Perfectly Cooked Quinoa

By Ann Fulton

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No more overcooked, mushy, bitter, or otherwise unacceptable quinoa! Perfectly cooked quinoa every single time is easy with the following method and helpful tips.

 

My vegetarian sister first introduced me to quinoa (pronounced Keen’-wah) decades ago when this little known superfood was relegated to health food store shelves.

Popular with vegetarians because it’s a complete protein that is also rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and fiber, this pantry staple has since found widespread fame thanks to its nutty flavor and ease of preparation.

Quinoa is an ancient grain (well, technically it’s a seed, but it is used like other whole grains) that was first cultivated by the Incas. In addition to its superfood qualities, quinoa is naturally gluten-free.

Most quinoa recipes call for 15 to 20 minutes of cooking. Most recipes also call for a two-to-one ratio of liquid to quinoa. In my experience, these instructions can create an end result that can be a bit mushy, so I do it a little differently.

In general, I have found that many grains benefit from less water or broth than typically called for in package or recipe directions. This applies to quinoa as well as millet and white rice.

I call it “starving” the grain. Like pasta, these grains will continue to absorb water long after necessary to produce the optimal outcome. Anyone who has made soup with these ingredients knows that, if there are leftovers, there is often far less broth remaining after sitting in the refrigerator overnight!

If cooking with broth instead of water, you may omit the salt. I tend to stick with water when preparing salads where a dressing is added or when making a sweet or fruity recipe. A little oil or butter is a nice touch but may be omitted if you choose.

Quinoa 101:

While there are said to be well over a thousand varieties of quinoa, the three most commonly seen varieties are white, red, and black. 

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa, a flowering plant in the amaranth family, is mild and lightly nutty-tasting. It’s texture is fluffy yet somewhat chewy.

What’s the difference between red and white quinoa?`

The short answer is that white and red quinoa are very similar and can be used interchangeably. The somewhat more discerning answer is that white quinoa is a touch more delicate than red quinoa and cooks up a little softer/fluffier.

Red quinoa has slightly nuttier flavor and is a little bit chewier. Red quinoa can be softened and made fluffier by adding a few extra tablespoons of water and cooking an extra few minutes.  

What is black quinoa? 

More recently, black quinoa can be found on store shelves and offers a fun alternative to the more commonly found red and white varieties. The flavor of black quinoa is somewhat earthier than white quinoa with a touch of sweetness. I’ve used it interchangeably with both red and white quinoa and think it offers a fun, sort or exotic alternative. 

Tri-color or rainbow quinoa can sometimes be found as well.

Which quinoa should I use?

Again, the various colors of quinoa may be used interchangeably, but you can choose based on the subtle differences mentioned. You may prefer a softer, white quinoa when serving in lieu of a side of rice, or a chewier quinoa when using in a salad.

But as mentioned, the level of chewiness and fluffiness can be adjusted according to personal preference based on how much water is used and the length of cooking time. Details for adjusting are included in the recipe notes. 

Helpful hints:

  • Do I need to rinse quinoa? It’s always good to rinse quinoa (and then drain well) to eliminate a slightly bitter or soapy taste caused by quinoa’s natural coating of bitter-tasting saponins. If a package says the quinoa is pre-rinsed, it doesn’t hurt to do it again.
  • Should I soak quinoa? Unlike beans, soaking quinoa is not necessary.
  • Is quinoa gritty? On occasion, people report a gritty texture to the cooked quinoa. In my experience, this is brand specific. I once purchased a bag that said to rinse and sort the quinoa before cooking–as is often instructed on a bag of dry beans to eliminate any pebbles or bits of dirt. If you experience this, try a different brand.
  • Can quinoa be cooked in advance? Quinoa may absolutely be cooked ahead, cooled, and stored in the refrigerator for later use in salads and other recipes. Make sure to follow the cooking directions below, fluffing before cooling and storing, to keep the grains light and separate.
  • Does quinoa freeze well? Yes, quinoa freezes and reheats well. 

Do you have a favorite way to prepare quinoa? Following is a list of Fountain Avenue recipes you may enjoy:

Does plain, cooked quinoa taste good as a simple side dish? 

