Home Cook It Yourself Cook It Like a Boss: Quinoa 101

Cook It Like a Boss: Quinoa 101

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I love quinoa.

This is what properly-cooked quinoa should look like.

This is what properly-cooked quinoa should look like.

When quinoa goes on sale, it’s time to stock up. A cup of quinoa – roughly a tenth of a pound – yields three cups of quinoa cooked. That’s an amazing opportunity to save money. But why, on Earth, would you stock up if you have no idea how to cook it?

Let’s fix that.

What is quinoa, and how does it taste?

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Quinoa is actually a seed and, thus, a complete protein.(See: hemp seed, flax seed… you get the picture.)

It comes in a ton of varieties – red and purple, to be specific – and tastes more like chewy little balls of goodness.

(Am I allowed to say that on the Internet? No one can see me laugh, right?)

If anything, they taste the way you’d expect a seed to taste. It’s more like a faint cross between a peanut and a sunflower seed, though it is unrelated to both.

How do I store quinoa after buying it?

Keep your quinoa in a sealed container. You don’t want any little critters to find your good stuff. It doesn’t require refrigeration, and can be stored in the dark. It can keep for up to 6 months without cause for concern.

What goes well with quinoa?

Anything that you’d do with rice, you could do with quinoa. Though they don’t cook the same, they still serve the same purpose – a grain that can fill you up at a cost cheaper than strictly a heaping helping of veggies, especially considering the amount of protein that quinoa has.

How do I prepare quinoa?

You can soak quinoa overnight for a super-fibrous salad topping:
  • Cover your quinoa with water in a deep container, and store them in the fridge overnight. This will cause them to soften – not unravel, though – and can be tossed with herbs to be included in your salads as toppings. Quinoa is extremely fibrous in this state, however, and should be used sparingly… unless you’re at home and not going anywhere for a while. Just.. don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You can cook your quinoa in a pot on the stove:

You can, prior to boiling your quinoa, toast your seeds in a skillet without butter or oil; you just want to heat them up a bit before boiling, which brings out a bit more of a nuttier flavor in them. If you use a fat to toast, your quinoa will come out a bit bitter.

You should, however, run a little oil around the inside of your pot where your quinoa will be cooking. This helps prevent it from sticking to your pot after its finished.

Always pre-rinse your quinoa. Always. Even if it says it’s “pre-washed,” never give it a second thought. Wash it anyway. Pour your quinoa into a colander or sieve, and run water over it until the water looks clear.

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Improperly cooked quinoa

Quinoa is best cooked in a “set it and forget” kind of style in my house. Equal parts of quinoa and water go in a low-heated pot, with a pinch of salt for every cup of quinoa included. (Basically, if you add 1 cup of quinoa, add 1 cup of water.) Bring quinoa to a low boil, and cover your pot. After 8 minutes check to see if all the water has been absorbed. If not, give it a couple more minutes.

Once all the water has been absorbed, or at least your quinoa has tripled in size, take your pot off the heat and set aside with the top covered. It should look like this:

Fully cooked quinoa

Fully cooked quinoa

and it should be chewy, with a little bounce to it.

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Take your three cups of cooked quinoa, throw in a cup of pomegranate seeds (dried cranberries would work in its place, too), a cup of shredded parsnips (yes, shredded using a cheese grater), a handful of fresh chopped parsley, a squeezed lemon (the zest of it would also help), a teaspoon of coriander and a pinch of salt….

Bam. (No Emeril.)

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How do you like your quinoa?

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Kitana February 20, 2013 - 12:47 PM

Mmm, quinoa. I like it a lot, especially as a rice replacement but I recently read an article on how the high demand of quinoa is now leaving people starving in Bolivia as they can’t afford the rising cost of quinoa. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/world/americas/20bolivia.html?_r=0) So… until I can find quinoa in my area that isn’t exported from Bolivia (someone mentioned that Canada also exports it), I probably won’t be eating it too often. 😐

Erika Nicole Kendall February 20, 2013 - 8:08 PM

All along the Pacific NA coast, farmers are learning to grow quinoa. You may also want to check for those, as well. πŸ™‚

Annette February 20, 2013 - 1:41 PM

Thanks for this how to. I am not the best at cooking grains. Brown Rice is hit or miss with me. I usually do a lot of different squash’s with salad and greens.

I will try it this weekend. Do you have a tutorial to make polenta or use corn meal?

violet February 20, 2013 - 8:56 PM

I’m going to try to say this with as much civility as possible. I find the name of your blog highly offensive…

Editor’s note: Hi, Violet. Start here. You’re welcome. πŸ™‚

Mesha February 22, 2013 - 2:32 PM

I wonder how you feel about blackpeoplemeet, BET. There are other sites, magazines geared toward men non-blacks, have you contacted them ALL to state how offended you are?

Erika Nicole Kendall February 22, 2013 - 2:40 PM

Oh, I’m sure she feels some kind of way about those, too.

