How to Cook Quinoa
Understanding how to cook quinoa can add this ancient healthy food to your ingredient repertoire. Quinoa — fluffy curls of nutrient-rich seeds — was considered a sacred food by the Incas. While technically a seed crop, quinoa is often cooked and served as though it were a whole grain such as farro or bulgur. It can be boiled. It can be steamed. It can even get a high-heat treatment in a saucy stir-fry as a healthy swap-out for rice.
Jump to Section
- What is Quinoa?
- What Does Quinoa Taste Like?
- How to Cook Quinoa
- How to Cook Quinoa in a Rice Cooker
- How to Cook Quinoa on the Stove
- How to Cook Quinoa in the Microwave
- How to Cook Quinoa in an Instant Pot
- Ways to Use Quinoa
- Quinoa Recipe
In the last few decades, quinoa’s global popularity has sprouted far beyond its home soil in South America. As a staple food, quinoa is considered by some nutritionists as a “complete protein”. Being a complete protein means that quinoa boasts each of the nine amino acids essential to the human diet. Many of these amino acids are more common in meat and fish than in plant-based foods. So, quinoa can be a nourishing food for vegans and vegetarians.
Quinoa seeds come in many shades — including white, yellow, purple, red and black. The lighter-colored quinoa tends to result in a fluffier dish, whereas the darker ones will add a bit of crunch and bite to your meals.
Quinoa’s texture, once cooked, hovers somewhere between light and airy and chewy and crunchy. It presents nutty notes that soak up nearby flavors. Quinoa’s versatility as a base ingredient makes learning how to cook quinoa vital for health-conscious home cooks — whether it’s tossed into salads, stirred into homemade veggie burger patties or used to enrich soups. High in fiber, minerals and protein, quinoa is also gluten-free.
So, you might be wondering: how to cook quinoa?
If you know how to cook rice, you can easily learn how to cook quinoa. If you’ve never cooked rice before, mastering how to cook quinoa involves just a few simple steps. What’s more, there are multiple ways how to cook quinoa: in a rice cooker, on the stove, in a microwave or in an Instant Pot.
In other words, you don’t need to be a Michelin-starred chef to quickly learn how to cook quinoa. So, let’s tackle the best ways how to cook quinoa. Explained below are the steps, time needed and benefits of each quinoa cooking method.
One thing to keep in mind before cooking quinoa: it’s important to rinse quinoa seeds. Quinoa’s natural coating, saponins, protects the seeds from hungry insects. But this natural coating can cause a bitter taste and make quinoa harder for humans to digest. So, before cooking quinoa, it’s recommended to rinse the seeds under running water.
As a common substitute for rice, quinoa can be cooked to perfection in a rice cooker. Follow these simple ratios and steps for a foolproof way to cook fluffy quinoa in a rice cooker.
What’s needed to cook quinoa in a rice cooker?
- 1 cup of white or yellow quinoa
- 1¾ cups of water
- 1½ teaspoon of salt
First, rinse the quinoa under cold water to remove the saponin on the seeds. This should take 30-60 seconds until the water runs clear.
Once drained, transfer the rinsed quinoa to your rice cooker. Cover the quinoa with cold water and a bit of salt. Cold water is key here. Using hot water can lead to a soggy result. Put the lid on and turn on the rice cooker. Cook the quinoa, undisturbed, for 15 minutes (or until all the water has been absorbed into the seeds. (Darker colored quinoa may take a few more minutes and require a ¼ cup more water).
Let the steamed quinoa rest, with the lid on, for 3-5 minutes once cooked. Finally, remove the lid and use a large fork to fluff the quinoa. Your rice cooker quinoa is now ready for eating, cooking or storing in the fridge or freezer for future feasts.
Another simple method for how to cook quinoa is the stovetop. As with the rice cooker, you’ll begin by rinsing your quinoa seeds under running water. For stovetop quinoa, a 1:2 ratio of quinoa-to-water is suggested.
Combine the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan and cover with water and a little salt. (For more flavorful quinoa, you can swap out the water with vegetable stock or miso broth). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the temperature to low and cover. Cook white or yellow quinoa for 15 minutes, red quinoa for 18 minutes and black quinoa for 20 minutes.
