For a lot of you, back-to-school season is meal prep season. As you get into a new routine at work, at home, or at school, having meals ready to grab & go in the fridge can be a life-saver. One of my go-to meal prep tips is having a cooked grain on hand to bulk up salads or add to bowls. Quinoa is one of my all-time favorites: it’s SUPER healthy, it pairs well with a wide range of flavors, and it cooks in under 30 minutes!
Everyone has their own method for how to cook quinoa, but I’ve been using this one for years, and it always comes out perfect. The grains are light, fluffy & soft, but not mushy. If you want to get a head start on the coming week, cook up a big batch and store it in the fridge for easy lunches and dinners! You’ll thank yourself later.
What is quinoa?
While I often use quinoa interchangeably with millet, farro, rice, and other grains, it is not actually a grain, but a grain-like seed hailing from South America! Not only does it have a delicious nutty flavor, but it’s healthy, too. 1 cup quinoa contains over 8 grams of protein, as opposed to 5 grams in brown rice. Plus, it’s a good source of nutrients like manganese, magnesium, and copper. You can read more about the health benefits of quinoa here, but the bottom line is that adding even a small amount of it to your diet can be good for you.
You can find it in a variety of colors, like black, red, white, or a mix of all three, but each variety cooks in the same way. Lighter varieties have the mildest flavor, so if you’re trying it for the first time, I recommend starting with white before venturing on to red or black.
And one final note before you cook: Quinoa is coated in naturally occurring insecticides called saponins. They can give the grain a bitter taste and make it difficult to digest, so make sure to rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer before putting it on the stove. Once you’ve rinsed it, you’re ready to cook!
How to Cook Quinoa
When I cook rice, I add oil and salt to the pot, but cooking quinoa is even simpler. All you need is quinoa and water! If you look at different methods for how to cook quinoa, you’ll find a range of water ratios. Some recipes call for as high as a 2:1 water to grain ratio, while others go as low as 1 1/2:1. In my experience, the sweet spot for light, fluffy quinoa is right in the middle. I use 1 3/4 cups water for every cup of quinoa. Any more water, and the quinoa gets mushy. Any less, and it’s too dry.
Once you’ve measured both, follow these easy steps:
- Combine the quinoa and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 10 minutes more.
- Then, remove the lid and fluff with a fork!
Now, your quinoa is cooked to fluffy perfection, but it’s plain on its own. If you’re serving it as a simple side, season it first. At the very least, toss it with salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, and a drizzle of olive oil. To kick it up another notch, stir in chopped herbs, minced garlic, toasted nuts, or crumbled feta cheese, or use it in one of the quinoa recipes below!
17 Favorite Quinoa Recipes
Once you’ve made a batch of quinoa, you have endless options for using it. Make it the base of your next grain bowl, toss it into a salad, or stuff it into squash or sweet potatoes. It’s also at home in soups & wraps, and it pairs nicely with sweet flavors as well as savory. Try topping it with cinnamon and fresh fruit in the morning, or mix it into a batch of breakfast cookies! Here are a few of my favorite quinoa recipes to get you started:
- Cinnamon Spiced Breakfast Bowl
- Carrot Breakfast Cookies
- Vegan Seven Layer Dip
- Kale Quesadillas
- Tomato & Kale Salad Wrap
- Best Black Bean Burger
- Big Green Kale Salad
- Broccoli Pesto Quinoa Salad
- Kale Pesto Mushroom Bowl
- Roasted Veggie Grain Bowl
- Simple Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowl
- Taco Bowl with Jalapeño Ranch
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Butternut Squash & Kale Stew
- White Bean Risotto with Roasted Vegetables
- Spinach Salad Stuffed Acorn Squash
- Avocado Black Bean Stuffed Acorn Squash