Transform plain quinoa into a flavour packed vegetarian side dish in one easy step. Find top tips on how to cook fluffy quinoa every time. The clue is in fluffy – no-one likes mushy, soapy or bitter. Just add pesto for a flavoursome twist on an already delicious and nutritious staple.
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I’ve been cooking quinoa for a very long time now, long before it became mainstream. This means I’ve had a chance to experiment and find the best method of preparing it.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), pronounced keen-wah, comes from the Andes in South America. It’s one of those Lost Crops of the Incas*, that CT introduced me to all those years ago. It’s now so widespread that farmers are even growing it here in the UK.
Although we tend to call quinoa a grain, it’s technically a seed. The most commonly available is a white variety, but you can also get red and black ones. White cooks faster and has a softer finish, whilst red and black are smaller and have a slightly chewier texture. All of them triple in size when cooked.
The grains are covered in a natural coating of saponin. This makes them taste slightly bitter and soapy, so it needs to be washed off. My how to cook quinoa with pesto recipe gives an easy and foolproof method on how to do this.
Quinoa is often referred to as a superfood. It’s nutrient dense and naturally gluten free. Vegans and vegetarians love it as it’s surprisingly high in calcium. Unlike most other grains, it has all of the essential amino acids your body needs, making it a complete protein.
Other beneficial compounds include fibre, iron, B vitamins, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. It also has a low glycemic index and keeps you fuller for longer.
How to Cook Fluffy Quinoa with Pesto: Step-by-Step
Quinoa, prepared my way, absorbs those gorgeous pesto flavours and ingredients as it cooks. This results in a super rich and tasty dish that everyone will love.
Quinoa contains saponins which, if not washed off correctly, can taste soapy and a bit bitter. It’s a pain to wash though. The grains are small and are likely to fall through all but the finest mesh sieves. They also float which makes it difficult to wash them in a bowl of water.
My method not only makes beautiful fluffy quinoa every time, but it doesn’t taste soapy. It also misses out the initial annoying wash that most recipes call for.
You could, of course, stir in some pesto to cooked quinoa instead of cooking it with the quinoa. In my experience, however, it’s really difficult to do without mushing up the quinoa. You also won’t get the same flavour. The grains will be coated in pesto, but they won’t have absorbed it.
Although I’ve broken the cooking process down into six steps for simplicity, it’s actually a really quick and easy process. So please don’t be put off.
Use my method for cooking quinoa, even if you don’t add the pesto and want to keep it plain. If you don’t use pesto, you can cook it with stock instead of water if you like.
1. Boil the Quinoa
Place the quinoa in a suitably sized pan and cover it with water. With the lid on, bring to a hard boil, then turn the heat off and allow the quinoa to stop bubbling.
A small pan with a tight fitting lid makes a big difference. To get a fluffy, rather than mushy texture, it needs to steam. It won’t do this so well if the pan is too big or most of the steam escapes through the lid.
2. Wash the Quinoa
Tip the contents of the pan into a large sieve and run it under a cold tap to rinse the grains.
The saponins are released during the cooking process. Although the grains are only cooked for a few minutes initially, it’s enough to get rid of any bitter or soapy tastes. It also means they’ve swollen slightly, so they don’t pass straight through the sieve.
3. Cover The Grains With Water
Shake the sieve to remove any excess water, then return to the pan. Cover with almost twice the volume of water. But err towards slightly less rather than more if you don’t have an accurate measure.
If you cook quinoa without boiling it first, you need to use exactly twice the amount of liquid. But because we’ve already boiled it once, it will have absorbed some water already.
See the amount needed in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.
4. Add The Pesto
Whisk or stir in both the pesto and salt.
Use whatever pesto you like or have to hand. I used wild garlic pesto in the photos you can see here. But basil pesto, parsley pesto, watercress pesto, garden weed pesto or carrot top pesto are all good.
5. Cook Fluffy Quinoa
Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid and turn down to the lowest setting. Cook for twelve minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for at least five minutes to steam. Don’t be tempted to take the lid off at this point.
Leave the quinoa to steam for as long as possible. I leave mine for ten to twenty minutes, unless I’m in a hurry.
6. Fluff Up With A Fork
When you take the lid off the pan, it won’t look very promising, but all you need is a fork.
Just fluff the quinoa up gently with the fork and it will not only look perfectly fluffy, but will have increased in volume quite considerably.
How Much Quinoa Per Person?
I allow sixty grams (one third of a cup) of uncooked quinoa per person if it’s a main part of the meal. If the quinoa is destined to be part of a wider sharing menu, go for half the amount.
One of the great things about quinoa is that it keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so leftovers are not a problem.
How Long Does Cooked Quinoa Last?
Cooked quinoa, with or without pesto, will keep in the fridge for five days. Make sure it’s in a sealed container and is cool before you put it in. You can also freeze it in a suitable container for up to three months.
What To Eat Quinoa With?
You can use quinoa instead of rice in many dishes. It’s perfect as a side dish to accompany stir-fries, for quinoa bowls, as part of a buffet or meze spread, for salads, picnics or lunch boxes. It goes particularly well with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Mexican food.
Why not try pesto quinoa on its own with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds? I sometimes have this for lunch and really enjoy it.
Unlike some cooked foods, quinoa is really good to eat whilst it’s hot, at room temperature or straight from the fridge.
Try fluffy quinoa instead of rice in the following recipes
- Halloumi rice bowl with ginger carrots & caraway cabbage
- Mexican Rice (vegan)
- Pilaf with almonds & barberries
- Stuffed peppers in tomato sauce
- Vegan rice bowl with maple tofu and smoked tomato sauce
Or serve fluffy pesto quinoa alongside
- Carlin pea stew with sweet peppers (vegan)
- Cypriot vegetable stew (vegan)
- Halloumi shakshuka
- Spiced roasted summer vegetables (vegan)
- Veggie meatballs in tomato sauce (vegan)
Other Quinoa Recipes You Might Like
- Black chickpea & red quinoa burgers (vegan)
- Quinoa bowl with broccoli & pumpkin three ways (vegan)
- Quinoa salad with watercress, walnuts & blue cheese
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make this fluffy quinoa with pesto, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate the recipe. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more side dish recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them. All delicious and nutritious, of course.
Fluffy Pesto Quinoa. PIN IT.
How To Cook Fluffy Quinoa with Pesto – The Recipe
How To Cook Fluffy Quinoa With Pesto
- 120 g quinoa
- 1 tbsp pesto of choice
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- Place the quinoa in a suitably sized pan with a tight fitting lid. Cover it with water, put the lid on and bring to a hard boil. Turn the heat off and leave for a couple of minutes, until it stops bubbling.
- Tip into a sieve and run under the cold water tap to wash the grains. Any saponins will come out in the wash.
- Shake the sieve to remove any excess water, then return to the pan. Cover with not quite twice the volume of water, in this case 220 ml. But err towards slightly less rather than more if you don’t have an accurate measure.
- Stir or whisk in the pesto and salt.
- Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid and turn down to lowest setting. Cook for 12 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for at least five minutes to steam. Don’t be tempted to take the lid off before it’s had time to steam.
- Take the lid off and fluff the quinoa up with a fork.
- Serve immediately whilst hot, at room temperature or even cold from the fridge.
Sharing Fluffy Quinoa With Pesto
I’m sharing this how to cook fluffy quinoa with, or without, pesto with Effortless Foodie for #CookBlogShare.
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