When most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared and steam holes appear on the surface of the quinoa, it’s done. Some of the seeds should have burst open while cooking, uncovering a curly germ inside the kernel.
Remove the pot from the heat, keeping the lid on tight for another 10 minutes. Then, fluff the quinoa before serving or storing it. Learning how to cook quinoa on a stovetop is really that simple!
Mastering how to cook quinoa in the microwave is just as simple as cooking quinoa in a rice cooker or cooking quinoa on the stovetop. Microwaving your quinoa kernels might even save you a little time in the kitchen. So, how should a home chef cook quinoa in the microwave?
Follow the same 1:2 ratio of quinoa-to-water as in the stovetop method, rinsing the seeds thoroughly before zapping in the microwave. Pour the quinoa into a microwave-safe bowl, covering it with water and a pinch of salt. Then, place a ceramic plate on top of the bowl to trap the steam inside.
Microwave on full power for 5 minutes. Remove the plate and give the quinoa a gentle stir. (The plate will be hot, so protect your hands with a cloth towel or oven mitts). Return the plate to the top of the bowl and continue microwaving for another 5 minutes.
At this point, your quinoa should look fluffy with some of the seed germs popping out of the kernels. There may be a bit of water in the bottom of your bowl. Even if you spot some water in the base of the bowl, stop microwaving. Leave the plate on for another 5 minutes at room temperature. The water will continue to steam and absorb inside.
Take off the lid, fluff the quinoa and enjoy! One cup of dry quinoa, once cooked, should make 2-2½ cups of cooked quinoa.
Using an Instant Pot to cook quinoa is a little different than the methods for how to cook quinoa described above. Two things to keep in mind when cooking quinoa in an Instant Pot: 1) use some oil to ensure the quinoa doesn’t burn from the electric heat source and 2) you’ll use less water since it’s being cooked via a pressure cooker. For fabulously fluffy Instant Pot quinoa, a ratio of 1:1½ (quinoa-to-water) is ideal.
First, spray some neutral oil inside your Instant Pot. Then, pour in the pre-rinsed quinoa, water and a pinch of salt. Lock the Instant Pot, using the high-pressure setting. Set the pressure cooker timer for 1 minute. Cook the quinoa via pressure cooking and then allow the pressure to naturally release for at least 10 minutes. While sealed, the steam will continue to cook the quinoa inside. Finally, fluff and enjoy!
Now that we’ve covered how to cook quinoa, what are some delicious ways to use quinoa in your home cooking? This South American grain substitute is endlessly versatile. It can fortify salads, soups, stir-fried entrees, fritters and more. Below are ten delicious ways to prepare and eat quinoa, including links to step-by-step recipes and unique quinoa cooking ideas.
1. Quinoa Veggie Burgers
Cooked quinoa adds a nutty crunch and satisfying texture to creating a quinoa burger. You simply combine cooked quinoa, mashed black beans, aromatic spices, fresh herbs, and some starch to bind. Then, the black bean patties are pan fried until scrumptiously golden-brown on both sides.
2. Quinoa Poké Bowls
Poké bowls normally consist of marinated sushi-grade fish and seasoned rice. Quinoa can make a tasty alternative. Once cooked, season the quinoa with Japanese rice wine vinegar and a splash of mirin. Then, crown your “sushi rice quinoa” with your favorite poké toppings — nori, tuna, avocado, sesame seeds, Sriracha, etc.
3. Spiced Quinoa Turkey Meatballs
Italian meatballs often use breadcrumbs or milk-soaked bread to add body to a mixture of meat, herbs, and cheese. In this healthier twist, red meat is swapped out for ground turkey (dark meat preferred) and breadcrumbs are replaced by quinoa. Turkey meatballs with quinoa are lighter and just as flavorful as their red-meat cousins. You can give the dish a Peruvian twist by spicing the blend of ground turkey, cooked quinoa and garlic with some ají amarillo (yellow pepper sauce).
