How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is one of my favorite grains and once you know how, cooking quinoa is a dream.

It's more than just a funny name!
Advertisement - Continue Below
Two jars of quinoa - one white and one multi-colored - on a wooden table with a small pile of white quinoa in the front.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is a flowering plant in the amaranth family. What we know as quinoa are the seeds of this plant, which are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Though it is in reality a seed, quinoa is considered a whole grain. Since it contains all nine essential amino acids, is a complete protein and therefore a great source of plant-based protein. You can get white, red or black quinoa OR tricolor with all three. There really is very little flavor difference between these types of quinoa, but the black might take a little longer to cook. 

Do you have to Soak Quinoa?

One of the best things about quinoa is that it is a very quick cooking grain. You don’t need to soak it, but doing so does make it a little more digestible. Giving quinoa a good rinse is a great idea. This can take away saponins on the quinoa, which can cause a slightly bitter taste to very sensitive palates. I make rinsing the quinoa a part of the process of cooking the quinoa as you’ll see below.

Looking down on a jar of white quinoa with the lid off and a pile of quinoa in front of it.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa takes just under 30 minutes to cook from start to finish, making it super easy. Here are the steps:

  1. Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in lots of cold water in a saucepan, stirring it around with your hand.
  2. Drain away as much of the water as you can from the saucepan. (a fine strainer really helps here)
  3. Put the saucepan on medium-high heat and stir the quinoa around with a wooden spoon. The water will evaporate and the quinoa will start to dry. When it is moving freely in the pan and you can hear that there is no more water, move to the next step.
  4. Add 1½ cups of water to the pan, along with ½ teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. 
  5. Lower the heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pot askew, so that a little steam can escape, and simmer for 20 minutes undisturbed.
  6. Check the quinoa and fluff with a wooden spoon.
Quinoa chili in a white bowl with sour cream and avocado in dishes near by.

Flavoring Quinoa

The easiest way to add flavor to quinoa is to cook it in stock instead of water – vegetable, mushroom or chicken stock are good options, but it really depends on what you plan to do with the quinoa after it is cooked. You can also make quinoa pilaf style by sautéing some onion or shallots with the quinoa before adding the liquid. Other flavoring options are some herbs or spices, smashed garlic cloves added to the pot during the cooking process, but honestly it’s nice to add flavors to your quinoa after it has cooked.

Quinoa salad with spinach, cauliflower, avocado, pecans and pomegranate seeds on a stack of white plates with a wooden bowl of salad in the background.

What Can you Do with Quinoa?

Quinoa is a great base or side dish for a stew or any braised dish, just tossed with some fresh herbs and a little olive oil. It also is a nice side for some grilled or sautéed chicken or fish. You can also use quinoa in a salad, add it to a soup or chili or even turn it into quinoa burgers. I just love having some cooked, ready and waiting for so many different possibilities for dinner or lunch.

Two quinoa burgers on a platter.




Quick Notes:

  • Quinoa is a seed, but considered a whole grain.
  • Quinoa is a complete protein, providing all 9 essential amino acids.
  • You can get white, brown or black quinoa, or a package of all three mixed together.
  • There is no need to soak quinoa, although you can.
  • Cooking Process:
    • Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a saucepan of water.
    • Drain using a fine strainer and return quinoa to the saucepan.
    • Dry and toast the quinoa over medium-high heat until it moves freely in the pan.
    • Add 1½ cups water (or other liquid), ½ teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a lid askew, and cook for 20 minutes.
    • Fluff with a fork.
  • Flavor Tips:
    • soaking quinoa can make it more digestible
    • rinsing quinoa can remove any bitter taste for very sensitive palates
    • cooking quinoa in chicken stock instead of water adds, flavor
    • adding onion, garlic, herbs, spices to the cooking water can also add flavor
    • tossing quinoa with other ingredients and a vinaigrette after it has cooked will add lots of flavor
  • You can use quinoa in chilis, salads, burgers, soups or just serve it as a side dish.

Featured Recipes

Apply your skills with these tasty recipes.

Cooking School
Quinoa Burgers

I love a good burger, but not always a beef burger. These quinoa burgers are satisfying and pack a punch...
View Recipe

Quinoa Chili with Kidney Beans

Quinoa is a perfect way to add protein to a vegetarian chili. There's no need to cook it separately, just...
View Recipe

Quinoa Salad with Artichokes, Dried Cherries, Pistachios, Avocado and Arugula

Once you know how to make quinoa properly, it's a good idea to have some on hand all the time...
View Recipe

Quinoa and Spinach Salad

This quinoa and spinach salad is full of flavor and a great main course salad. It's a great reason to...
View Recipe

Advertisement - Continue Below
Advertisement - Continue Below
Advertisement - Continue Below

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *