How to Cook Perfectly Fluffy Quinoa (Every Single Time)

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

January  5, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

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 cookies, meatballs, or burgers.

What is Quinoa?

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.

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 Cook Quinoa

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.

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.

Made Too Much Quinoa? You're In Luck!

What's your favorite way to use perfectly cooked quinoa? Sweet or savory? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Jess Kapadia

Written by: Jess Kapadia

Jess is a food and travel writer/editor who grew up in her mom's Indian-Jewish hybrid kitchen. She's written for publications including Edible Los Angeles, Saveur, The Daily Meal, Food Republic, The Spruce Eats, and Food52. Jess lives in Brooklyn with her cats, Frasier and Niles.

1 Comment

J January 5, 2021
I love cooking quinoa in my Instant Pot. I’m a pescatarian who has become a pandemic 98% vegetarian. For additional protein and flavor, I add aquafaba or veggie stock from my freezer if I have it. I start with onions with the saute function, add mirepoix if I have the ingredients, then add spice such as turmeric, Berbere, or cumin/curry. I then toast the quinoa (which I frequently forget to rinse), add the aquafaba, water to cover, salt, and BTS (helps minimize the time needed to come up to pressure). I cook on LOW pressure for 10 minutes. I wait 10 minutes, then slowly assist release with a potholder. It’s very forgiving. If I haven’t added enough liquid, it still cooks perfectly and I can just add a little more water. Often I throw in something that it’s time I used up (ancient oatmeal that’s been in the fridge way too long, for example). I can dress it up by adding some frozen peas after cooking (the peas will cook in the hot mixture). My favorite breakfast is 2 fried eggs + a plate of my quinoa (can I call it a pilaf because I added other goodies?) pilaf.