How to Cook Quinoa

This scrumptious little seed is fast becoming one of America’s favorite go-to grain choices.  Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been consumed by South Americans for thousands, yes, thousands of years and is actually more of a seed than a grain.  Quinoa boasts a mighty serving of complete protein as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  I just think it’s delicious.

Despite all of its luring qualities, quinoa can be a bit finicky to cook.  But there is no need to stare at you saucepan of freshly made quinoa and silently lament about the bitter, gummy mess you have on your hands.  Follow these tips and you’ll be a quinoa champ in no time.

Consider Flavor Possibilities

Even though quinoa has its own delicately earthy flavor, it can be a bit too subtle for some people’s tastes.  With that being said, your first step to the ultimate quinoa experience is to think about what you want out of your quinoa. If you like to live dangerously, don’t be shy about introducing some bold flavors.  Add in onions, garlic, mushrooms, wine, ground meat, or pre-mixed seasonings with a ton of flavor.  You could even toss cooked and cooled quinoa with a vinaigrette, vegetables, and some feta cheese.  I like smoked paprika and garlic, as you will see in the recipe below.  And don’t forget the salt!  It’s always a good idea when cooking things like quinoa and rice to taste the cooking liquid.  It should taste a little over salted.  This amount of seasoning will insure your quinoa doesn’t end up bland.

Give it a Rinse

You might be tempted to skip this step when you read it on the box.  “I’m not afraid a little dirt,” you might be thinking.  If you opt out on the rinsing, you’re in for much more than a bit of dust.  Firstly, quinoa grows best in sand and for that reason, you are likely to encounter a few rocky pieces if you don’t wash before you cook.  Not only that, but quinoa has a unique bitter outer coating that, if not rinsed off, will certainly taint your quinoa’s flavor.  So toss your little seedy friends in a fine strainer and rinse them thoroughly.


Get Toasty

To add yet another flavor dimension to your already well-seasoned quinoa, try turning up the heat.  Add a bit of oil to your pan, followed by the rinsed quinoa and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the quinoa starts to smell nutty.  This is how you know you’re on your way to flavor ecstasy.

Remember the Ratio

Just like rice, quinoa has a never-fail ratio of 2:1.  That’s 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa.  You could use a coffee cup or even an empty boot to measure your parts, that’s the beauty of it, anything works!

Give ’em a Break

After your 20 minutes of cooking are up, be sure to let your quinoa rest.  This gives it time to soak up the last bit of liquid and allows the starches in the quinoa to firm up, which prevents it from becoming an ugly, homogenous nightmare.

Fluff It

After each grain has had a chance to firm up, it’s time to separate them.  Stir the quinoa with a fork until it resembles a pile of fluffy snowflakes.  This is the mark of a well-made quinoa.  This is also a great time for additions like crumbled cheese, nuts, and fresh herbs.

So the next time you want to serve up something unique, tasty, and even healthy, consider quinoa.  It’s versatility, health benefits, and flavor possibilities make it a shoo-in for dinner.  If you’re in a rush, you can even make it in your rice cooker.  No doubt, you will be happy with your results as long as you have followed all of the above steps.  Happy cooking!


Smoky Quinoa with Garlic and Fresh Cilantro

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste


Rinse the quinoa thoroughly, then set aside to drain.  In the mean time, place a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the oil followed by the drained quinoa and onion.  Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften and the quinoa begins to smell nutty.  Add the garlic and paprika, then cook for 2 minutes more, or until you can smell the aroma of the paprika and garlic.

Pour in the broth, then add enough salt to make the broth taste slightly over salted  Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove the quinioa from heat and allow to sit an additional 5 minutes covered.  Fluff the quinoa with a fork, sprinkle with fresh cilantro, and chow down.

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Since I was a little girl, I've been all about food. As a 7 year old, my first half-baked attempt at chocolate cake was comprised of scrambled eggs and chocolate milk powder microwaved, then topped off with Red Hots. I've come a long way since then. I've been lucky enough to get to work in restaurants for 10 years and graduate from one of the best culinary schools in the country. At the moment I'm enjoying working with a killer food photographer while doing freelance food styling and writing. I'm always excited thinking about what my next culinary adventure will bring. Who knows, maybe I'll revisit that chocolate cake with Red Hots.

2 Responses

  1. Shirley

    This was a great recipe! I had some difficulty draining the water from the quinoa because they are so small. What is the best way to do it?


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