Kitchen Confidence

How to Make Fluffy Quinoa

by • September 3, 2014 16 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. 

Today: No one likes soggy quinoa. Here's how to fluff up your favorite starchy seeds.

Quinoa is the indisputable wunderkind of the grainy food world, so much so that the UN General Assembly declared 2013 the "International Year of Quinoa." Which other seeds (or grains, or starches, or grainy starchy seeds) can claim such lofty diplomatic status?   

But even though you know that eating quinoa should be a positive, enlightening experience -- like eating clouds (but with a bit more crunch) -- have you ever paused and secretly, shamefully thought to yourself, "Boy, this is overrated"? When quinoa’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad -- soggy and water-logged -- it’s really bad. Shoveling through a bowl mushy quinoa can feel like digging through a bucket of wet sand.

Food52er SKK brought Martha Rose Shulman’s method to our attention, and it yielded quinoa so wonderfully aerated that it’s a pleasure to run our forks (and our fingers) through it. Here's how to make your quinoa perfectly fluffy, every time:

Prepare the quinoa.
Place the quinoa in a bowl and cover it with cool water. Let it soak for 5 minutes or so, then use a fine mesh sieve to rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear. (Some people claim that soaking the quinoa improves its texture, helps to break down the harder shell of the individual seeds, and, like rinsing, removes the bitter saponin resin. Other people don’t soak or rinse their quinoa at all.) 

Place a pan over medium-high heat and add the quinoa. Toast the quinoa, stirring frequently, until it smells nutty and is slightly darker in color. 

If you’re starting with wet quinoa, this will be a slower process, as you’ll have to allow time for any excess water to evaporate and for the quinoa to dry; it might take up to 10 or 15 minutes. Toasting is optional, but it will make your quinoa more flavorful. 

Watch your water ratio.
When the quinoa is toasted, add your cooking liquid, be it water or stock. (If you don’t have the time to toast the quinoa, simply add the dry or rinsed quinoa to the pot with the liquid and bring it all to a boil).

Here’s a critical step: While package instructions might suggest that you use 2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of quinoa, our community members have found that using 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of liquid for every cup of quinoa yields better results. (Note that pre-soaked quinoa might require less water.)

Add the liquid, bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer for 15 minutes. When the quinoa is finished, you’ll see that the seed is translucent and the germ is a thin white circle around it.

The quinoa should still have some bite to it. If there’s water left in the pot when the quinoa is finished cooking, you can drain the quinoa or, leaving the heat on, uncover the pot and let the last bits of water boil off.

Give it time to rest: 
Return the quinoa to the pan and lay a clean dish towel close to the surface of the grains, then replace the lid on the pot and allow the quinoa to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. The lid will trap the heat and the dishtowel will absorb excess moisture.

Uncover the quinoa and fluff it with a fork so that all of the grains can breathe some fresh air. 

What are your tricks for cooking quinoa? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom 

Tags: quinoa, grains, seeds, cooking, cooking time, techniques, how-to & DIY, everyday cooking

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Comments (16)


11 months ago Jen Going

I do a 1:1 ratio of quinoa to liquid. Works like a charm every time.


11 months ago tammany

I'll have to try this! I used to have mushy quinoa problems but since I've been following Alexandracooks's method (from Ottolenghi) I've had no problems. Just another way to cook your quinoa! (Alexandra's version of Ottolenghi's salad is also great. Just sayin'!) http://www.alexandracooks...


11 months ago Scribbles

Love quinoa. We've been big fans and eating it several times a week - basically we have given up rice and use quinoa or couscous or wheat berries - anything but white rice. I have had the unfortunate experience of mushy quinoa when I cooked it too early and then let it sit in the pot with the lid on. The reminder to use the clean kitchen towel is right on target - wish I had remembered that trick from cooking rice. And, I too, add the bay leaf.


11 months ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

I've got chime in here about rinsing. Rinse it.
Please rinse it.
You might be used to qunia from a higher end source that's per-rinsed. That's fine, but people that don't rinse have only had that type product.
If you ever get a quinoa that's not'll know immediately, if you cook it without rinsing. A rinse is just insurance..takes little time; but if your known product is pre-rinse...go for it without rinse.


11 months ago Johnna Carreno Green

While your at it you should make the Quinoa, chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, apples, and raisin salad- amazing- here is the link - http://www.inallofhersplendor...


11 months ago tvwells

Thanks for this, I will try it tonight. I am horrible at the quinoa, its really the only thing I cannot cook!


11 months ago eastiseast

And remember to be vigilant about only buying US grown quinoa! American demands for quinoa have made the prices skyrocket for folks living in Bolivia and other countries who depend on quinoa as a staple of their diet, not just a trendy healthy side dish.


11 months ago Jo-Anne

Am I soaking and then toasting or a they two different options in the steps provided?


11 months ago Sarah Jampel

Sarah is Food52's contributors editor.

You can soak and/or toast (it will just a little longer to toast if you soak or rinse first because the grains will be wet!).


11 months ago meg

I have been rinsing in a strainer, heating it up till the grain is partially white, sort of like what you do with rice, and using only 1 1/2 cup per cup of quinoa. I have to put raisins currants or other sweet fruit in it and mix in asian spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, curry, like that. I let it cook 20 minutes and then let it sit steaming in the pot for at least another 5. It's been coming out great!


11 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Very helpful post! As noted in my how to make any quinoa salad piece, I typically drop a bay leaf or two (dried Turkish ones from Oaktown Spice) in with the cooking water, no matter what use is intended. It gives a subtle, hard-to-identify but quite pleasant background flavor. ;o)


11 months ago Jo-Anne

I use bay leaf too! It just adds a little sumpin' sumpin' to whatever grain you use. I also boil with a pat of salted butter.


11 months ago Audrey Douglas

Using a very heavy, enamel-coated cast iron pot and turning the heat way down to simmer works for me very well.


11 months ago Allyn

We do the soak and heavy rinse, but have started doing a 1:1 ratio in the rice cooker and are in LOVE. Never liked quinoa much before that. Now we use it a ton in lunches like this: http://girlnamedallyn.wordpress...


11 months ago Sarah Jampel

Sarah is Food52's contributors editor.

Making quinoa in the rice cooker is a great trick! Do you have any specific tips?


11 months ago fearlessem

I totally agree -- even 1 to 1.5 will yield what I think is pretty wet / dense quinoa. 1 to 1.25 is better -- I'll definitely try 1:1 soon!