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Quinoa: A Healthy, Versatile Grain
Once only available at health food stores, quinoa has become one of the most popular grains on the supermarket shelves—and for good reason. It is a whole grain with 8 grams of protein—in fact, it is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, something rarely found in a plant-based food. And if that wasn't enough, quinoa is high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals. All of this not only makes this versatile grain a superfood but also makes it the ideal ingredient for those eating vegetarian and vegan. And an added bonus? This versatile grain is gluten-free.
Quinoa is available in several colors including white, red, black, purple, and yellow. The white is the fluffiest while the darker colors add more of a crunch to your dishes. When it comes to cooking quinoa, if you know how to cook rice you are all set—the method is basically the same—although quinoa cooks in less than half the time of some rice varieties! While there are other methods of cooking quinoa, including in a rice cooker, this method of stovetop cooking will produce perfect quinoa.
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Determine How Much Quinoa You Will Need
Before you begin cooking, you need to figure out how much cooked quinoa you want to end up with; a serving is 1/2 cup. Quinoa increases three times in size when cooked, so, if you want to end up with 3 cups of cooked quinoa, measure out 1 cup of dry quinoa. If you want 2 cups of cooked quinoa, measure out 2/3 cup of dry quinoa, etc.
To cook the quinoa, you will use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa, or 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry quinoa. You can use another liquid besides water, such as chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth, which will add a nice flavor to the finished dish.
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Rinse the Quinoa
Quinoa has a natural outer coating called saponin which can impart a bitter taste to the cooked grain. To remove this, you need to rinse the quinoa to remove any residue from the seed. This task has already been performed in some boxed quinoa, but you may want to repeat the process if you are unsure.
To rinse the grain, pour the uncooked quinoa into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool running water for 2 to 3 minutes, agitating the seeds with your hands to remove any residue.
If you don't have a mesh strainer, you can place the quinoa in a large bowl of water for several minutes, and then change the water and repeat to assure that the quinoa is well-rinsed. Be sure to agitate with your hands during this process to remove any residue.
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Toast the Quinoa
This is an optional step, but toasting the grains will bring out their nuttiness and sweetness and makes for a more flavorful finished product (similar to when making rice pilaf). In the saucepan you plan to cook the quinoa, add a drizzle of olive or canola oil and warm over medium-low heat. Add the drained quinoa and, stirring constantly, toast the grains until they turn golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Just watch it carefully and continue to stir as quinoa can burn easily.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Cook the Quinoa
In the same saucepan, add the water (or other liquid) and the quinoa, remembering your 2:1 ratio. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the liquid and quinoa to a boil. Once it has reached a full boil, turn the heat down to medium, place the lid on the saucepan, and simmer the quinoa for 15 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed and the kernels have "popped open." If there is a little bit of liquid in the bottom of the pan, you can remove from the heat but leave covered for 5 minutes for the remaining liquid to be absorbed.
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Use or Store the Quinoa
Once the quinoa has finished cooking, fluff it with a fork. You are now ready to use your quinoa. You may enjoy it in salads, as a breakfast cereal, or in recipes where you would usually use rice such as stuffed peppers.
If you do not plan to use all of the quinoa that you cooked, it can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for three days.