Cooking Basics: Quinoa 101

by Liz Sommer, MS, RDN, LDN

If you’re reading this, then you are ready to conquer your fear of cooking quinoa. With its status as a celebrity superfood in 2015, most of us read about the benefits of eating quinoa on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many of us are intimidated by even pronouncing the word, much less cooking this protein-packed grain.

I’m here to tell you about a few simple dos and don’ts that will make your quinoa-cooking experience go as smoothly as possible. If you can learn to cook quinoa properly, then it will taste better and you will feel better. This two-part series will focus first on eliminating your fear of cooking quinoa + then provide you with a few easy recipes that we love.

Step 1: Say it properly: Keen-wah. Good job.

Step 2: Decide how much you want to make.

Quinoa is gluten-free, fat-free, high in protein (about 8 grams/cup), and keeps well in the fridge for 5–7 days, making it the perfect whole grain to use for weekly meal prep.

When deciding how much to prepare, know that 1 serving = ½ cup. In general, quinoa will increase in volume by 2–3 times (cooking quinoa, use a 1:1.5 cup ratio)*.

*1 cup dry quinoa + 1.5 cups liquid = 2.5 cups cooked quinoa.

Step 3: To rinse or not to rinse.

Quinoa has a natural coating, called saponin, that can make the cooked grain taste bitter or soapy. Pre-rinsing does not make a textural difference, but it can take away this slightly bitter taste. Personally, I do not notice a taste difference either way. If you do want to rinse it though, keep reading below. If not, move on to step 4.

If you do want to rinse your quinoa, you’ll need a fine mesh strainer (the quinoa grains will fall through the holes of most colanders). I do not have a fine mesh strainer and instead like to use my french press, which you could call either a “life hack” or, “I’m in my mid 20s and my kitchen is so small I can’t fit a fine mesh strainer in my cabinet.” If you don’t have either of these things, then don’t bother rinsing, it’s not a big deal.

Step 4: Follow package directions, or don’t. To cook quinoa:

Combine quinoa and water (or other liquid — see step 5) in a pot in a 1:1.5 ratio. To make 4 cups of cooked quinoa, you’ll want to start with 2 cups dry quinoa and 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, leave pot covered, and let stand 5 minutes.

Transfer to a large bowl to cool (or spread out on a sheet pan), stirring occasionally with a fork. Note: if cooked quinoa stays in a hot pan on the stove, the bottom layers will continue to cook and be overdone.

If done correctly, your quinoa will look like so:

Step 5: Using Other Liquids.

Let’s be honest: quinoa doesn’t have the most amazing flavor profile, so cooking with liquids other than water can make a big difference in taste. My favorites are vegetable broth (I use Better Than Bouillon), coconut milk (1 can is perfect for 1 c. dry quinoa), or add 1–2 Tablespoons of soy sauce or olive oil to cooking water. Of course, you can also add any sauces you like to the quinoa after cooking it.

If the experience of cooking quinoa made you want to stress nap, then go get some sleep + try again tomorrow. If it didn’t, then try out the recipe below. It is high in protein, low in effort, and will leave you feeling full + happy.


Mediterranean Guacamole

Disclaimer: there is no avocado in this recipe.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 c. quinoa*
  • 1.5 c. water
  • 1–14.5 oz. can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 6 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, diced
  • ¼ c. kalamata olives, chopped
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ c. feta

Pesto:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ c. olive oil
  • ¼ c. pine nuts
  • 1 c. baby spinach, packed

*Use your new-found quinoa cooking skills to make this 1 c. dry quinoa into 2.5 c. cooked quinoa

Directions:

Pesto: Using a mini food-processor (or blender, or magic-bullet) mince garlic. Add in pine nuts, olive oil, spinach and salt. Blend until smooth.

Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix in pesto.

Serve with whole wheat pita, tortilla chips, or eat plain. Enjoy!