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How to Cook Quinoa

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa has been a staple in our house for over 10 years and we eat it at least once a week. Here is how I cook, season and serve the dried and pre-cooked versions.

By Merchant Gourmet Cook, Alex Mackay


How to Cook Dried Quinoa
Basic recipe…
For 2 portions as a side dish or salad base, put 120g quinoa into a sieve and rinse it under cold running water for 20 seconds. In a small saucepan, bring 300ml water to the boil with 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Add the quinoa. Bring to the boil and boil for 30 seconds then turn the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 12 minutes, or until the quinoa is just tender. Check occasionally so that the quinoa doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. For red and black quinoa, add an extra minute or two. Take the pan off the heat. When the quinoa is ready, it looks a little like a tadpole, with a ‘tail’ that appears as the germ separates from the seed. Leave the quinoa to rest, covered, for 5 minutes for the heat to penetrate right through to the centre of each seed and finish cooking the quinoa. Fluff the quinoa up with a fork, season to taste. It always makes sense to cook more than I need, to have some in the fridge (2 days) for packed lunches and some in the freezer (2 months) for a quick comfort meal.

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How to add flavour to quinoa as it cooks
To add other aromas to quinoa or to tailor it to what you want to serve; you can add ginger, garlic, citrus zest or spices to the cooking water. To give quinoa more body, you can simmer it with beef, chicken, meat, vegetable or porcini stock, (soaking water) or replace part of the water with tomato juice or passata, I have a friend who adds coconut milk to hers. In most cases when you use a liquid other than water, the quinoa takes longer to cook, so don’t worry, add a few extra minutes, and keep tasting the quinoa until it is tender.

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How to add flavour to quinoa after it’s cooked
Weather you use ready to eat or dried quinoa, season it while hot so that it absorbs the seasoning inside the seed as well as around the outside. This makes the difference between quinoa that tastes ok and quinoa that tastes wonderful. Seasoning the quinoa hot is even more important if you are going to serve it cold or at room temperature, because the colder food is the duller the taste becomes, and you want your flavours to fly. Here are a couple of examples…


Quinoa Tabbouleh with Sweet Potato Pakora

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A spice, sauce or scent of citrus can combine with quinoa to make the simple sublime, either on the side or as a dish in its own right. Here are a few of my favourites…
Good things to add to Quinoa

  • Lemon or lime zest
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Smoked paprika
  • Harissa
  • Chilli powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sumac
  • Curry powder
  • Raz-el-hanout, Lemon zest and very finely chopped dried apricots
  • Orange zest & fennel seeds
  • Melted butter with lemon juice and zest
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsamic syrup
  • Pesto, or Provencal Pistou and halved cherry tomatoes

Quinoa as Comfort food
As well as being good for you, quinoa can also be indulgent. This works with dried quinoa and makes a brilliant, almost instant meal using a pouch of the ready to eat version. Make the quinoa into a hot “risotto” type dish by heating it with about half its volume of vegetable or chicken stock then finish it with basil pesto if you fancy something green, or butter and cheddar cheese if you fancy some beautifully beige, creamy comfort food to eat with a spoon. Quinoa cauliflower cheese also is also a deliciously gentle way to a satisfied stomach and a soporific evening.

Quinoa Cauliflower Cheese

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