How to cook perfectly fluffy quinoa (every single time)

Heed our tips to cook fluffy, toothsome quinoa ready for your culinary bidding

By Jess Kapadia
January 10, 2021 6:30PM (UTC)
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(Bobbi Lin / Food52)

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Learn how to cook quinoa to fluffy perfection, and you'll open the door to a world of wholesome, delicious recipes that call for this nutrient-rich seed (that's right, it's a seed!) If you can cook rice, you can cook quinoa. And if you can't cook rice but can follow simple step-by-step instructions, you're just a few simple steps away from whipping up a pot of quinoa that's as welcome in a salad or soup as it is in cookiesmeatballs, or burgers.

What is quinoa?

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Quinoa is a seed (or pseudo-cereal) native to the Andes Mountains. It's closely related to amaranth, and contains all nine amino acids, which makes it a complete food on its own. While you can absolutely enjoy quinoa on its own, it takes very well to any savory preparation that calls for whole grains like bulgur, brown rice, buckwheat, and farro. Quinoa can also be added to sweet recipes like cookies and cakes, and made into sweet or savory porridge for a rib-sticking breakfast.

How to rinse quinoa

Quinoa seeds are coated with a small amount of a bitter, soapy-tasting substance called saponin that's commonly rinsed off before cooking (though it's not absolutely necessary and is unlikely to cause stomach upset). Many cooks choose to wash quinoa before preparing it. To do this, place the quinoa in a sieve, place it under the tap, and run water over it until all the seeds have been thoroughly saturated. Alternately, place the quinoa in a large bowl of water, swish around with your hands, and drain off the water.

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How to toast quinoa

For a firm, fluffy texture (rather than soggy or mushy) it's best to toast quinoa after rinsing it, and before cooking. Drain the rinsed quinoa until no more water comes out of the sieve, and transfer to a pre-heated pan over a medium flame. Allow any remaining water to evaporate, then watch closely as the quinoa goes from dry to lightly golden-brown. This will add a toasty, slightly nutty flavor and sturdier texture that holds up well in salads, soups, and patties.

How to look quinoa

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Once the quinoa is dry and toasted (or just rinsed or straight out of the box, depending on how much time you have), add the cooking liquid. Use water, stock, or a half-and-half mixture of water and coconut milk. For every cup of quinoa, use about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of liquid — slightly more if it's right out of the package and slightly less if it's been rinsed or soaked. If using water, add a generous pinch of salt to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 15 minutes or until the liquid has been completely absorbed. Remove from heat and let the cooked quinoa sit covered in the pot for about 15 minutes, then fluff by gently raking through the pot with a fork.

If the quinoa's texture is cooked through (with some bite remaining) before the liquid has been absorbed, strain off the remainder in the sieve and allow the quinoa to cool, or return the quinoa to the pot to keep warm if serving hot.

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Refrigerate cooked, cooled quinoa in a container with a tight-fitting lid or zip-top bag for up to a week, or freeze for up to six months and defrost on the counter before using.

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Made too much quinoa? You're in luck!

Recipe: What to Do with Leftover Quinoa


Jess Kapadia

MORE FROM Jess Kapadia


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Food52 How-to Quinoa