Learn how to cook and flavor quinoa with this easy-to-follow recipe, featuring fun seasoning ideas and lots of tips and tricks.
What is Quinoa?
Though it's often called an "ancient grain" or "super grain," quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is actually the seed of a flowering plant in the amaranth family. It was first grown for food 7,000 years ago by the Incas, and it's now famous throughout the world for its impressive health benefits. Not only does quinoa contain all nine essential amino acids, making it one of the few truly complete plant-based proteins, but it's also a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and other key nutrients. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors, including white, black, and red.
Well, that depends. When quinoa first came popular in the US, food writers insisted that you must rinse the seeds before cooking, since each seed is coated with a naturally occurring, bitter-tasting chemical called saponin. However, some experts have recently changed their opinion on the matter, discovering that unrinsed quinoa has a slightly stronger but not unpleasant flavor. In other words? It's up to you! If you like the flavor of quinoa, then try it unrinsed and see what you think. If you're not a big quinoa fan, then it's probably a good idea to rinse it first to prevent any bitterness.
You don't really have to toast quinoa, but it does give the usually bland-tasting grain a little extra depth of flavor. To really up your quinoa cooking game (and change the minds of any quinoa haters), sauté the uncooked quinoa with some olive oil and minced onion and garlic before you add the water or broth.
You'll get about 3 cups of cooked quinoa from 1 cup of seeds. Though most recipes say that 3 cups is 6 servings, I disagree. In my house, 3 cups usually serves 4 people at most.
Yep! Just use the ratio of 1 part uncooked quinoa seeds to 1.5 or 2 parts liquid.
Definitely! I usually make a double batch, then vacuum seal half and freeze it for up to 3 months. There's nothing like having pre-cooked grains ready to go for busy weeknight meals.
How to Flavor Quinoa
People have a lot of opinions about quinoa. Some eat it only for its health benefits, others love its subtle, nutty flavor, and then there are those who insist that it's the most boring, bland grain they've ever tried. But like Brussels sprouts and other often-mishandled foods, when it's cooked and flavored well, quinoa can surprise even the pickiest of eaters. Here are some easy ways to amp up this ancient seed's flavor:
- Dried herb or spice blends. Once the quinoa has finished cooking, flavor it with some salt and pepper and 2 teaspoons of any dried spice blend or herb blend. My favorites are Italian seasoning, herbes de Provence, taco or chili seasoning, and za'atar.
- Onion and garlic. Toast the uncooked quinoa in a little oil with minced onion and garlic before you pour in the liquid. These flavors go well with just about any meal you can think of. Then, once the quinoa is cooked, you can rev up the flavor even more with some dried seasonings.
- Pesto. This one's my favorite because it's so easy! Just stir in ¼ cup of prepared or homemade pesto sauce to give your quinoa some Mediterranean flair.
- Broth or other cooking liquids. Instead of plain old water, use chicken broth or vegetable broth. If you use higher-sodium broth, make sure you taste the cooked quinoa before you add more salt.
- Fresh herbs and/or veggies. Chopped fresh parsley, basil, arugula, mint, and spinach are all great ways to add some color, extra flavor, and contrasting texture to your cooked quinoa. I also like to add chopped cherry tomatoes, shredded raw carrots, and/or chopped roasted red peppers.
- Flavored olive oil and lemon juice. One of my favorite ways to flavor cooked quinoa is to stir in a drizzle of infused olive oil (any kind) and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice.
- Nuts and dried fruits. Double up the nuttiness factor by stirring chopped toasted almonds, walnuts, pecans, or any other nut or seed you like into the cooked quinoa, along with a handful of dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, or golden raisins.
Cooking Quinoa: The Basic Steps
Time needed: 25 minutes.
If you're really short on time, you can skip the rinsing and toasting. However, I do find that those steps help develop the best flavor and texture.
- Rinse the quinoa.
Measure 1 cup of uncooked quinoa seeds into a fine-mesh sieve, then rinse them under cold running water, stirring them with your hand or a spoon to make sure every grain is well rinsed. (Rinsing removes the outer coating that can produce a bitter taste in the cooked quinoa; if you're short on time, though, feel free to skip this step.)
- Toast the quinoa in a little oil.
Heat some olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil sloshes around easily when you tilt the pan, add the quinoa. For extra flavor, you can also add minced onion and garlic. Sauté until you smell a nutty aroma and the quinoa begins to make popping noises. (This step adds extra depth of flavor to the cooked quinoa, but it is optional; feel free to skip this, too, if you're in a rush.)
- Add liquid.
Pour 1½ cups of water or broth into the saucepan. (Many other recipes call for 2 cups of liquid, but I find that can make the quinoa too mushy for my taste.)
- Cook until the liquid is absorbed.
Increase the heat to high and let the liquid come to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.
- Fluff, season, and serve.
Remove the pan from the heat, let the quinoa rest, covered, for 5 minutes, and fluff it with a fork. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then stir in any other flavorings. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.
- Fine-mesh sieve
- Wooden spoon
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ medium onion (red or yellow), finely chopped (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
- 1½ cups water or broth
To season the quinoa
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup pesto (optional), prepared or homemade
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, Greek seasoning, herbes de Provence, Cajun seasoning, taco or fajita seasoning, za'atar seasoning, or any other dried herb or spice blend you like (optional)
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
- Chopped fresh herbs and/or arugula (optional)
To cook the quinoa
- Measure the quinoa into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. (I always rinse my quinoa before cooking, but this step is optional; feel free to skip it if you're short on time!)
- In a medium saucepan with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil sloshes around easily when you tilt the pan, add the onion and garlic (if using) and the rinsed quinoa. Cook, stirring frequently, until the quinoa smells nutty and begins to make popping noises and the onion is soft (about 3 minutes).
- Pour in the water or broth and increase the heat to high. As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat, keeping the lid on, and let the quinoa rest for 5 minutes.
- Fluff the quinoa with a fork, season to taste with salt and pepper, and add any other optional flavorings. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.
Looking for more easy grains and staples? Check out the Every Night Meals recipe archive.