How to Cook Quinoa

Ready in just 15 minutes, quinoa is a quick-cooking whole grain with a nutty taste. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) offers everything a busy cook could possibly need. Whether it’s a salad, veggie burger or fried “rice, this grain holds its own as a side dish or as the base of the main course.

And cooking this nutrient-dense grain? It’s so easy. In fact, if you can cook rice, you know how to make quinoa. This step-by-step guide with photos shows you how to cook quinoa three different ways: on the stovetop, in the rice cooker and in the Instant Pot.

Quinoa to Water Ratio

You hardly need a recipe to cook quinoa perfectly. All you need to know is this simple quinoa to water ratio:

  • 2 cups liquid
  • 1 cup quinoa

This ratio yields 3 cups cooked quinoa or 6 (½ cup) servings. You can scale this ratio up or down, depending on how many servings you want.

For the liquid, you can use water or broth. For the dry quinoa, use white, red, black or a blend of all three. Lastly, this grain loves to expand in water–keep this in mind if you plan to add it to a soup, as you may quickly find that your broth has been soaked up.

Get the Recipe: Basic Quinoa

How to Cook Quinoa on the Stove

The stovetop is the most common way to cook this grain. Below, find a breakdown of the process from start to finish. Note: This recipe yields about 3 cups or 6 (½ cup) servings.

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

Photo: Elizabeth Laseter.

  • 2 cups water or broth
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

Step 2: Bring to a boil

Photo: Elizabeth Laseter.

Combine water or broth, quinoa and salt (if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Step 3: Simmer

Photo: Elizabeth Laseter.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. You’ll know when the grain is done because it will look like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel.

Step 4: Fluff

Photo: Elizabeth Laseter.

Remove from heat and let the grains sit (covered) for about 10 minutes. This step allows the grains to steam and keeps them moist, light and fluffy. Finally, lift the lid of the pot and use a fork to fluff and separate the grains.

How to Cook Quinoa in the Instant Pot

Cooking this grain in the Instant Pot (or any other multicooker) is the fastest way to make it. Like the rice cooker method, cooking with an Instant Pot is hands-off and completely foolproof. However, you’ll actually need to use less water than you would with other methods. The ratio we use with the Instant Pot is 1 part quinoa to 1 1/2 parts liquid.

Simply combine grains and liquid in your Instant Pot, then cook on high pressure for one minute. Let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the pressure to release naturally. Fluff with a fork and enjoy! Yes, it’s that simple.

How to Cook Quinoa in a Rice Cooker

Your rice cooker is the perfect vessel for cooking tender, fluffy quinoa. This clever hack is completely hands-off, freeing you up to knock out other tasks in the kitchen, just like it would with white or brown rice. Simply combine your liquid and grains (use the 2:1 ratio) in the well of the rice cooker, choose the proper setting, then let it works its magic. Budget about 30 to 55 minutes of cook time, depending on the model.

Get the Recipe: Rice Cooker Quinoa

Cooking Tips

Photo: deymos / Getty Images.

1. Give it a Quick Rinse

Quinoa grows with a bitter-tasting, protective coating called saponin. Though what you buy in grocery stores is pre-rinsed quinoa, another run under the faucet doesn’t hurt. Pour uncooked quinoa into a fine-mesh strainer and run it under cold water for a few seconds. Shake off any excess water before starting your recipe.

2. Toast to Maximize Flavor

You can add a bit of nuttiness to a dish if you toast the quinoa in a skillet before boiling it. For every 1 1/2 cups quinoa, heat 1 tablespoon of a neutral oil, like canola (not olive oil), in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stay vigilant: Stir the grains constantly to avoid burning, watching for that perfect golden moment, around 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Mix Up the Liquids

Water is this grain’s go-to companion, but other liquids–think low-sodium chicken, mushroom or vegetable broth–add flavor. Just keep the ratio 2 cups liquid to 1 cup quinoa. Add a splash of dry white wine for further oomph: 1/2 cup wine plus 1 1/2 cups broth for every 1 cup of quinoa.

4. Watch the Time

Quinoa cooks quickly–in about 20 minutes, start to finish. Some package directions tell you to turn off the heat once the liquid boils and you’ve stirred in the grain. We prefer to bring the cooking liquid to a boil, stir in the grain, turn the heat down to low, then cover and simmer gently until all the liquid is absorbed. You’ll know when the grain is done because it will look like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel.

Health Benefits

Pictured Recipe: Black Bean-Quinoa Bowl

A 1/2-cup serving of quinoa has 111 calories, 2 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 4 g protein and 3 g fiber.

This grain is rooted in South America and while protein is this grain’s calling card, it’s not the total protein content but the type of protein that gives the grain its healthy rep. Quinoa has all nine essential amino acids that our bodies need to operate. This combo is common in meats, but rarely found in plant-based foods. It also boasts a good dose of fiber and iron.

Shopping Tips

Quinoa is available in most grocery stores, and you’ll most likely spot it in the grains aisle. It’s also available in most natural-foods stores. It grows in a rainbow of colors, but the most commonly sold are red, black and white.

Taste and nutrition between the different types of quinoa are similar, but there are a few differences to note. White quinoa tends to cook up fluffier, while red quinoa and black quinoa have a crunchier texture and the grains don’t tend to stick together as much.

Cooking with Quinoa Flour and Quinoa Flakes

Pictured recipe: Almond Butter-Quinoa Blondies

Ready to push some boundaries? Two extensions of this grain are quinoa flour, a great option for gluten-free baking, and quinoa flakes, which look and cook similarly to rolled oats. Find both products in bigger supermarkets and natural-foods stores. Interested in DIY flour? To make it at home, grind white quinoa in a clean coffee grinder until it becomes a fine powder. Though not as fine as what you get in the store, your homemade flour will work in recipes for cookies and bars where the fine texture won’t matter.

Recipes & Ideas

Pictured Recipe: Quinoa Power Salad

Now that you know exactly how to cook quinoa, what should you do with it? While you can enjoy prepared quinoa as is, there are endless ways to dress it up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start your day with a hearty breakfast grain bowl piled high with fresh fruit. Make a big batch of quinoa for salad with fresh herbs at the beginning of the week for easy, healthy lunches all week long. Or whip up plant-based burgers for a vegetarian dinner and pair with a simple green salad. This grain can also be incorporated into desserts like whole-grain blondies and creamy pudding.

Check out our Healthy Quinoa Recipes for more delicious and easy ways to cook with this versatile whole grain.


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