Grains

How to Make Fluffy Quinoa

September  3, 2014

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.

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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 

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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31 Comments

janet V. October 11, 2016
I use a boil then steam method. Add rinsed quinoa to plenty of boiling salted water. Boil 10 mins. Drain in a fine mesh sieve, but save water and return it to the pot. Set the sieve over the pot. Cover with a folded kitchen towel and the pot lid. Steam for another 10 mins. Done! If using for salad, spread on a sheet pan to cool and dry out a bit, then proceed. This method allows for thorough cooking without over wetness and results in fluffy quinoa.
 
Kate S. September 20, 2015
I've always cooked a cup of quinoa in 1-1/4 cups of liquid. I rinse the grains, toast them with smoked paprika, turmeric and ground ginger and then add the water. Most pots sit on the stove for up to an hour, time permitting, before I even open the lid to fluff. This method makes deliciously flavored grains.
 
Scribbles September 18, 2015
We love quinoa and, like many others, have totally given up eating white rice in favor of grains. I do not soak or rinse quinoa. I do toast it in a skillet while bringing the water to a boil; add some salt to boiling water and whisk in the quinoa. Bring back to boil, cover and simmer between 8-12 minutes depending on amount and freshness. I also like to add a bay leaf. Have also sautéed onion or shallots and garlic and then added the quinoa - it's totally versatile - just experiment. It's relatively inexpensive and easy. The clean towel is a great way to let it rest - which is really important - before serving. Fluff as suggested and enjoy it. It's food, good for you and stress free - cooking and eating are suppose to be fun.
 
Mary September 15, 2015
Yum. It ALL sounds delicious; the stuffed peppers sound wonderful. Have you tried cooking quinoa in low-sodium chicken broth instead of water? If so, would the ratio be the same as cooking it in water? 1:1?
 
Elaine @. September 15, 2015
I would still keep it at 1:1
 
tamater S. September 15, 2015
Sorry, comment below was meant for Mary.
 
tamater S. September 15, 2015
If I asked you what a potato tastes like, and you told me, do you think I would really 'know'? Some things need to be tried. Quinoa's very healthy, (high in protein) not starchy, and versatile. My suggestion is to buy a small amount, maybe just a cup of it, from the bulk food dispenser. It'll yield enough that you can try in 3 or 4 different ways, like hot, with diced cooked carrot or other veg. After dinner, you can add your favourite herbs and some feta, and have it for lunch next day as a room temperature salad. If you've saved a portion before adding the savouries, you can try for breakfast, with honey, cream, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. C'mon, try it! :-)
 
tamater S. September 15, 2015
I had company this week, and lots of fresh herbs in the garden. So I made an 'herbish salad' with a little diced vegetables, and mixed in a generous amount of feta. It was a hit, and half the guests had 2nd helpings, but I'd purposely made tons. So next day, I made a mixture 1/2 leftovers, 1/2 ground meat, only adding more salt, pepper, and very finely grated garlic, and stuffed it into very large red peppers. Wow. This is my favourite, by a mile, ground meat extender. Now I'm thinking of making too much quinoa every time, and freezing in portions, so I'll have it any time I want a binder/extender. <br />
 
Elaine @. September 14, 2015
I cook quinoa and other grains 1:1 and only for 6 minutes and it works perfectly every time!!! This will explain: http://wp.me/p40gKT-1uL
 
Mary September 14, 2015
How's this for ignorance? What the HELL IS quinoa????!!! If heardo of it, but what IS IT? What does it taste like? (Does it taste like brown rice? I destest brown rice I'm not a fan of wet brown cardboard...although I heard brown cardboard is higher in insoluable fiber than white cardboard)...
 
tamater S. September 15, 2015
<br />If I asked you what a potato tastes like, and you told me, do you think I would really 'know'? Some things need to be tried. Quinoa's very healthy, (high in protein) not starchy, and versatile. My suggestion is to buy a small amount, maybe just a cup of it, from the bulk food dispenser. It'll yield enough that you can try in 3 or 4 different ways, like hot, with diced cooked carrot or other veg. After dinner, you can add your favourite herbs and some feta, and have it for lunch next day as a room temperature salad. If you've saved a portion before adding the savouries, you can try for breakfast, with honey, cream, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. C'mon, try it! :-)
 
Elaine @. September 15, 2015
Quinoa is a grain, it's gluten free and high in protein. If it's cooked right, quinoa has a lovely nutty flavour. I like it on its own as well it mixed with other things :)
 
Jen G. September 8, 2014
I do a 1:1 ratio of quinoa to liquid. Works like a charm every time.
 
tammany September 8, 2014
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.com/2013/04/03/quinoa-with-walnuts-radishes-spring-onions/
 
Scribbles September 4, 2014
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.
 
Sam1148 September 4, 2014
I've got chime in here about rinsing. Rinse it. <br />Please rinse it. <br />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. <br />If you ever get a quinoa that's not rinsed...you'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. <br />
 
Johnna C. September 4, 2014
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.com/2014/03/20/the-goddess-quinoa-salad-recipe/
 
tvwells September 3, 2014
Thanks for this, I will try it tonight. I am horrible at the quinoa, its really the only thing I cannot cook!<br />
 
Elaine @. September 15, 2015
Check out my comment above for a different cooking technique - I promise it works :)
 
eastiseast September 3, 2014
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.
 
tamater S. September 15, 2015
OK, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.
 
Jo-Anne September 3, 2014
Am I soaking and then toasting or a they two different options in the steps provided?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. September 3, 2014
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!).
 
meg September 3, 2014
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!
 
AntoniaJames September 3, 2014
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)
 
Jo-Anne September 3, 2014
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.
 
Audrey D. September 3, 2014
Using a very heavy, enamel-coated cast iron pot and turning the heat way down to simmer works for me very well.