  • Release the pressure following manufacturer's instructions. Fluff with a fork before serving.

How to Cook Quinoa in a Microwave

  • To cook 1 cup of rinsed and drained quinoa, add 2 cups of water or broth and ¼ teaspoon of salt (optional) to a microwave-save bowl and cover loosely.
  • Microwave on HIGH for 6 minutes. Stir and microwave again on HIGH for 2 minutes. Keep it covered and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes to finish absorbing all the water, then fluff before serving.

How to Puff or Pop Quinoa

While it won't puff up dramatically like popcorn, you can snack on puffed or popped quinoa, or add it to recipes. Puffing quinoa is a multi-step process, so make it worth your while and do a couple of cups at a time.

  • Rinse and drain quinoa, then spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven on your lowest setting, stirring every few minutes to break up wet clumps, until the quinoa is completely dry. This could take 30 to 60 minutes.
  • You can puff the quinoa with or without oil, but either way, you'll want to use a deep pot. Heat the pot over medium heat. If you're using oil, pour in about a tablespoon.
  • Just like you would when you make popcorn, sprinkle in a few quinoa seeds to see if the oil is hot enough so they pop in a few seconds. When the oil is hot enough, pour in enough quinoa to make a single layer on the bottom.
  • Shake the pot while the quinoa pops to keep seeds from burning and sticking to the bottom. You can do this with a lid, or without one IF your pot is deep enough; quinoa might not pop up big but it does jump out at you. Pop until the seeds are brown and toasty. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl immediately to prevent the seeds from burning.

Quinoa Recipes

Pro Tip: Make a big batch of quinoa on the weekend, and you'll have a terrific base for a week’s worth of tantalizing meals. This is an often overlooked benefit of cooking with quinoa: unlike some grains that get sticky and mushy after cooking and refrigerating, quinoa stays its plump, fluffy self with the same slightly chewy texture, even after time in the fridge.

Quinoa Side Dishes

Quinoa Tabbouleh

"This tabouli recipe is different. Instead of using bulgur like traditional tabouli, this recipe uses quinoa," says YNEVA B. "It's a great meal for a hot summer day. The longer it sits the better it tastes."

 

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Photo by KGora

Pineapple Fried Quinoa

"Like pineapple fried rice, but with the ancient grain quinoa," says Erin. "Simple to make and bursting with flavors! Always nice with fresh pineapple, but canned or frozen work well, too."

 

Pineapple Fried Quinoa

Photo by Coralie


See the Complete Collection of Quinoa Side Dish Recipes.


Quinoa Salads

Tex-Mex Quinoa Salad

"This versatile salad can be served warm in a tortilla, or as a filling for tacos and burritos," says SnuzzleMonkey.

 

Tex-Mex Quinoa Salad

Photo by CookinBug

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad

"This was really tasty and healthy," says Hapygrl. "I used leftover rotisserie chicken and shredded carrot so there wasn't such a hard bite in the salad. And more salsa."

 

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad

Photo by Sherri


See our complete collection of Quinoa Salad Recipes.


Quinoa Main Dishes

Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

"Big Hit," says Fantastapotomus. "These veggie burgers turned out better then any store bought variety, and very satisfying."

 

Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

Photo by LYNNINMA

Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf

"The secret is the quinoa," says Andrew Benoit, "which adds wonderful texture and is much nuttier than breadcrumbs."

 

Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf

Photo by CCloves2bake

Quinoa Desserts

Banana Quinoa Rice Pudding

"Quinoa is a complete protein that's also high in fiber," explains Theresa787. "Banana 'rice' pudding makes an excellent snack or meal for a toddler, and a delicious dessert for an adult."

 

Banana Quinoa Rice Pudding

Photo by lutzflcat

Blueberry Quinoa with Lemon Glaze

A healthy and delicious dessert or breakfast treat!

 

Blueberry Quinoa with Lemon Glaze

Photo by lutzflcat

Quinoa Breakfast

Avocado Breakfast Bowl

"Heart health and protein in a bowl," says Alisha. "This recipe is an unexpected kick of flavor with egg, red quinoa, avocado, and feta cheese! Very easy to make and a delicious start to the day."

 

Avocado Breakfast Bowl

Photo by Linda T

Quinoa Appetizers

Jan's Brown Rice and Quinoa Cheesy Rice Balls

"A fun twist on fried mozzarella sticks using rice," says What's for dinner, mom? "It makes a delicious appetizer or snack. A great way to use up leftover rice!"

 

Jens Brown Rice and Quinoa Cheesy Rice Balls

Photo by Deb C

 

Some Quick Quinoa Combos

When You Want Your Quinoa...

With Chicken
Quinoa Pilaf with Shredded Chicken | Cold Chicken Quinoa Avocado Salad

With Black Beans
Quinoa and Black Beans

Heartier
Pork Fried Quinoa | Carrot, Tomato, and Spinach Quinoa Pilaf with Ground Turkey

Heartier But Vegetarian:
Protein-Packed Spicy Vegan Quinoa with Edamame | Quinoa and Black Beans

Fancier
Quinoa with Salmon and Swiss Chard | Avocado, Pomegranate, and Quinoa Salad

Crunchier
Add toasted pine nuts or almonds before you fluff. (See Quinoa Almond Pilaf.)

How To Store Your Quinoa

Dry quinoa has a nice long shelf life. Store uncooked quinoa in an air-tight container in your pantry. It stays fresh for months. You can also refrigerate dry quinoa or freeze it; and it will stay fresh even longer. Store cooked quinoa in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a month.


See the Complete Collection of Quinoa Recipes.


Carl Hanson

About Carl Hanson

Carl will eat that. Share with him @CarlNo9 on Twitter.