6 Essential Tips for Cooking Quinoa Like a Pro (Hint: It Starts with the CORRECT Ratio!)

If you’re a quinoa lover like I am, you might already know that quinoa is an everyday superfood you can find at most regular grocery stores.

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You may know that it’s gluten-free and a complete plant-based protein (it contains all essential amino acids — this is rare in many grains, which is why most aren’t considered complete protein sources).

Quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid that promotes calcium absorption, supports bone growth and development in children, and encourages the building of muscle protein, which is key for anyone who has undergone surgery or experienced a sports injury. You may know that although quinoa can be used like your average grain, it’s considered a “pseudograin” or “pseudocereal” because it’s actually a seed.

Whether it’s a true grain or not, quinoa is a great substitute for rice or pasta in pilaf, soups, stews, stuffed peppers, and even baked goods. You can also buy it as quinoa flour or as quinoa flakes (great for an oat-free breakfast porridge). I consider it a pantry staple because it’s quick cooking and can be ready in 15-20 minutes. You may even know that quinoa belongs to the same botanical family as spinach, beets, amaranth and one of my favourite wild greens, lambsquarters.

But did you know that back in the 1990s NASA called quinoa the “perfect inflight snack for astronauts” because of its impressive nutritional qualities? [1]

Maybe not! And although it commonly comes in white or pale yellow, quinoa is also available in black and a red/brown colour.  

Here are my pro tips for cooking perfect quinoa every time:

1. Soak the quinoa for 10-15 minutes in plenty of cold water.

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I never used to do this before I took the Rouxbe Plant-Based Professional Certification program, but it makes a difference! I find the quinoa seeds remain separate after cooking in part due to this small extra step.  

2. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly before cooking.

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Quinoa (along with other foods like soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans, etc.) is covered in a natural, soap-like coating called saponins. It has a bitter taste if left on but thoroughly rinsing the quinoa in a strainer will help remove it. Most commercially available quinoa is pre-rinsed, but I still find most brands benefit from a good soak and/or rinse. If you pre-soak your quinoa, you’ll notice the water often becomes cloudy, which shows the saponins being removed! You may need to rinse the quinoa 2 or 3 times before the water runs clear.  

3. Use the right ratio of quinoa to liquid.

Many cookbooks (and many packages of quinoa) recommend a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa, but this might be the worst advice of all! I find that every time I use that much liquid, the quinoa ends up waterlogged and mushy.

Not good. Not good at all, especially in pilaf or other salad-type dishes. No one wants to eat those (not even me, and I have a pretty big crush on quinoa!)

I prefer and highly recommend a ratio of 1:1. Of course this means you’ll need 1 cup of liquid for every 1 cup of quinoa. The quinoa should be measured dry before you soak or rinse it.

Easy to remember, right? However, the darker types of quinoa, red or black, are the exception. I find these need a bit more liquid and a slightly longer cooking time. So, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup MORE water and cook these types of quinoa for 5-7 minutes longer. Use the right ratio for cooking quinoa and you’ll end up with fluffy, tender quinoa instead of the dreaded mushy quinoa.  

4. Season correctly (and enough).

Season with spices or other flavours of your choice. If nothing else, season with sea salt. I usually use 1/4 tsp per cup of (dried) quinoa. To add a boost of flavour for few to no extra calories, try cooking your quinoa in vegetable stock instead of plain water. You can also add fresh garlic, lemon slices and fresh herbs. Quinoa will absorb the flavours you add to it.  

5. Leave the lid on until the very (non-bitter) end.

Once the water and quinoa come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and then don’t remove the lid until the time is up! The lid keeps moisture in and cold air out, which helps cook the quinoa to the perfect texture.  

6. Let it sit and hang out.

This is another tip I learned in the Rouxbe Plant-Based Certification program and it also makes a noticeable difference. I’m notoriously bad about removing the lid as soon as the timer goes off, but you’ll have much better results if you don’t. As you do with rice, leave the lid on for at least 5 minutes once the cooking time is over and then gently fluff that fabulous quinoa with a fork before serving.  

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Here’s how to cook perfect quinoa from start to finish: Soak it and/or rinse it. Add the right amount of liquid and quinoa (ratio of 1:1!); bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer (such as the low setting), cover the pot with a lid and cook the quinoa for 15-20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, take the pot off the burner and let it sit with the lid on. Use a fork to fluff the quinoa and then eat it!

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  Have I missed anything? Do you have any other tips for cooking perfect quinoa?   For more tips and advice on cooking a variety of grains, check out my free Guide to Preparing and Cooking Whole Grains.

Life is a plate… Eat up!

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References: [1] Food Republic: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Quinoa: http://www.foodrepublic.com/2013/08/20/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-quinoa  

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3 thoughts on “6 Essential Tips for Cooking Quinoa Like a Pro (Hint: It Starts with the CORRECT Ratio!)

  1. Pingback: Big Protein Beet & Quinoa Salad (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free) | Ashleigh Grange, RHN

  2. Sheri says:

    I’m going to try soaking before hand now. I cook my quinoa in my rice cooker and have never had a problem. So easy, I am also taking the Rouxbe plant based cooking course, about 1/4 of the way through it. Thanks for the tips.

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