How to Cook Quinoa – These simple stovetop directions for cooking quinoa make it easy to cook perfect, fluffy quinoa every time. (Scroll down for a how-to video + some of my favorite quinoa recipes!)
Quinoa is kind of a health food joke now, sort of like kale. It’s been used and talked about in All The Things! I’d never tried it growing up (before it came into popularity), but it quickly became a staple in our household when we went gluten free. We’ve used it in all sorts of ways here on the blog over the years, from salads and soups to meal prep favorites, burrito bowls, and more.
Today, I wanted to spotlight how to cook quinoa on the stovetop. Spoiler alert: it’s easy. Keep reading for my 2 favorite methods for getting perfectly cooked, fluffy quinoa every time (including an energy-saving method that’s a bit more hands-off!).
Let’s get to it!
Quinoa: The Basics
How to say it + what it is: First, a few things about quinoa. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah, not kwih-NOAH) is a seed that we treat like a grain. It’s naturally gluten free, very versatile, and can easily be used as a substitute for rice or couscous. You can even use it as a breakfast cereal served warm with honey and milk or your favorite oatmeal toppings. People toss it into granola, bake cakes with it, and more. It’s everywhere!
There are different kinds. Similar to rice, quinoa comes in different varieties. Some of the most common varieties and mixtures sold are white, red, and tri-color blends. I haven’t noticed any real taste difference between white and tri-color, though to me the red is slightly more nutty (not in a bad way).
It packs a lot of protein. Quinoa has all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. In one cup of cooked quinoa, there are about 8 grams of protein, which is especially good news for those who follow plant-based diets. Yay protein!
How to Cook Quinoa
Now that we know what it is (and how to say it–ha!), here are some of my best tips for cooking quinoa.
- Rinse it before cooking. Quinoa is covered in a coating called saponin, which has a strong smell and bitter/soapy taste. Rinsing until it’s no longer foamy clears up that saponin, leaving you with a much more neutral, nutty taste.
- Water to quinoa ratio. I use a 2:1 water-to-quinoa ratio, so I use 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry quinoa. Some prefer to use slightly less than 2 cups of water, but I get my most consistent results with the 2:1 ratio.
- Set a timer. If you over-cook your quinoa it can get a little mushy. I eyeball and estimate a lot of things in the kitchen, but I usually set a timer for quinoa. It has some flexibility, but for the *best* results, I recommend a timer.
- Consider the energy saving/steaming method. One other tip for preventing overcooking is the “energy saving method.” Instead of boiling, then cooking on low, you boil for only 5-8 minutes, then cover it, turn the heat off, and let it steam. The steaming part works really well for me and helps me get light, fluffy quinoa. (And I like that it saves me hands-on energy in addition to the electrical energy!)
- Leave the lid off when you boil. Boiling with the lid off helps you get a good amount of evaporation, which means your quinoa will cook through and the liquid will evaporate/absorb at just about the same time. I’ve found if I cover it the whole time, that’s when I’m more likely to over cook it or run into texture issues.
How to Use Quinoa:
As I mentioned above, there are LOTS of ways to eat quinoa. Some of my favorites are to…
- Make quinoa salads – Quinoa is GREAT for make-ahead salads. There are so many ways to flavor them! (Scroll down for a few of my favorites near the recipe card)
- Pair cooked quinoa with roasted veggies – This Simply Roasted Zucchini & Tomatoes combo is awesome!
- Dress it up and use it as a base for these Pico de Gallo Quinoa Bowls or your favorite burrito bowls
- Stir it into soups, like this Slow Cooker Thai Chicken & Butternut Squash Soup
- Use it as a stuffing – I love it in these Tex Mex Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa & Black Beans
Easy Ways to Add Flavor to Your Quinoa
Add some flavor while you cook! There are a few easy ways to coax the best flavor out of your quinoa.
- The first suggestion is don’t skip the rinsing step!
- Next, is to cook quinoa using broth (chicken, veggie, etc.) instead of water, or using 1/2 broth and 1/2 water.
- My other easy tip is to add a pinch of salt in with the water if you remember (or on top if you forget). Or, you can try some yummy mix-ins
Or add some mix-ins for an easy side dish! Some of my favorites:
- Garlic + Butter/olive oil – Adding a clove of garlic and about 1 Tbsp of olive oil or butter makes it taste amazing. You can even play with flavored olive oils for a bigger flavor boost!
- Stir in some fresh herbs! I love using fresh herbs and this is an easy way to use whatever you have on hand. My personal favorites are cilantro or basil. They brighten up the whole dish! Parsley and dill can also be nice, depending on what you want to serve them with.
- Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Fresh citrus adds some really nice brightness. I love adding a bit of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. So good!
- Stir in some salsa or pico de gallo. This works especially well if you’re using it as a side dish or as a base for burrito bowls or meal prep. But a scoop of salsa + quinoa = easy and delicious!
Do you need to rinse quinoa before cooking? Yes. Quinoa is coated with a bitter coating called saponin that smells strong and tastes bitter or soapy. (I didn’t know this when I first started cooking quinoa.) Rinsing removes the saponin and gives you a much more neutral, nutty flavor. I use a fine mesh sieve and it works like a charm. (Colanders have too-large holes and won’t work.)
Do you cook white and red quinoa the same? Yep! Rainbow/tri-color quinoa, white quinoa, and red quinoa will all cook in about the same amount of time (unlike different kinds of rice). These directions will work for any variety of quinoa you choose.
Can you freeze cooked quinoa? Yes! Quinoa re-heats really well and holds its shape when thawed, which means it’s GREAT for making ahead of time. To freeze, I wait till the quinoa has cooled, then transfer it to a freezer-safe bag and lay flat to freeze. (When you freeze it in a thin layer, it’ll thaw faster!). You can also use an airtight container if you prefer. Well covered, frozen quinoa will keep for around 2 months or so.
How much cooked quinoa will 1 cup of uncooked quinoa make? Much like rice, quinoa absorbs liquid and gets larger when cooked. You can expect it to roughly triple when cooked, so 1 cup uncooked quinoa will make about 3 cups cooked quinoa.
Love Quinoa? I Bet You’d Like…
- Sun Dried Tomato Quinoa Salad
- Spring Roll Quinoa Salad
- Powerhouse Quinoa Salad
- Confetti Quinoa Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
- My Big Fat Greek Quinoa Salad