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How to cook quinoa as a main course in your meal

Updated on September 4, 2015
Raw quinoa
Raw quinoa

About quinoa

Quinoa is a seed that is starchy when cooked, and is prepared and consumed much like a grain. It was cultivated by ancient civilizations in South and Central America, and it has become very popular in America today.

Many people today are choosing to eat quinoa for its nutritional benefits. It is touted as having complete protein, which is not common in the plant kingdom. It has made its way to the shelves of general grocery stores, but it is usually more economical to purchase it from health food stores that offer bulk foods, or ordering from specialty online web sites.

One cup of quinoa is usually enough for two people to eat, but it is usually best to make two cups and store any leftovers for later.

Rinsing and draining the quinoa.
Rinsing and draining the quinoa.

Preparing the quinoa for cooking

Before cooking, it is recommended to thoroughly rinse the quinoa seeds to remove any saponins which could adversely alter the flavor when cooked. This step is optional, but is suggested for best results.

To do this, place 2 cups of quinoa in a bowl, and fill with water. You may need to stir the seeds a bit. You can dump off and discard any floating seeds if desired.

Keep running water over the bowl until much of the cloudiness is gone, stirring the seeds a bit if required. Drain seeds through a metal sieve or fine colander, or hold the edge of the bowl and tip, using your fingers to hold the seeds in place while the water drains. You can repeat this draining process with another batch of water a few times.

Cooking the quinoa
Cooking the quinoa

Cooking the quinoa

Add well drained quinoa to a pot with 3.75 to 4 cups of water (you may need a little more if you skipped the rinsing step, since the seeds will be drier). 4 cups will sometimes make it a little extra starchy, and 3.75 will sometimes be a touch under cooked. Add a sliced or chopped yellow onion for flavor and stir (optional).

Turn on heat to medium to medium high, and cover the pot with a lid. Watch that the bottom layer doesn't burn as it cooks, and stir if necessary.

The water will be absorbed into the quinoa, and as this happens it will significantly expand. Once all of the water is absorbed, you will need to lower the heat to prevent the bottom layer from burning. It will not take much longer to cook from this point.

Quinoa will cook relatively quickly compared to other grains. Usually it is cooked within 20 to 30 minutes. You will know it is done when it forms rings around the seed and puffs out. Once you see the rings, taste the quinoa to see if it is cooked. It should be soft throughout the entire seed, so if it is still a little hard in the middle, you need to let it cook a few more minutes.


Cooked quinoa
Cooked quinoa
Quinoa with basil
Quinoa with basil
Quinoa with long squash and wild amaranth greens sprinkled with gomasio
Quinoa with long squash and wild amaranth greens sprinkled with gomasio
Quinoa with gomasio
Quinoa with gomasio

Serving and eating quinoa

Quinoa can be used as a main coarse in a meal or as a side dish. It is very tasty when tamari and extra virgin olive oil are drizzled on top and stirred in.

As a side dish, break up a small handful of fresh basil leaves for added flavor and as a digestive aid. Another alternative is to serve with gomasio condiment made of sesame seeds. This is a delicious combination. It may be a bit dry served this way, in which case you can add some olive oil.

As a main dish, you could add cooked vegetables such as a stir fry or cooked greens, or you could add marinated vegetables to the quinoa. To do this, mix the vegetables and some of the juice or liquid remaining from the cooking or marinating process and stir, or simply serve the vegetables on top of the quinoa. Some olive oil and tamari can be added to the quinoa before adding the veggies, or to the quinoa and vegetable mix if it is too dry or lacking in flavor.

An example of a meal with quinoa as the main dish

Quinoa served with long squash/thai bottle gourd, wild amaranth greens, gomasio condiment, and a salad.
Quinoa served with long squash/thai bottle gourd, wild amaranth greens, gomasio condiment, and a salad.
Quinoa with the cooked greens and squash on top all sprinkled with gomasio
Quinoa with the cooked greens and squash on top all sprinkled with gomasio

In this meal the quinoa is served with two vegetable side dishes and a salad. You can eat all of the dishes separately, or you can pile the vegetables on top of the quinoa and eat them together. With the vegetables on top, you can try different ratios and combinations, and continue to eat them separately if you wish.

The quinoa is garnished with fresh basil, and the sides are cooked amaranth greens, thai bottle gourd, and gomasio condiment. The salad is made with carrot almond dressing.

This should give you a starting point for some ideas on how to cook quinoa in appetizing ways. For some additional experimental ideas, try replacing quinoa with rice or pasta in your favorite recipes.

Additional note:

I often cook quinoa in a rice cooker when I am busy, and it is ready for me when I want to eat. This way takes about twice as long, but the quinoa usually turns out okay.

Getting the right quantity of water can be a little tricky this way, especially if you rinse your quinoa. I usually add 3.5 cups of water per 2 cups of quinoa.

Rice cookers are great for people who are always on the run. Be sure to buy a high quality cooker, as not all rice cookers are the same.

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