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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Vidya Rao

In the last decade, quinoa has been the darling of the healthy food crowd. It’s the perfect base for a bowl topped with vegetables, a variety of meats, sauces and even leftovers.

Whether you’re trying to eat healthier or just want to learn a new culinary skill, knowing how to cook quinoa is valuable for creating quick and easy meals. Here are a few tricks you need to know before cooking this protein-rich seed.

Making quinoa is relatively painless, we promise. Shutterstock

Quinoa 101

Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s grown in the Andean plateau, which spans parts of Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa is a complete protein — it has all the essential amino acids (a trait you typically find in animal proteins).

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; black quinoa has an earthier, nuttier flavor and white quinoa has a more neutral flavor and is the most popular type in many recipes.

How to wash quinoa

When it comes to quinoa, it's important to give it a good rinse before cooking. 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 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 1 ¾ cup boiling water. While you’re washing the quinoa, start to boil the water. You’ll put slightly more than 1 ¾ cup water in the pot, because you’ll lose some of that water to evaporation. Once the water is at a rapid boil, add ¼ - ½ teaspoon salt (per cup of quinoa) and add in your 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 — you do not want big, rolling bubbles). Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

When you take the quinoa off the heat, let it sit for a minute, then fluff it up with a fork (not a spoon!). Now it’s ready to serve or to save for another recipe.

Quinoa 'Risotto'

Quinoa 'Risotto'

Angelo Sosa

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 breakdown. Just measure out the quinoa and put it in a bowl with about twice as much room temperature water and add 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 just drain it, wash it, and cook it the same way.

Just adjust the boiling water to 1 ½ cups, because the quinoa will already have soaked in some liquid.

This story was originally published Sep. 26, 2017.