If you’re looking for a grain to use as your go-to ingredient for meal prepping, quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”), is a great choice! It’s a healthier alternative to white rice and versatile enough to pair with a variety of flavors. Another bonus is it cooks in under 30 minutes! But there’s a trick to making quinoa perfect: For starters, you’ve got to use twice as much water as quinoa. Then make sure to cook it uncovered until all the water is absorbed by the quinoa. Now if you’re thinking that sounds pretty easy, you’re right. But it’s only easy if you know exactly how to do it. So if you’re ready to cook quinoa to perfection, this article shows you how! But first let’s answer this question:
What is Quinoa?
This is a plant in the amaranth family. It is known for its highly nutritious edible seeds that are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Now it's not a true grain but is botanically related to spinach and amaranth. Originally from the Andean region in South America, it was used for livestock feed over 5,000 years ago and later became a human dietary staple around 3,000-4,000 years ago in Peru and Bolivia.
The best part is that quinoa doesn't have gluten, so it's safe for people who can't eat gluten or have a gluten intolerance.
How is Quinoa Grown?
According to Wikipedia, Quinoa grows well at high altitudes and is mainly cultivated by small farms and associations in the Andean region. Its cultivation has spread to over 70 countries, including Kenya, India, the United States, and Europe. Due to its popularity in North America, Europe, and Australasia, quinoa prices tripled between 2006 and 2014.
Why is Quinoa So Popular?
Simply put, because it is nutrient-dense. In other words, it’s jam packed with vitamins and minerals and is considered one of the most protein and fiber rich grains. No wonder quinoa has gained so much popularity!
Once you cook quinoa, it becomes mostly water (72%), with 21% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 2% fat.
So if you eat 100 grams of cooked quinoa, you are getting food that gives you energy and like manganese and phosphorus. It's also got fiber, folate, and minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium. All these nutrients help maintain proper cholesterol and blood sugar levels. And because quinoa is rich in antioxidants, it helps decrease cell damage and promote heart health.
Because it's packed with nutrients and can grow well in controlled environments, NASA is even testing it as a food source for astronauts on long space missions.
Why Do You Need to Rinse Quinoa?
This is an important step in the cooking process. Why? Because quinoa naturally contains a chemical called saponins (pronounced SA-poh-nens). They're like a defense system for the quinoa, protecting it from pests. Saponins are mostly in the outer part of quinoa seeds. While they're not really bad for us, they can make quinoa taste bitter and might upset your stomach if you eat a lot of them. They can cause problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite to name a few. So play it safe and always rinse your quinoa.
Some people like to soak quinoa for a few hours before cooking. This can make it easier to remove saponins when you rinse it afterward. Of course, this is optional.
You may also find quinoa labeled as “pre-washed” or “saponin-free” in grocery stores in your area. These have had most of the saponins removed already.
Now are you ready to get cooking?
How to Make Fluffy Quinoa to Perfection
Making perfect quinoa is easy if you follow these steps:
1 cup of quinoa
2 cups of water or vegetable broth (for added flavor)
- Rinse the Quinoa: Rinse the quinoa under cold running water in a fine-mesh strainer. This helps remove the natural bitter coating called saponins.
- Combine and Boil: Once both the rinsed quinoa and liquid are in the saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Make sure you leave it uncovered (that’s part of the trick to getting the perfect quinoa!)
- Reduce Heat: Reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, and the quinoa is tender. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on how much quinoa you use. So for this recipe, it will be closer to 10 minutes. So make sure you keep an eye on it. But again, you will know it's done when the liquid is absorbed, and the quinoa is tender. It should have a slight crunch, like al dente pasta.
- Let It Rest then Fluff: Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the quinoa sit, this time covered, for 5 minutes. This is an important step. Why? Because this allows any remaining moisture to be absorbed and the quinoa to fluff up. Then fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Season with a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, or herbs and spices to taste.
And finally… enjoy!
Make sure you use the right ratio for fluffy quinoa, a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water or broth. So, for 1 cup of quinoa, use 2 cups of liquid.
This is a basic recipe to make the perfect, fluffiest quinoa! Of course, you can get creative and serve quinoa in a variety of dishes from breakfast to dinner! For example…
Tasty Ways to Eat Quinoa
Below are 10 tasty ways you can enjoy quinoa. Take a look to see which one makes your mouth water and ready to eat a quinoa-infused dish!
Quinoa for Breakfast, Dessert and Sides
- Quinoa Breakfast: Cook quinoa with milk (or a dairy-free alternative), honey, and your choice of fruits like berries or sliced bananas for a nutritious breakfast porridge.
- Quinoa Salad: Make a refreshing salad with cooked quinoa, diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, and a lemon vinaigrette.
- Quinoa Pudding: Prepare a dessert by cooking quinoa with coconut milk, vanilla extract, and a touch of sweetener. Serve it warm or cold, topped with fresh fruit or chocolate chips.
- Quinoa Tabbouleh: Make a twist on the classic tabbouleh salad by using quinoa instead of bulgur wheat. Combine it with chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and a lemony dressing.
Quinoa as a Hearty Meal
- Stuffed Peppers: Stuff bell peppers with a mixture of cooked quinoa, black beans, corn, and diced tomatoes, then bake until the peppers are tender.
- Quinoa Bowl: Create a quinoa bowl with your favorite toppings like sautéed vegetables, avocado, beans, and a drizzle of tahini or salsa.
- Quinoa Stir-Fry: Use cooked quinoa as a base for a stir-fry with your favorite vegetables, tofu, and a homemade stir-fry sauce.
- Quinoa Burger: Make veggie burgers with cooked quinoa, black beans, breadcrumbs, and spices. Pan-fry or bake them for a tasty and healthy burger alternative.
- Quinoa Tacos: Use quinoa as a filling for tacos or burritos or Mexican Stuffed Shells. Combine it with seasoned black beans, corn lettuce, salsa, and a dollop of Greek yogurt or vegan sour cream.
- Quinoa Burrito Bowl: Build a burrito bowl with cooked quinoa as the base, and top it with grilled chicken, black beans, salsa, cheese, and guacamole.
Now you can see why quinoa is incredibly versatile! So feel free to get creative and adapt these ideas to your taste preferences. It's an excellent source of protein and pairs well with a variety of flavors and ingredients.
So there you have it! Now you’ve got the recipe to make the perfect, fluffiest quinoa for your next meal!
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Sia-James/Shutterstock.com.