You’ll find Quinoa sitting with the other grains in the supermarket. But, it’s actually a seed. However, its culinary behavior gives quinoa an honorary membership with the grains. Quinoa has some noteworthy health and nutritional benefits. It’s often referred to as a ‘superfood’, and when you read its stellar chart of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and valuable antioxidants you’ll see why. In some categories, like iron content, it even ranks a bit higher than lamb. Even though it’s a superfood and all, many people are still a bit timid around quinoa. They even pronounce it as ‘qweenwoa’ instead of its rightful name ‘keenwah’. Getting the right texture and a pleasant taste remains a bit of a challenge, and that’s why we came up with this little guide.
Here’s how to cook quinoa in 10 simple steps. In addition to some of my very best recipes!
Step 1: Choose the Type of Quinoa You Prefer
Quinoa comes in various types. This seed has been heavily planted in the South for thousands of years, it’s no wonder then that it comes in several varieties.
From yellow, to red, to black, you have many options. Choose the one that’ll fit your menu.
Step 2: Soak the Quinoa Grains
I soak all sorts of grains as a matter of habit. This simple process achieves some important goals:
- It takes the bitterness out of the grains.
- Makes their cleaning much easier.
- Improves the texture of the cooked grains.
- Reduces the cooking time, especially for hard grains.
The soaking period varies though. Some grains, like beans, take a whole night. Lentils, on the other hand, require a couple of hours to fill up and look all perky and cheery in the pot. Quinoa shouldn’t be left in the warm water for more than 30 minutes. It’s a seed after all!
Step 3: Rinse in a Mesh Sieve
This is a nice step to get rid of the remaining ‘saponin’, which is the substance that clings to the outer membrane of quinoa. Why we don’t want to keep it? Mainly, because of its odd bitter taste.
The mesh strainer is preferable because quinoa grains are pretty small, and you wouldn’t want them to fall off a large-pored strainer.
Don’t keep the rinsed quinoa grains aside for too long before cooking. This would extend their soaking time, and affect their texture after cooking.
It’s best to start cooking them right after rinsing.
Step 4: Measure the Right Amount of Water
Most online recipes advise adding 2 cups of water to each cup of uncooked quinoa. This had many cranky foodies complaining that it was much too ‘mushy’.
There’s an alternative method that recommends 1 ¾ cups of water for each cup of quinoa. And this is supposed to render a fluffier platter. Some say it makes the quinoa too dry.
So how much water should you add? The bottom line on this matter has to do with three things:
- How you like the texture
- The heat you’ll use while cooking
- If you’ll cook it covered or uncovered
Personal preference plays an important part here. If you like the quinoa closer to Risotto, then work with the two cups. If you prefer a drier fluffy texture, go with the 1 ¾. I like it somewhere in between, so I often toss an extra ¾ cup of water.
Step 5: Choose the Cooking Pot
Would you be using an aluminum pot? A stainless steel pot? A rice cooker?
All these play significant parts in the cooking time, and how the cooked quinoa would look like and taste like.
A rice cooker is easy, adjust it the way you would in regular white rice.
For a metal pot, pick one that has a good heat conductivity, and preferably has a thick base. You don’t want the quinoa to burn at the base. Also, pick a pot that looks one bit larger than you expect. Quinoa does some serious puffing up!
Step 6: Adjust the Heat
This is pro tips all the way, so please, pay extra attention here …
To get the right texture, and by that I mean the one that pleases your palate, you have to let the quinoa ripen at a leisurely pace. Don’t rush it with excessive heat and bring it to a quick boil. And don’t boar it with a slow simmer, to the point that it loses all its punch.
Start with medium heat, and wait for the bubbles to start showing. You’ll notice the bubbling water because the pot should be uncovered. When there’s only about half an inch of water on top of the quinoa, turn the heat down, and cover the pot.
If you like a soft-textured quinoa platter, extend this phase for a bit. If you’d rather eat fluffier charismatic grains, you can take the pot off the heat, and leave it cover on for a few minutes. It will continue cooking, but not too much.
Step 7: Watch the Time!
There’s no exact timing for a perfectly cooked quinoa. It’s not French pastries.
It depends on several factors, like the soaking time prior to cooking, the kind of pot you’re using, how much water you decided to put in, and even the type of your stove.
It’s a bit of a trial and error, but it revolves around 10 minutes of cooking in medium heat, then 5 minutes of low or no heat. More than that would burn the bottom, and less would end up in a mixture of hard and soft tasteless grains.
Step 8: Season the Quinoa
Quinoa, much like rice, doesn’t have an overpowering taste. Which is nice, as it can fit nicely in any type of food.
Seasoning with spices and herbs goes a long way. It can take the quinoa from a cooked grain to a gourmet dish.
Step 9: Present the Quinoa as a Delicious Food
The eye eats before the mouth, and the smell is sometimes as delicious as the taste.
Presentation makes or breaks a platter. You don’t have to do elaborate garnishes, but take advantage of the neutral color and texture of quinoa. Offset it with the contrasting colors of vegetables, cheese, and herbs.
Use nuts and seeds if you like. Experiment with various sauces. Try a lot of recipes. Get creative!
Step 10: Store the Remaining Quinoa properly
When your little feast is over, don’t throw away the remaining quinoa. It retains its taste for a few days, if you cover it well, and store it in the fridge.
I don’t prefer stowing it away in the freezer though. When it comes out, and gets a microwave reheat, it turns into a different entity. The chill doesn’t suit quinoa much.
To Sum Up
Quinoa is an amazing superfood. Yet, it doesn’t have the popularity of chicken or sweet potatoes. The way it’s cooked probably has much to do with that. If done well, I expect that quinoa would take its rightful place on every dinner table.
Hopefully, this guide on how to cook quinoa inspired your culinary fantasies.