How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is a small, round grain that is easy to prepare and incredibly nutritious. Actually, it’s technically a seed but because it behaves like a grain it’s generally thought of as one. It comes originally from the mountains of Peru, where it was traditionally revered as a grain of the gods, perhaps because the natives there recognized its life-sustaining abilities. Apparently it was used to feed Incan armies.

It has a high protein content and is one of the few plant foods with all the essential amino acids necessary for humans, making it a rare complete protein source. It is also high in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.

Because it’s so healthful and so easy to prepare, we eat a lot of it in our house. I like it in particular because if my son eats a bowl of it, I can feel confident that he’s had his protein requirements met that day. It’s also totally toddler friendly: non-offensive, neutral tasting, and easy to add veggies to. Or as he describes it, “yummy keen-wa. So goot.”

It can be served as is, like rice, but also makes great pilaf or a stuffing for things like tomatoes, peppers or cabbage leaves.

Some people like to rinse their quinoa prior to cooking, as in its natural state it has a bitter coating. However, most boxed quinoa you find today in stores has already had that coating removed, and I haven’t found it necessary to rinse it.

Quinoa is properly cooked when the germ shows itself as a little white line wrapped around each grain, and the grains are translucent. A little dot of white in the center of the grains means it needs a little more time.

Basic Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt

Put all in a small pot and bring to a boil, covered, over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to very lowest setting and cook, still covered, for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the pot covered on the stove for another 10 minutes. This last step is important – it finishes cooking during this time.

Fluff and serve, or refrigerate. It will keep for 4 or 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Quinoa is forgiving. If, after you’ve gone through all these steps, you feel it is still not fully cooked, or the water is not fully absorbed or cooked off, you can reheat it, adding water if necessary, and the final product will not suffer.

Some people cook quinoa slightly differently by using a higher proportion of water to quinoa and then draining off any excess once it’s done. This method produces a slightly fluffier quinoa. I usually just use the basic method, as it produces a product that is fluffy enough for my purposes (I’m not serving Frank Bruni, here), and it’s easier in that it saves a step at the end, of draining. Admittedly not a very labor intensive step, but hey, I’ve got other things to do. Also with the basic method you can just let the timer do the work for you, and you don’t have to keep an eye on the pot to see when it’s done. But here are the proportions if you’d like to use this “fluffy” technique.

Fluffy Quinoa
3 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1 teaspoon salt

Bring all to a boil, covered, in a small pot. Once boiling, lower heat to very lowest setting and let it cook, still covered, until it’s done (white string of germ showing around each grain, and each grain is uniformly translucent). This will take 13-15 minutes. When it’s ready, drain off any excess water.

Fluff and enjoy!

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