Healthy and easy, quinoa is a perfect food. Now, make a perfect batch.
While today’s superfood trends typically come and go in a blink of an eye, perhaps no superfood has become a bigger—and more permanent—part of our home cooking and restaurant menus than quinoa. Though quinoa was once the punch line of health food jokes, it’s become an essential ingredient that is both extremely healthy and versatile. Given its neutral flavor and texture, quinoa can be served in a huge breadth of recipes, and allows home cooks to get creative with their mixins and toppings.
While you might want to start integrating quinoa into your healthy homemade meals, it can be intimidating to master a new kind of base after years of relying on pasta and rice. Luckily, quinoa is super simple to prepare, and once you get the hang of it can be easily cooked to fluffy perfection time after time.
Despite the fact quinoa is a technically a seed instead of a grain, it still received the nickname “the mother grain” for its rich culinary history going back thousands of years. In fact, quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for more than 5,000 years and was a big part of the diet of the ancient Incas. While there are a whopping 120 varieties of quinoa, the kinds you’re most likely to spot on your grocery store shelves are white (also known as golden), black, and red quinoa. White quinoa is the one that most likely comes to find when you think of the seed, and is the best kind to begin with if you’re just learning to cook the faux grain.
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In addition to its subtly nutty taste and soft, pillowy texture quinoa has also been long considered one of the healthiest foods in existence. Even scientists in the 1950s—long before quinoa became the uber-trendy food it is today—stated that, “While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.” This superfood is a complete protein—containing all nine amino acids—that’s packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium, and is also naturally gluten free. However, if you have a severe gluten intolerance make sure to check the label to ensure it didn’t come into contact with gluten during its processing and packing.
Before you begin cooking your quinoa, this ingredient needs to be rinsed thoroughly, unlike rice or pasta. This is because quinoa has a naturally occurring coating that if not rinsed off can affect the flavor of the ingredient in negative ways—giving it a soapy taste or bitter flavor. To rinse, pour the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer and run it under cold water, using your hand to move the quinoa around to remove the coating. If you’ve got plenty of time, soaking the quinoa over numerous rounds—covering it with water in a bowl and transferring it to a fresh bowl of water a few times—will remove the coating most effectively, but rinsing thoroughly works fine if you don’t want to wait it out. Each cup of the dry seeds will produce about three cups of cooked quinoa.
Once your quinoa is rinsed and ready to go, add it to a saucepan and cover with the appropriate amount of water. As a rule, for each cup of dry quinoa you’re making, add 1-3/4 cups of water to the pan. While many instructions call for 2 cups of water, this can make for soggier, more water-logged quinoa in the end. To create some extra depth of flavor, you can also opt to cook your quinoa in broth or stock, giving the final product a more savory sensation.
Bring your pan of quinoa to a boil before covering and reducing it to a simmer for about 15 minutes. After your quinoa has absorbed the water, remove the pan from heat and let it sit covered for 5 minutes before fluffing your quinoa with a fork and serving. You can also choose to cook your seeds in a rice cooker, following the same liquid-to-quinoa ratio.
For an extra boost in flavor, you can choose to toast your quinoa before adding your water or stock. Add it to your saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toast until the quinoa has turned a light brown color. Then, add your liquid and cook as usual.
Another easy way to enhance the flavor of your quinoa is to add seasonings, herbs, spices, and other aromatics to the pan while cooking the ingredient, which will infuse it with a hint of these flavors. Try adding a sprig of thyme or rosemary, salt and pepper, or a clove of garlic for next level grainy goodness.
Quinoa can be used as a neutral base, like rice, or dressed up to become a more show-stopping main or side dish. Dish it up with oatmeal fixings like brown sugar, nuts, and raisins for a nutritious breakfast, or serve it savory in recipes like Quinoa Panzanella with Wild Salmon, Quinoa and Roasted Pepper Chili, Spicy Grilled Shrimp and Quinoa Salad, and Quinoa-Stuffed Poblano Chiles. Your friends and family will be so satisfied, they’ll forget they’re chowing down on one of the world’s oldest and most prolific health foods.