Difficult to pronounce, don’t let quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) fool you: It’s a quick-cooking, super-powered, easy-to-love grain. With one of the highest protein contents of any plant food, a sweet and nutty flavor and delicate texture, quinoa is an easy, tasty substitute for pasta or rice, and it’s simple to weave into every meal on your menu. In fact, cooked quinoa stirs into just about anything.
Pro tip: Make a big pot of quinoa on the weekends and add it to salads, soups and meals throughout the week. Here’s how to identify, select, cook, eat and enjoy quinoa.
WHAT IS QUINOA?
An ancient grain cultivated in the Andes for more than 5,000 years, quinoa has been called “the mother grain” and “the gold of the Incas,” as it is a complete protein, rich in vital minerals and fiber, which has sustained the people of the Andes for centuries. Technically speaking, quinoa isn’t a grain but a seed, even though it can be employed in virtually every way whole grains might.
WHICH QUINOA TO BUY?
Quinoa was once only readily available in natural foods stores, but today you can find it in supermarkets across the United States in four standard types: red, black, white and tri-colored (even though there are purportedly 1,800 known types of quinoa). White quinoa has the most neutral, easy-to-love flavor; start with it if you’ve never tried quinoa before. Red and black quinoas tend to have bolder, earthier flavors with colors that pop when added to salads or other dishes. Regardless of the type of quinoa you choose, the standard cooking method applies.
HOW TO COOK QUINOA?
Before cooking quinoa, it’s a great idea to give it a quick rinse in a mesh strainer. This is because quinoa has a natural coating, called saponin, that can make the cooked grain taste bitter or soapy. Boxed quinoa is often pre-rinsed, but it doesn’t hurt to give the seeds an additional rinse.
Once your quinoa is rinsed, it’s ready to cook. For each cup of dry, rinsed quinoa, add 1 3/4 cups (420ml) of liquid (salted water, broth, etc.) to a saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed, then toss the quinoa with a fork. For a more flavorful quinoa, try adding other spices and aromatics during cooking as well. A clove of smashed garlic, a sprig of fresh rosemary or a dash of black pepper are all great options. You can also cook quinoa in your rice cooker using the same ratio of quinoa to liquid as you would on the stovetop.
One cup of dry quinoa yields roughly 3 cups (720ml) of cooked quinoa and takes roughly 20 minutes to cook.
You can use quinoa just as you would any other grain like barley or rice. Here are a few more ideas:
- Use it as the base for a grain bowl. Pile on fresh vegetables, kimchi or other favorites.
- Toss it into salads with cooked chicken, beef or seafood.
- Stir cooked quinoa into your pancake batter for a protein boost.
- Pour any soup over a scoop of quinoa to add a little texture, protein and flavor.
- Eat it as a cereal — hot or cold: Combine cooked quinoa with your oatmeal as you cook it for a textural breakfast adventure or add berries and yogurt or almond milk to cooked quinoa and eat it as a hearty cold cereal.
- Toss with cheese and roasted or grilled vegetables to make a quick “risotto.”