How to Cook Perfect Quinoa
Perfect Quinoa in 5 Steps
Quinoa may be the whole-grain world's latest “it" girl, but did you know it was a staple in the diet of the ancient Incas? Although it's technically a seed, quinoa is treated like a whole grain and cooks up much faster than most others — and anyone who's stood watching a pot of brown rice take its sweet time to become tender can appreciate that. Aside from its satisfying nutty taste and fluffy texture, quinoa boasts a solid 8 grams of protein per every uncooked 1/2 cup — and it’s gluten-free. It comes in different varieties, with different colors as well (white, red and black are the most-common), which can be a lot of fun to play with, visually. You can cook a big batch at the beginning of the week and use it for days, enjoy it cold or reheat it for dinners, adding vegetables for a portable salad and more. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started. (Cooking times vary from type to type, so check package directions.)
Photography by Laura Agra
Step 1: Rinse
Some quinoa has already been pre-rinsed (the package should indicate if it has or not), but this is a necessary step to remove the saponin, which is the bitter coating that occurs naturally as quinoa grows to protect it from being eaten by random wildlife. An additional rinse doesn’t hurt, so when in doubt, rinse. Use a fine-mesh sieve so you don’t lose any of the grains down the drain, and let cold water run over the grains for a few minutes, shaking the sieve and using your hand to move the quinoa around and make sure all of the grains get a good rinse.
Step 2: Toast
This step is optional, but it really brings out the flavor in the quinoa. You simply place the quinoa in the saucepan over medium-high heat and give it a shake and a stir every few seconds, for a total of about 4 minutes, until it is golden — watch carefully that it doesn’t burn. You can also heat up a couple teaspoons of olive, vegetable or grapeseed oil (per cup of quinoa) before adding the quinoa for even more flavor.
Step 3: Add Liquid
Add the liquid to the pan, and add the quinoa if you’re skipping the toasting step. The basic ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid. You can use water (season it with a bit of kosher salt), or you can use any kind of broth (I like to use low-sodium broths and add any extra salt to the finished dish as needed). You can also add a bit of dry white wine to the liquid for another layer of flavor.
Step 4: Simmer
Turn the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer gently until the quinoa is cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. The liquid should all be absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender and have sprung a little tendril-y shoot — which is actually the germ of the kernel — indicating it’s done.
Step 5: Fluff
When the quinoa is cooked, give it a stir and a fluff with a fork to loosen it up, then cover the pot and let it sit for another 2 minutes or so. You can serve it hot, or you can spread it out in a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool for use in salads and other room temperature dishes.
Get the Recipe: Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Dried Apricots