I thoroughly edited her comment – it was just too ridiculous – but you should know she blamed me for animosity between the races… whatever that means. LOLOL

Ariel L. February 9, 2015 - 12:28 AM

Your tactful manner of dealing with such unpleasantness is amazing. Other blogs might have just deleted the comment completely, where you try to share where you’re coming from (whether or not the person wants to learn…. eehhh, that’s probably a different story).

I also have to give you props for the post you included in the edited comment where you address your choice for a blog title. People’s relationship with food has such strong cultural (&, yes, very often gender) influences that I kinda thought it went without saying…

…apparently I was wrong & it does need to be said. Either way: your patience is commendable.


I have heard much about quinoa, but never how to cook it properly. Plus, the recipe sounds delish (I <3 pomegranate). Gotta try this out!

Christiebelle January 6, 2017 - 11:59 AM

I am about the whitest white that ever whited and I just want to say I love and appreciate your blog. I just started clean eating and articles like this are really helpful for me. Thank you so much!

Erika Nicole Kendall January 8, 2017 - 1:20 PM

LOL! You are more than welcome, and don’t worryβ€”you are welcome here. πŸ™‚

Lisa June 19, 2013 - 9:51 PM

I am white Italian I don’t know why your finding this blog offensive ,You were probably around white people all your life.and feel uncomfortable with different cultures being proud of there heritage You should be happy to learn from other cultures and embrace it with Love
Maybe one day you even get a hug from a black person lol..btw quinoa is excellent food and it does the body good.:).

Deondra Hopkins July 7, 2016 - 12:52 PM

Awesome reply!!

Tiffany February 20, 2013 - 10:00 PM

I love my quinoa in a black bean salad – green onions, tomatoes, black beans, roasted corn, and some seasoning.

Kristen September 12, 2013 - 7:43 PM

That sounds amazing! May make it this weekend

Carrie December 15, 2013 - 8:32 AM

Hey Tiffany, I am totally “seasoning” uneducated. Growing up it was salt, pepper, garlic salt and onion salt. The ingredients in your quinoa salad sound awesome, will you elaborate on what type of seasoning you use?

irene February 21, 2013 - 1:56 PM

So before I saw this post I found a recipe for quinoa. It came out great flavor wise husband liked it BUT I could not eat more than a few bites because of how it looked. The unraveling of the grain was a bit too much for me. Lol! So now I am thinking coucous. Is that a good sub or should I just do brown rice?

Erika Nicole Kendall February 21, 2013 - 5:51 PM

Couscous isn’t a grain, and it isn’t a complete protein like quinoa, so it wouldn’t work. Brown rice WOULD be your best bet, but I’d sooner encourage you to get used to the unraveling seeds, girl. Real food can be weird sometimes, but damn if it isn’t still awesome. πŸ™‚

Linda March 12, 2018 - 5:01 PM

Unraveling black eyed peas is gross too, but their delicious!

Tiara February 22, 2013 - 2:42 PM

Quinoa!!!!! How I love thee! I found it a couple years ago at a trendy lunch spot and figured if the hipster kids are eating it, it must be healthy. I then drove straight to whole foods and found all the ingredients to duplicate that salad I had that day!!!! I haven’t cooked rice in 2 years because of quinoa!!!! LOL

Safyer April 13, 2013 - 6:24 PM

Miss Erica! This is the bomb-diggity
*snaps fingers*

Gail April 16, 2013 - 4:23 PM

Yep. Good stuff. Thanks, Erika!

Kerri July 9, 2013 - 6:32 AM

Thanks so much for the easy to follow steps for cooking Quinoa. The pictures are unbelievably helpful to me. Many websites don’t include tips and the “basics” for people who have no clue how to cook this, I’m glad you did!

Ericka September 13, 2013 - 12:18 AM

The first time I cooked it I did the water, no salt way and it was good. So, the second time I cooked it, I did the low sodium chicken broth with a little bit of roasted onions – da bomb diggety. Right after cooking a pot-full, and almost running over, I found a recipe for quinoa with greek yogurt and berries for breakfast. Talk about lip-smackin! But what I had in my fridge was the savory sort and could not be used in that format. From now on, whatever I plan to cook, I will divide it and make half bland and half savory.

Trish January 3, 2014 - 1:19 PM

I too turned way from quinoa because I could not get past the look. I have a girlfriend who is constantly pushing me back to try it “again”. I will give it a try this week using some of the tips I learned here. Thanks! New Year, New Life, New Beginnings…again :)!

Trish April 1, 2014 - 12:16 AM

I tried it!!! I love it!!!! Added it with raw kale, yellow bell pepper, cucumbers, feta cheese, and my own homemade Greek vingierette. OMG!!! It was amazing. I’m officially a believer. lol

Anika August 7, 2014 - 9:16 PM

Trish would you be willing to share your recipe for greek dressing. I’m interested. Thanks.

Eva Maria January 9, 2014 - 11:57 PM

I have heard it is GREAT for losing the pounds off ones girlys/womens body (which I am all for). I want to thank all of yous for your recipes. I will let yous know in a month how much weight I have LOST. When your 60 it is harder to lose those extra pounds. Especially, when you have to cook for a husband that LOVES his beans, tortillas and chile. Wish me luck on my journey to a slimmer and healthier me!!

