Cooking quinoa like a pro begins with saying it right: KEEN-wah. This diverse whole grain offers everything a busy cook could ask for: a nutty taste that takes on spice and holds its own as a side dish or as the base of the main course, plus excellent nutritional benefits. In fact, quinoa is a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids. It's also naturally gluten-free. And cooking it? A cinch. If you can cook rice you've already mastered the technique.
This hearty grain cooks quickly. Use this simple ratio to measure out your ingredients:
2 cups liquid
1 cup quinoa
Bring the cooking liquid to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, then turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Use a fork to fluff and separate the grains.
One cup dry quinoa yields 3 cups cooked or 6 (1/2-cup) servings. Quinoa loves to expand in water—keep this in mind if you plan to add it to a soup, as you may quickly find that your broth has been soaked up.
Related: Healthy Quinoa Recipes
Use these quick tricks to cook the best quinoa.
Quinoa grows with a bitter-tasting, protective coating called saponin. Though most quinoa you buy in grocery stores is prerinsed, another run under the faucet doesn't hurt. Pour quinoa into a fine-mesh sieve and put it under cold water for a few seconds. Shake off any excess water before starting your recipe.
Bring out quinoa's nutty side with a quick skillet toast. For every 1 1/2 cups quinoa, heat 1 tablespoon of a neutral oil, like canola, in a skillet on medium-low heat. Stay vigilant: Stir the quinoa constantly to avoid burning, watching for that perfect golden moment, around 6 to 8 minutes.
Try our Quinoa with Latin Flavors to master the toasting method.
Water is quinoa's go-to companion, but other liquids—think low-sodium chicken, mushroom or vegetable broth—add flavor. Just keep the ratio 2 cups liquid to 1 cup quinoa. Add a splash of dry white wine for further oomph: 1/2 cup wine plus 1 1/2 cups broth for every 1 cup of quinoa.
Quinoa cooks quickly—in about 15 minutes. Some package directions tell you to turn off the heat once the liquid boils and you've stirred in the quinoa. We prefer to bring the cooking liquid to a boil, stir in the quinoa, then turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer gently, until all the liquid is absorbed. You'll know when the quinoa is done because it will look like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel.
Though protein is quinoa's calling card, it's not the total protein content but the type of protein that gives the grain its healthy rep. Quinoa has all nine amino acids essential for human nutrition. This combo is common in meats, but rarely found in plant-based foods. Quinoa also boasts a good dose of fiber and iron. A 1/2-cup serving of quinoa has 111 calories, 2 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g protein and 3 g fiber.
Trending everywhere, quinoa is a new staple of grocery stores, though you'll most likely spot it in the health aisle. It's also available in most natural-foods stores. Quinoa grows in a rainbow of colors, but the most commonly sold are red quinoa, black quinoa and white quinoa. Taste and nutrition aren't key distinguishers; instead, white quinoa tends to cook up fluffier, while red quinoa and black quinoa have a crunchier texture and the grains don't tend to stick together as much.
Ready to push the quinoa boundaries? Two extensions of the quinoa grain are quinoa flour, a great option for gluten-free baking, and quinoa flakes, which look and cook similarly to rolled oats. Find both products in bigger supermarkets and natural-foods stores.
Interested in DIY quinoa flour? To make it at home, grind white quinoa in a clean coffee grinder until it becomes a fine powder. Though not as fine as what you get in the store, your homemade flour will work in recipes for cookies and bars where the fine texture won't matter. Try our Almond Butter-Quinoa Blondies with this method.