Quinoa has become a staple in many kitchens across the country over the past decade as a fluffy fill-in for starches like pasta and rice. It’s naturally gluten-free, and thanks to it’s relatively recent rise in global popularity, this seed is available in just about every grocery store, in multiple different varieties including white, red, black, and colorful blends of all three. No matter which type of quinoa is your favorite, the cooking methods and flavor profiles stay the same. With a subtle flavor and soft texture, quinoa makes a great base for all types of flavors and dishes, from quick-to-prep lunches to simple sides to accompany saucy curries or stews.
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is soft and fluffy with a slightly nutty taste. It's native to South America and is high in protein and fiber.
Here’s how to bring out the best attributes from your quinoa and avoid the worst—gummy, mushy, or bitter—so you can enjoy this satisfying “grain” in all its glory.
On Rinsing Quinoa
If you’ve ever cooked quinoa before, you probably followed a recipe where the first step was to rinse the quinoa. If you followed the directions, you were probably happy with the outcome, but might have questioned the purpose of that rinse. If you decided to go off the beaten path and leave your quinoa un-rinsed, you undoubtedly noticed a bitter flavor in your cooked quinoa, and have probably never cooked it again since.
The bitterness present in cooked, un-rinsed quinoa is thanks to something called “saponin” that’s found in the husk of the seeds. While the husk is typically removed in any quinoa you would buy from the grocery store, remnants of this bitter-flavored compound are still on the seeds. To prevent any of that unpleasant bitterness from making its way onto your plate, simply transfer your quinoa to a very fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold, running water, swirling with your hands, until the water running through the quinoa is clear. It shouldn’t take more than a minute, and this extra step will prove vital when it comes to making perfect tasting quinoa.
How Much Quinoa to Make
Since the seeds are so tiny, you might take one look at 1 cup of quinoa and think that there’s no way it would be enough to serve one person, let alone two. However, quinoa just about triples in size as it cooks, so don’t be fooled. Here’s a simple rule of thumb with dry vs. cooked quinoa yields and serving sizes:
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa = 1 serving
- 1/4 cup dry quinoa = 3/4 cups cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup dry quinoa = 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (3 servings)
- 1 cup dry quinoa = 3 cups cooked quinoa (6 servings)
How to Make Fluffy, Perfect Quinoa
1 cup quinoa (any variety, rinsed and drained)
1 3/4 cups water (or vegetable or chicken broth)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Other aromatics such as smashed garlic cloves, thyme, or rosemary, if desired
- Add the quinoa and water to a small pot with a lid. If you have a rice cooker, you can also let it do the work for you: add the quinoa and water, cover, and let it go. Another option here is to add the quinoa to the pot over medium heat and, stirring often, toast the seeds for about 5 minutes to enhance the natural nutty flavors. Then, add the water and continue cooking as directed below.
- Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover, turn the heat down to medium and let cook approx. 15 min., or until the kernels have popped open and all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, keeping the pot covered, and let rest another 5 minutes.
- Uncover and fluff with a fork, before dressing it up or enjoying as is.
Store cooked quinoa in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to a month.
3 Simple Ways to Dress Up Cooked Quinoa
Thanks to the mild flavor of a simply cooked quinoa, just about any or your favorite salad dressings would work wonderfully to add more flavor and heft. Paired with roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or light lettuces, you can’t go wrong. Here are my 3 favorite, super easy dressings for quinoa.
Garlicky lemon vinaigrette: Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 shallot (peeled and minced or grated), and 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced or grated) to a bowl. Whisk to combine and season with salt and pepper. While whisking, drizzle in 2 tbsp olive oil. Dress 1 cup warm, cooked quinoa with the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
Smoky cumin-lime dressing: Add 2 tbsp lime juice, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, and 2 tbsp olive oil to a bowl. Whisk to combine and season with salt and pepper. If desired, add 1/2 tbsp liquid from chilies in adobo and a drizzle of honey. Dress 1 cup warm, cooked quinoa with the dressing and toss to combine.
Spicy soy-ginger dressing: Add 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 1/2 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tsp hot sauce (Tabasco works well here but you could also use Sriracha or even gochujang), 1 minced bird’s eye chili, and 1 minced scallion to a bowl. Whisk to combine, then dress 1 cup warm, cooked quinoa and toss to combine.