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How to cook perfectly fluffy quinoa

This versatile whole grain is healthy and delicious — if prepared correctly.
/ Source: TODAY

In the last decade, quinoa has become a darling among superfoods. It’s the perfect protein-packed base for any meal, whether it's topped with vegetables, a variety of meats, sauces or even leftovers. Cooking fluffy quinoa is just as simple as making rice (if not easier) but it cooks in half the time, at least compared to brown rice (white rice has a comparable cook time). Plus, it’s better for you. According to health experts at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, quinoa is high in essential amino acids plus manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, folate and thiamin (vitamin B1). And it’s a good source of protein and fiber, to boot. Like rice, quinoa grows in size as it cooks; culinary and health experts alike tend to agree that 1/4 cup of uncooked quinoa is enough for one person. Because it’s so rich in protein and fiber, even a small amount will fill you up for hours while keeping you energized. Win-win!

You’ll usually find quinoa sold at the grocery store in 12- to 32-ounce plastic bags or containers. Uncooked, quinoa can last between two and three years if stored properly. If you want to eat healthier or learn a new culinary skill, knowing how to cook quinoa is valuable for creating quick and easy meals any day of the week. Here are a few tricks you need to know before cooking this protein-rich seed, as well as a few of our go-to quinoa recipes.

What is quinoa?

For starters, quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, and is one that’s been around for thousands of years. It originates from the Andean plateau, which spans parts of Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa is a complete protein — meaning that it has all the essential amino acids, a trait you typically find in animal proteins, which makes it a beloved ingredient among vegetarians and vegans who are looking for alternative sources of protein.

Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Salad

There are several varieties of quinoa, but in most U.S. grocery stores you’ll find three: red, black and white. Red quinoa is great for salads because it holds its shape and texture well; black quinoa has an earthier, nuttier flavor; and white quinoa has a more neutral flavor and is the most popular type in many recipes. You’ll often find a blend of all three varieties, which is a delicious way to maximize the health benefits of eating quinoa.

How to wash quinoa

It's important to give this seed a good rinse before cooking it. Washing quinoa helps get rid of saponins, a natural chemical compound that gives the quinoa a bitter or soapy flavor. Measure out how much quinoa you want and pop it into a mesh strainer. Hold the strainer under running cold water and swish the seeds around with your hands. Do this a few times until the water runs clear.

How to cook quinoa

For 1 cup of quinoa, you’ll need 2 cups of boiling water. If you want to build even more flavor. While you’re washing the quinoa, start to boil the water. Once the water reaches a rapid boil, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (per cup of quinoa), then add the washed quinoa. Let the water come back to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer (there should be some light bubbling throughout, but you do not want big, rolling bubbles). Cover the pot and cook for 18 to 20 minutes.

Once it’s cooked, remove the pot of quinoa from the heat, let it sit for a minute, then fluff the quinoa with a fork (not a spoon!) to make sure that the seeds are separated and the consistency is light and airy. Now, it’s ready to serve or be stored away for another recipe. Dress it with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to give it some flavor, which is especially important if you’re serving it as the base for meat or vegetables. If you’re meal prepping or cooking for a crowd, you can easily double or even triple the recipe so that you have more quinoa on hand.

How to serve quinoa

Once cooked, you can sprinkle quinoa over a salad, fold it into soup, or use it as the base for grain bowls. Try it in or this Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Salad or Mexican Quinoa Stew.

Mexican Quinoa Stew

If quinoa gives you digestive distress …

Some people may have trouble digesting quinoa and it's not uncommon to feel gassy after consuming it. Soaking quinoa can help make it easier for your body to break down the seed. To do this, measure the quinoa and put it in a bowl with about twice as much room temperature water and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Cover and let sit. You can do this in the morning before you go about your day, and it will be ready for you to cook in the evening. Then drain it, wash it and cook it. Just reduce the boiling water to 1½ cups, since the quinoa will already have soaked in some liquid.

Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free and is safe for anyone who has celiac disease.