HP February 25, 2014 - 4:47 PM

I still haven’t tried quinoa yet but it’s on my “to-do” list. Do you like it better in heated dishes or cold in salads? I’ll be sure to try it both ways at some point. πŸ™‚

Erika Nicole Kendall February 28, 2014 - 9:38 PM

Honestly, for me, it’s all about what it’s paired with. I love a good, cold quinoa salad just as much as I love it hot with herbs and veggies. Tough question!

Andrea March 27, 2014 - 9:49 AM

THANK YOU for this! I’ve had bad quinoa and swore I hated it, but I keep seeing good things about it from everyone else. I really wanted to try and figure out what went wrong. I googled “make me like quinoa” and found this! Definitely going to try cooking it myself this time, the right way. Love your site too!

John June 29, 2014 - 10:56 PM

I’ve found that cottage cheese takes on the flavor of what you add to it. Add a fruit and it takes on that flavor, add salt and pepper etc, etc. Have you ever added fruit to quinoa? Does it do the same?

Erika Nicole Kendall June 30, 2014 - 1:05 PM

It has a bit of a nutty taste, but it does take on flavors well PARTICULARLY if you season it properly. A pinch of salt really rings out the flavors.

Kelly August 7, 2014 - 3:42 PM

Just wanted to say that I love your instructions for cooking quinoa. Even though I cook with it a couple of times a month, I sometimes find myself wondering whether I need to cook it a bit longer, so the pictures are super helpful.

I hope you don’t mind but I included a link to this page in a Sumac Chicken & Quinoa recipe I posted on my blog, because I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining than you already did here!

Anika August 7, 2014 - 9:35 PM

I’ve been avoiding Quinoa for a while because it’s a seed and I could not for the life of me understand it replacing rice. That said, I also swore I would never eat brown rice…but I have found ways to eat it and enjoy it. I’m going to purchase quinoa tomorrow and map out how I want to start eating it. Thank you very much!!!

CoilyHairedBeauty December 18, 2014 - 10:48 AM

I absolutely love your blog!!! I am trying to get healthy again, and this is the perfect resource for me! I will be trying out many of your tips soon.

I’m not a cook at all, so I have a few questions:
Is plain quinoa palatable? (If cooked with just water/stock and salt)
Does anyone put butter/sugar on it? (that’s counterproductive for a weightloss journey I guess) I’m just afraid it’ll be hekka bland…

I’m extremely picky. I was one of those kids who didn’t want their foods to touch. Do you have any simple meal ideas? I like eggs, veggies, chicken… Can this replace grits?

Erika Nicole Kendall December 18, 2014 - 10:57 AM

It’s palatable, if you like a soft, nutty flavor. You could easily add in a sprinkle of rosemary or cilantro (with a little lime juice) with a pinch of salt to give it some simple flavor.

You can put butter in it for sure, or a little bit of any oil you like (sesame oil and chinese five spice with a little salt? SO good.) I would stray away from the idea of adding sugar to stuff to alter the taste.

There are simple recipes all over the site! I wouldn’t use this to ‘replace’ grits, mainly because I like my grits. ROFL But yes, this could be turned into breakfast food!

Keep the questions coming! I’m taking notes!

Chelly February 9, 2015 - 2:09 PM

I’ve tried quinoa several times and I just don’t like it. I’ve made it myself, I’ve eaten it in restaurants and gotten it already made from the grocery store and as much as I want to I just don’t like the consistency. I’ve read all of the delicious sounding recipes here and I’m going to give it another try, but can wheat berries be a good alternative for quinoa?

Erika Nicole Kendall February 10, 2015 - 12:49 PM

Sure, in function, but the taste is quite a bit different (at least, to me it is.)

Curvy CEO November 15, 2015 - 2:22 PM

I think I’m just going to toss some in the rice cooker. *lol* According to Google that should work. But I am excited to incorporate that into my diet more!

Leda Short May 31, 2017 - 11:17 AM

I am so glad i googled quinoa… It is in the top ten alkaline foods… All of this sounds good to me… Im definitely going to buy and try…
Thank you for all the info and comments….

Mitch in El Cajon July 27, 2017 - 3:00 PM

Offensive?!? How is the name of your blog offensive? It’s my first time reading your blog trying to figure out what quinoa is and how to cook it! Offense or race wasn’t even an idea for me! I was hoping to find something to replace beans or pasta i.e. Spaghetti or lard loaded refried bean type dishes but your blog has definitely interested me in the ease and healthyness of quinoa is! I have NEVER commented on a cooking blog but I just wanted to say thank you for your info and keep up the good work! I’m also glad that you are not effected by narrow minded people! I will definitely now start reading your blog and will try variations on on your guides and if they turn out I’ll let ya know! So… too long a post summed up.. thank you and thank you to the offended person because they got me interested in your information!

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