Quinoa is a nutritious whole grain that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Once considered a specialty item, quinoa can now be found in most grocery stores and many restaurants. But not all quinoa is created equal – the quinoa served in restaurants often tastes far superior to what you can make at home. So how can you make restaurant quality quinoa at home? Read on for tips and tricks to make fluffy, flavorful quinoa every time.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant, native to the Andean regions of South America. Often referred to as a “supergrain”, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It also contains fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
Unlike grains, quinoa is gluten-free and can be enjoyed by those following a gluten-free diet. Its high protein and nutrient profile makes quinoa a healthy choice for vegetarians, vegans and anyone looking to get more plant-based protein.
Quinoa comes in over 120 varieties and can range in color from white, red, purple, grey, pink or black. White quinoa has the mildest flavor while the darker varieties tend to have an earthier, nuttier taste.
When buying quinoa aim for organic whenever possible, as this reduces the risk of it being contaminated with pesticides or other chemicals during farming. Look for quinoa that is uniformly in color without any mushy or discolored grains.
Quinoa is sold in several different forms:
Quinoa flakes are made from quinoa that has been steam rolled into flakes, similar to old fashioned oats. The flakes cook faster than quinoa grains and have a creamier texture. Use quinoa flakes as you would oats for a quick breakfast porridge.
Quinoa flour is made by grinding whole quinoa grains into a fine powder. It can be used for baking gluten-free items like breads, cookies and muffins.
White, Red or Black Quinoa
The most common form of quinoa is the whole grain, which looks similar to couscous. White quinoa has the mildest taste while red and black quinoa have an earthier, nuttier flavor. The grains can be rinsed and cooked just like rice, though quinoa cooks more quickly.
Pre-rinsed vs. Unrinsed
Quinoa contains saponins, a natural protective coating that can create a bitter, soapy taste. Some quinoa is sold pre-rinsed, which saves you the step of rinsing it yourself at home. If buying unrinsed quinoa, be sure to rinse it thoroughly before cooking.
Rinsing and Soaking Quinoa
If you purchased unrinsed quinoa, the first step is to thoroughly rinse the grains under cool running water using a fine mesh strainer. Rub the grains together with your hands to help remove any saponins coating the exterior. Rinse until the water runs clear.
Some people also like to soak their quinoa for 5-30 minutes after rinsing, which can help remove any remaining saponins. Discard the water after soaking and give it one final rinse before cooking.
Cooking Quinoa on the Stove
Once your quinoa is rinsed and drained, you are ready to start cooking.
– Fine mesh strainer
– Measuring cups
– Medium saucepan with lid
– 1 cup uncooked quinoa
– 2 cups water, broth or unflavored non-dairy milk
– 1⁄4 tsp salt (optional)
1. Add the rinsed quinoa and liquid to the saucepan. The liquid should cover the quinoa by about 1-inch. If needed add more water.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
3. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
4. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes to steam.
5. Fluff with a fork, add salt if desired and serve.
One cup of uncooked quinoa makes about 3 cups cooked. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan so the quinoa has room to expand as it cooks. A 2:1 liquid to quinoa ratio is ideal, but you can experiment to find your preferred consistency.
This basic quinoa recipe works as a side dish or can be incorporated into salads, bowls or other dishes. See the flavor variations below to liven up your quinoa.
Once you have the basic cooking method down, try these easy ways to add extra flavor to your quinoa:
1. Cook in broth or flavored non-dairy milk:
Substitute water with vegetable, chicken or mushroom broth to add more depth of flavor. Non-dairy milks like almond or oat work too.
2. Add herbs and spices:
Try adding dried herbs like oregano, basil, thyme or rosemary. Spices like cumin, curry powder, garlic powder, chili powder and cayenne also taste great.
3. Sauté onions, garlic or other veggies:
For an aromatic base, sauté diced onion, garlic, celery or other chopped veggies before adding the dry quinoa to the pan.
4. Toss with fresh herbs and citrus:
Fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, chives and green onion brighten up quinoa’s flavor. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice adds brightness.
5. Mix in healthy add-ins:
Stir in vegetables, greens, nuts, seeds or cheese for extra flavor, protein and nutrients.
6. Top with sauces or dressings:
Drizzle with your favorite sauce or dressing like pesto, salsa, tahini or vinaigrette.
Cooking Quinoa in a Rice Cooker
A rice cooker can help simplify quinoa prep, especially for quick weeknight meals. Here’s how to cook quinoa in a rice cooker:
– 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
– 2 cups broth, water or non-dairy milk
1. Add rinsed quinoa and liquid to rice cooker inner pot.
2. Cover and select the “white rice” setting. White rice is the ideal cooking time for quinoa.
3. Let cook until the cooker switches to the “keep warm” setting, about 15-20 minutes.
4. Allow to steam with the lid on for 5-10 minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.
The ratio can be adjusted based on your preferred consistency. Some rice cookers have a specific quinoa setting, in which case follow manufacturer instructions.
To help streamline busy weeks, cook a big batch of quinoa on your day off to have handy all week long. Here’s how:
Rinse and cook 2-3 cups of dry quinoa according to package directions. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate up to 5 days.
To reheat, add a few tablespoons of water or broth to the container and microwave in 30 second intervals until heated through. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Or, sauté the chilled quinoa in a skillet with a bit of olive oil or broth to rehydrate and warm. Season to taste.
Pre-cooked quinoa also works well mixed into salads, soups, chilis, stir fries, oatmeal, yogurt bowls and more.
Having trouble getting your quinoa fluffy and delicious? Here are some common problems and solutions:
Using too much liquid or overcooking can make quinoa mushy. Be sure to precisely measure your water or broth and cook for just the recommended time.
If quinoa tastes bitter or soapy, the saponins likely weren’t rinsed off thoroughly enough. Give it a good scrubbing under cool water next time.
If your quinoa still has a firm, crunchy texture, it needs more time to cook and become tender. Make sure to simmer it long enough after bringing the water to a boil.
Soggy or Wet Quinoa:
Letting quinoa sit covered for 5+ minutes after cooking allows excess moisture to absorb. If it’s still too wet, try reducing the amount of liquid slightly next time.
Over stirring while quinoa is cooking can make it release starch and become sticky. Avoid stirring it frequently once simmering.
Storing and Freezing Quinoa
To retain its freshness and texture, here are some tips for storing quinoa:
– Cooked quinoa keeps in the fridge for 3 to 5 days in an airtight container. It can also be frozen up to 3 months.
– Store dry, uncooked quinoa in an airtight container in a cool, dry place up to 1 year. The refrigerator prolongs shelf life up to 2 years.
– For longer storage, dry quinoa can be frozen up to 6 months in an airtight freezer bag or container.
– Signs that quinoa has gone bad include mold, a foul odor, or any textural changes like extreme dryness. Discard if expired or spoiled.
– Quinoa flour should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Refrigerate for up to 4 months or freeze for 6-8 months to extend its shelf life.
Achieving light, fluffy restaurant quality quinoa at home may seem tricky but just takes some practice. Start with well-rinsed quinoa and cook it precisely using a 2:1 liquid to quinoa ratio. Let it rest before fluffing and incorporate flavors like broth, herbs and spices. Cook quinoa in big batches and repurpose it creatively all week long in bowls, salads, sides and more. With these tips you’ll be enjoying delicious quinoa worthy of your favorite restaurant in no time.