If you’d like to serve quinoa as a side dish, I recommend cooking it with the optional salt and olive oil (or butter) and adding pepper to taste. Like rice, it’s plain, but when simply seasoned, the subtle flavor and nutty undertones shine. Cooked quinoa is also great for soaking up sauces and mixing in with other ingredients on your plate. 

For an easy transition, you may like to start with white quinoa as a substitute for white rice or couscous and red or black quinoa as an alternative to wild rice. 

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Perfectly Cooked Quinoa
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 18 minutes
Yield: 1 cup of dried quinoa = about 3 cups cooked
Perfectly cooked quinoa can be used as a base for delicious salads, breakfast porridges, pilafs – even baked goods and egg dishes. This easy method recipe yields grains that are fully cooked yet retain a hint of firmness. See recipe notes for adjustments if you prefer a softer end result.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (180g) uncooked quinoa (red, white, or a blend)
  • 1¾ cups (14oz) water (may substitute broth or stock of choice), plus water for rinsing
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, butter or oil of choice (optional but adds flavor when eating plain)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (omit if cooking with broth)
Instructions
  1. Measure 1 cup of quinoa, and place it in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse thoroughly with cold water. I swish the quinoa around with my hand and sometimes plunge it (carefully, so the grains don’t float out) into a bowl of water. The water should not appear cloudy. Drain well.
  2. Meanwhile, add 1¾ cups of water and oil, if using, to a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, and then stir in the quinoa and the optional salt. Return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, covered, for 12-15 minutes. Check after 12 mixtures to see if most of the liquid has been absorbed. If it hasn’t been, cover, and let simmer for a few more minutes. (See notes if you prefer a softer cooked grain and for general troubleshooting.)
  3. Once the liquid is almost completely absorbed and you see the germ (which look like tiny spirals) separating from and curling around the quinoa seeds, turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner. Let stand for 5 minutes, covered, and then fluff the quinoa with a fork.
  4. Serve immediately, as is, or in a recipe of choice. You may also cool the quinoa, and then cover and store in the refrigerator for later use. Cooked quinoa will keep in the fridge for about one week.
Notes & Tips

• If all of the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is still not tender, add an additional 2-4 tablespoons of water and continue cooking. This can happen if the lid seal is not tight or a slightly rounded cup of quinoa was used.
• If you prefer a soft grain, you may start with 2 cups of water, following the same directions, and allowing for an extra 3-4 minutes of cooking time.
•To impart a toasted flavor, you may first sauté the rinsed and well-drained quinoa over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated and you begin to smell a nutty aroma. When toasting, check the final cooking time several minutes early; in this method, the quinoa is already in the pot when the water is added and brought to a boil, so it cooks slightly faster. This method enhances the quinoa’s nutty flavor but, in the interest of time, I often skip this step and the quinoa still turns out beautifully.
•To quickly cool the cooked quinoa for use in salads, spread it evenly over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool. Once cool, use in your recipe or store in a covered container to prevent the quinoa from drying out in the fridge.

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Comments

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  5. maria

    actually I have never rinsed it and never had a bitterness to it. an additional step I always follow instead is to toast the grains in the oil PRIOR to adding the water. toast til they pop, which brings out the nuttiness.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Great point, Maria. Some brands are pre-rinsed, but I do recommend rinsing as not all are. I occasionally toast the quinoa…it does bring out an extra hint of nuttiness and is a great option. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
    2. Nana

      I rinsed and rinsed to what I really felt was getting excessive and it still tastes like soap to me. I have also noted the price has gotten terrible. When i fist bought quinoa it was $.89 a lb. at my health food store. Now that is had become a trend I see it at $3.99 for a twelve ounce box in my grocery store.

      Reply
      1. Ann Post author

        Hi Nana, Could the bag you purchased have gone bad? Quinoa is a seed, so it could take on a rancid flavor. As for the price, I have noticed that, too, and try to find it on sale. Maybe the store you bought yours from would refund you if you something is, in fact, wrong with your bag.

        Reply
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