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Culinary Arts

How to Cook Quinoa: Tips, Techniques, and Easy Recipes

Written by MasterClass

Feb 7, 2019 • 5 min read

Introduce a weekly batch of healthy quinoa into your culinary rotation and watch the possibilities stack up. From salads to sides and vegetarian bowls, the versatile grain provides a blank canvas for hearty and nutritious meals.

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What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is an ancient grain in the amaranth family. Pronounced keen-wah, it has roots in the Peruvian Andes going back over 5,000 years, and hundreds of different cultivated varieties to its name—today, the most commonly found are:

  • Black quinoa
  • White quinoa
  • Red quinoa
cups of different colored quinoa

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What Are the Benefits of Quinoa?

There are three primary reasons quinoa has gone from a stand-out staple for the health food store set to a popular grain substitute the world over:

  • Quinoa is healthy. Not only is quinoa gluten-free, but this quick-cooking whole grain is a complete protein, rich in essential amino acids and minerals like iron and magnesium. It won’t cause a spike in blood sugar either, thanks to its low glycemic index and fiber content.
  • Quinoa is a low-carb substitute. White rice has 15 times the carbohydrates than quinoa, whose nutty flavor makes it a top substitute for rice or pasta.
  • Quinoa cooks super fast. It only takes 15 minutes to cook—even less if you’re using a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot (impressive if you’ve got one, but not necessary where quinoa is concerned).

What Is the Best Quinoa to Water Ratio?

The most commonly used quinoa-to-water ratio is 1 cup grain : 2 cups water. If this makes the quinoa too gummy for your taste, simply reduce liquid by ¼. (1 cup quinoa to 1 ¾ cup liquid.)

When cooking quinoa, remember these important ratios:

  • 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water
  • ½ cup quinoa to 1 cup
  • One cup dry quinoa yields three cups cooked quinoa
  • One serving size is ½ cup of cooked quinoa
a bowl of cooked quinoa

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Recipe: Super Easy, Basic Recipe for Fluffy Quinoa

Ingredient Checklist

Total 20 min | Cook 15 min | Prep 5 min | Serving 1/2 cup , Serves 3 cups

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water (or chicken/vegetable broth)
  • pinch of salt
  • pot
  • fine-mesh strainer
  1. Rinse 1 cup quinoa and transfer to a pot. Quinoa seeds contain a natural coating called saponin, which leaves a bitter taste after it’s cooked; rinsing the quinoa with cold water and a fine-mesh strainer removes the saponin beforehand.
  2. Add 2 cups water (or chicken/vegetable broth, if using) and a pinch of salt, then bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the white germ of each quinoa seed begins to separate.
  4. Remove from heat, and let sit for 5 more minutes. Uncover, and fluff with a fork.

How to Cook Quinoa in a Rice Cooker or Instant Pot

To cook quinoa in an Instant Pot or a rice cooker, spray the inside of the liner with cooking oil to prevent sticking. Add rinsed quinoa, your liquid of choice, and a pinch of salt. Cover and select the white rice function on a rice cooker, or cook for 1 minute at high pressure in an Instant Pot. Uncover, and fluff with a fork.

How to Cook Quinoa in the Microwave

To cook quinoa in the microwave, rinse quinoa and combine with 2 cups water in a microwave-safe bowl. Partially cover with a lid (a plate works fine too) and cook for 6 minutes. Remove and give quinoa a quick stir; place back in microwave for 2 more minutes. Remove and let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the rest of the liquid to be absorbed. Uncover, and fluff with a fork.

How to Cook Quinoa in the Oven

To cook quinoa in an oven, preheat to 375℉. Rinse quinoa, and add to an 8x8 baking dish. Heat your liquid beforehand, then add to the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil, and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the foil. Uncover, and fluff with a fork.

A bowl of cooked quinoa with tomatoes, peppers and lemon

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Seven Easy Recipes for Perfect Quinoa Dishes

Quinoa recipes are limited only to your creativity and what you have in your kitchen. It’s neutral enough that it makes a healthy starting point for everything from a star side dish in a vegetarian meal to a savory braised-meat main.

  1. Vegan quinoa-stuffed red peppers. Halve red peppers, remove seeds and place cut-side up on baking sheet. Meanwhile, saute diced, sliced mushrooms, and chopped garlic, and add to cooked quinoa. Fill peppers with quinoa mixture and bake at 350 degrees until peppers are tender, 25-30 minutes. Add sautéed ground beef or chorizo to quinoa mix with for a more carnivorous stuffed pepper.
  2. Quinoa salad. Add ¼ cup cooked quinoa to any green salad for added protein and texture.
  3. Mexican quinoa salad. Mix cooked quinoa with drained and rinsed black beans, roasted corn (frozen works great), a handful of chopped cilantro, the juice of one lime, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste.
  4. Quinoa with garlic shrimp and bok choy. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add 2-3 cloves minced garlic, and the sliced white end of 1 scallion. Add shrimp (fresh or defrosted), and season with salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes each side, turning to coat, until shrimp is light pink. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, add a small drizzle of olive oil. Add 2-3 small heads bok choy, root ends removed and leaves quartered; season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tbsp water and cook until leaves are just wilted and the water has cooked off. Serve with cooked quinoa.
  5. Healthy quinoa bowl. Dice sweet potatoes, place on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and mix to evenly coat. Roast at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Rough chop cucumbers, and slice radishes into quarters. Arrange in a bowl with cooked quinoa. Top with fresh herbs, the juice of half a lemon, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Quinoa tabbouleh. Medium dice 1 medium tomato and small dice ¼ small red onion. Finely chop ½ cup flat-leaf parsley and ½ cup mint; combine with 2 cups cooked quinoa. Top with olive oil, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Dairy-free quinoa breakfast porridge. Combine 1 cup uncooked quinoa with 2 cups almond, soy, or coconut milk in a saucepan. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, then add ¼ tsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp brown sugar or agave syrup, cooking for another 5 minutes, or until quinoa has reached preferred consistency. Remove from heat and add shredded coconut, sliced almonds, and fresh fruit.