4. Quinoa “Fried Rice”
As a rice substitute, cooked quinoa works splendidly in place of either white or brown rice. To make “fried rice” with quinoa, you’ll want to cook and then chill your quinoa. You then stir-fry the cold and cooked quinoa in hot oil—seasoned with garlic, ginger, green onions and a drop or two of toasted sesame oil. Be sure to mix constantly while stir-frying to avoid burning the quinoa kernels. Serve hot with some raw green onions sprinkled on top.
5. Rainbow Quinoa Bowl
This rainbow quinoa bowl blends different quinoa varieties for a delicious mix of fluffy and nutty quinoas. To make a rainbow quinoa bowl, you’ll first cook and cool the quinoa. Next, you’ll sauté a mountain of brightly-colored veggies—from yellow onions to Brussels sprouts, from grape tomatoes to charred leeks. Tossed together with some fresh herbs and sliced avocado, your rainbow quinoa bowl is ready for a vegetable-packed lunch or supper.
6. Quinoa Egg Scramble
For a filling and fiber-packed breakfast, mix ½ cup of cooked quinoa into your vegetable scramble. Simply sauté your preferred vegetables — for instance, yellow onions and baby spinach — in olive oil alongside the cooked quinoa. Finish, by scrambling in 2-3 eggs and some salty cheese. Eat hot with whole wheat toast!
7. Quinoa Tabbouleh
Traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh is a mix of green herbs and bulgur wheat. Quinoa, here, replaces the bulgur — creating a fluffier take on this vibrant Middle Eastern side. Lentil tabbouleh can also be used to substitute the dense wheat. Chop parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers. Toss them with lemon juice, good olive oil and equal parts cooked quinoa. Serve cold or at room temperature.
8. Quinoa Vegetable Stew
Minestrone turns even heartier when this Italian vegetable-and-bean invites quinoa to join in. Simply make your favorite Italian minestrone recipe. Before serving, line your soup bowl with a hefty scoop of cooked quinoa. Ladle the minestrone over the quinoa and dig in while hot!
9. Quinoa Bowls with Chickpeas & Turmeric
For a spiced and simple supper, mix together a satisfying salad — consisting of drained canned chickpeas, ground turmeric, Tunisian harissa, lemon juice, olive oil and cooled cooked quinoa. Season generously with smoked paprika, black pepper and sea salt.
10. Quinoa with Olives, Feta, Mint & Cucumber
The Mediterranean meets the Middle East in this delicious quinoa bowl. Toss cooked quinoa with kalamata olives, crumbled feta, chopped fresh mint, sliced Persian cucumbers, olive oil and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Season with sea salt and a pinch of ground sumac before serving at room temperature.
Quinoa — whether cooked on the stovetop, in a rice cooker, in the microwave or in an Instant Pot — is an endlessly versatile addition to your pantry. Use it as the base for filling salads or sides. Add it to your eggs and omelets. Stir it in hearty soups for extra protein and flavor. Or mix it into pan-fried fritters for a gloriously golden crunch.
No matter which method you choose for how to cook quinoa, the healthy and hunger-sating possibilities are endless. Ready to try making your own quinoa? Check out our simple quinoa recipe below.
How to Cook Quinoa Recipe
Directions 6 steps | 20 Minutes
Measure and prep all ingredients.
Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Thoroughly rinse the quinoa kernels under cold water for 40-60 seconds. The water should run clear. (See notes 2.)
Place the rinsed quinoa in your saucepan. Cover it with cold water and a pinch of salt. Turn the stove to medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the quinoa reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the saucepan.
Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared and steam holes appear on the surface. Remove the pot from the heat.
Let the cooked quinoa rest, with the lid still on, for 10 minutes. Remove the lid after resting the cooked quinoa. Fluff your cooked quinoa with a wooden spoon or large fork.
Serve and enjoy!
- For added flavor, swap out the water with a flavorful broth or rich stock.
- It’s important to rinse quinoa seeds. Quinoa’s natural coating, saponins, protects the seeds from hungry insects. But this natural coating can cause a bitter taste and make quinoa harder for humans to digest. Thoroughly rinsing the quinoa will remove the saponins.