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How To Make Quinoa: Step By Step Guide

Updated on August 11, 2012
Try quinoa in black bean, corn and quinoa salad
Try quinoa in black bean, corn and quinoa salad | Source

What is Quinoa?

Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is one of the hottest items nutritionally and on its way up in popularity.

In fact, 2013 has been named by the United Nations as The International Year of Quinoa.

What's all the hype about quinoa? This food, considered a whole grain by most, is actually a seed. It's considered a whole grain because it can be prepared much in the same way as other grains like rice. For instance, you can cook quinoa the way this article demonstrates, or you can cook it just like you do rice in a rice cooker.

Quinoa goes all the way back to the Incas. It was their staple food for thousands of years as it grew profusely in the Andes. It was coined "the mother of all grains" by the Incas and was believed to be a sacred crop.

The conquering Europeans pronounced quinoa food fit only for barbarians and banned its cultivation for periods of time. The Incas instead grew wheat.

The plant itself is said to look much like a tumbleweed. It's an annual plant that develops seed in varying stages on the same plant. For that reason, cultivating it by machine is impossible as each "bunch" of seeds on the individual plants has to be harvested just at the right time to be useable. So harvesting is done by hand.

There has been a push to create more uniform quinoa plants so that this process can be automated to farm equipment, however, thus far, quinoa remains very much hand picked and processed.

Red quinoa and the more beige or yellow quinoa are the two most often seen. The plants are suitable to growing in high mountain desert climates where the nights can dip to as low as 25 degrees and the days soar to the 90s. Quinoa is rather hardy in that it isn't ruined if there are summer frosts. The only time frost can damage the plants is when they are flowering.

What Makes Quinoa So Healthy?

As quinoa gains more and more exposure, people are asking what the big deal is about quinoa. Most people have heard that it has some unique properties and that it's "good for you" but beyond that, most of us don't know much about it.

I know I didn't before I had some in a restaurant, thought it was absolutely fabulous and decided to do some research on cooking it myself. The research I found made it definitely one of my new favorites!

Great things about quinoa:

  • It has the highest protein count of all whole grains - for every 100 g of quinoa, there are 14 g of protein
  • It cooks quicker than most grains
  • It has a low glycemic index (in the low 50s), making it an excellent food choice to avoid blood sugar spikes
  • Quinoa has all 9 essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein
  • It's gluten free and wheat free
  • Quinoa is kosher so can be used for Passover
  • It's high in fiber - 6 g for every 1/4 cup (which is more than an apple)
  • It's a great choice for vegetarians or vegans
  • Quinoa is cholesterol free
  • It's almost always organic
  • It's digested slowly which can help people trying to lose weight because they feel fuller longer
  • Quinoa is loaded with things like iron, B2, vitamins and riboflavin
  • You can make flour out of it and use it for baking

Washing Saponins off Quinoa

Make sure you always rinse and drain quinoa before cooking. Although they say that most quinoa on the market has been pre-rinsed and dried, it's a good idea to measure your quinoa into a wire strainer, then rinse several times with cold running water and let drain.

This releases any remaining saponins which are considered mild toxins. They are not poisonous but should be removed as much as possible from the grain.

Saponins can also alter the flavor of cooked quinoa if you skip this process, making it more bitter.

If you rinse the quinoa, you may see lots of gold or yellow rinsing off the seeds. That's the saponins being washed away.

If you're like me and decide to take a wee bit of a bite of the quinoa before cooking in its dried state, you'll find it tastes (probably) very similar to birdseed!

Raw quinoa looks very much like millet
Raw quinoa looks very much like millet

Making Quinoa on the Stovetop

Total Cooking Time 20 minutes

Additional Prep Time 5-10 minutes

Ingredient: 1-1/2 cups of quinoa

Makes 3-4 cups of quinoa

When cooked, use as you would regular or brown rice or couscous.

Serve as a side dish or combine in other dishes such as quinoa, corn and black bean salad.

Step 1: Rinse the quinoa thoroughly under cold running water. Use a metal strainer with very tiny holes as the seeds are about the size of millet (a type of birdseed or cereal). This removes the saponins.

Be sure and rinse the quinoa thoroughly to remove any saponins
Be sure and rinse the quinoa thoroughly to remove any saponins

Step 2: Put a pan of water on to boil. When it reaches boiling, add the rinsed quinoa and return to a soft boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain in strainer or sieve. Once cooked, the quinoa will have opened the seed and assumed its traditional "curl."

After cooking partially, quinoa should have its trademark "curl"
After cooking partially, quinoa should have its trademark "curl"

Step 3: Fill pan again with low level of water and bring to a boil. Set metal sieve (preferably one with a handle) over the boiling water but not allowing the quinoa to be submerged in the water.

Place a clean dish towel on top of the quinoa in the strainer or sieve and fold ends up to keep from flames/burner. Top with a lid. Cook/steam for 10 minutes. Add more boiling water to the pan if necessary if the water boils away.

Cook quinoa in a sieve with a clean dish towel under the pan lid to steam grain.
Cook quinoa in a sieve with a clean dish towel under the pan lid to steam grain.

Step 4: Put cooked quinoa in a large bowl and let cool. Fluff with a fork.

Some people like it with a dash of sea salt, a sprinkle of olive oil and a dash of lemon or lime just "as is."

Fully cooked quinoa is light and fluffy and has a slightly nutty taste
Fully cooked quinoa is light and fluffy and has a slightly nutty taste

How You Can Cook Quinoa

There are many different ways that you can cook this wonder grain. As mentioned above, you can cook it just like you would rice or even barley. The water/grain ratio is 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.

Try cooking it in your rice cooker. There are also recipes on-line for cooking it in the microwave.

Calorie-wise, 1 cup of quinoa is about 180-220 calories and 2 grams of fat. (Different brands seem to disagree on the calories)

Try it as a pilaf or even as a breakfast cereal topped with fruit and nuts. Quinoa is definitely a well rounded whole grain that's packed with nutrition--and tastes great.


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