The Best Ways To Cook With Quinoa

If you've been following the healthy eating trends of the last 10 years, you're probably sick of hearing about quinoa. Quinoa, kale, and superfoods have gotten a lot of attention, and it's easy to feel like they've run their course. But don't count quinoa out just yet. Not only is it a nutritional powerhouse, but this grain is seriously versatile. From pizza to oatmeal, quinoa can replace or enhance your favorite dishes while giving you the extra bump of fiber and protein your body craves!

Why cook with quinoa?

So why did all your health nut friends swoon over quinoa in the first place? Probably because it's incredibly healthy and easy to prepare.

Quinoa is rich in calcium, magnesium, and manganese and actually has twice the protein of rice or barley. For the health nuts, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids. Because it's a complete protein, quinoa is great for filling you up. It's also a nice choice for vegetarians and vegans, who tend to fall behind in the protein department.

Quinoa contains twice the fiber of other grains like whole grain rice. Getting enough fiber helps with everything from relieving constipation to losing weight. Quinoa is also high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, little antioxidants that might help with disease prevention and anti-aging. Hello!

How to prep quinoa for your recipes

Anytime you buy quinoa, the directions on the box tell you to first rinse the quinoa before cooking it. If you're like me and in a hurry, you've probably skipped that step. So is it really necessary?

Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin that has a bitter taste. Rinsing the grain rinses off that bitterness. I recently took a cooking class where the chef recommended not rinsing your quinoa, because the bitterness can add a new dimension to your dish. I tend to follow that advice, not for the new dimension, but for the two minutes it saves me. Try your quinoa without the rinse and see if you notice a difference.

Once your quinoa is cooked, make sure to fluff it with a fork rather than mixing it with a spoon. Quinoa tends to be a bit of a diva, and mixing it right away can cause it to get too mushy and runny. Give quinoa what it wants and fluff away.

A powerhouse side dish

The easiest way to enjoy quinoa is on its own. Cook it according to package instructions and use it as a side dish instead of rice or a baked potato. Quinoa naturally has a rich, nutty flavor, so it can stand on its own. Since quinoa is gluten-free, it's a nice option for a carb side dish if you're avoiding the gluten monster.

Cooking quinoa on the stovetop takes about 20 minutes. To up the flavor, try cooking it in chicken or vegetable broth instead of water. If you don't have time to read the directions, just remember to double the cooking liquid for your quinoa. So 1 cup of quinoa will need 2 cups of liquid to fluff up. Food blogger Kate from Cookie and Kate recommends cooking your quinoa uncovered to avoid the soggy lumps.

Healthy pizza crust

When it comes to alternative pizza crusts, it can be hard to get the right consistency. I've tried those gluten-free crusts, and not all alternative crusts are created equal. Zucchini and cauliflower crusts can be too soggy. Sweet potato crusts can fall apart. So I was skeptical when it came to quinoa crust, but these recipes deliver!

This quinoa pizza crust from Simply Quinoa is far and away the best alternative crust I have ever had. The trick is to soak your quinoa for six to eight hours first. I soaked mine overnight, and it worked great. Using fully cooked quinoa for a crust results in a messy blob spilling over your pizza pan. By soaking the quinoa, the grains will absorb some of the water but will still get crispy in the oven. Definitely worth a try!

Another option is to create small quinoa pizza bites for a snack or light lunch. This recipe from Live Well Bake Often combines quinoa with your favorite pizza toppings and then bakes them in mini muffin tins. These would be a perfect after-school snack or lunch on the go!

Hearty casseroles

One of the easiest ways to cook with quinoa is baking it up in a casserole. I especially love to make a big batch and freeze a couple casseroles. This is a lifesaver for those days when you get home late and just aren't in the mood for greasy pizza or fast food.

This quinoa enchilada casserole from Damn Delicious gives you all that delicious enchilada flavor without having to get your hands messy while trying to roll up your tortillas as all the ingredients spill out. This one is quick, easy, and freezes well.

As if these casseroles couldn't get any better, Eat Yourself Skinny just upped her game with this recipe for a cheesy caprese chicken and quinoa casserole. Grape tomatoes burst with flavor as they bake with melty cheese and hearty quinoa.

Lighten up fried rice

Forget greasy fried rice that's big on starch and low on nutritional value. Making your own at home means less fat and lots more flavor. By swapping quinoa for your rice, you'll add a new dimension of flavor while getting protein, fiber, and vitamins.

This quinoa fried rice recipe from Gimme Some Oven is incredibly quick and easy. The entire recipe takes 15 minutes and is loaded with colorful veggies. Make a big batch this weekend and pack away for work and school lunches.

Toss it in soup

While I love a comforting warm soup on a cold winter's night, it sometimes feels a little too light. I'm often left craving a little something more. Tossing in some cooked quinoa is the perfect solution. It has a nice texture while upping the protein level in any soup or stew.

The nice thing about quinoa recipes is that they're usually pretty healthy. It seems that the chefs and food bloggers who are most passionate about quinoa tend to be the healthy living enthusiasts. Case in point, this sweet potato quinoa soup from The Healthy Apple. Food blogger Amie Valpone created this gluten-free and dairy-free soup as the perfect way to warm up in the middle of winter.

I absolutely adore a good slow cooker recipe, and this slow cooker quinoa, chicken, and kale soup from Cooking Classy looks like just the thing for a chilly night. It's loaded with protein thanks to the quinoa, chicken, kale, and beans, so it'll really fill you up. Even better, it's a dump-and-go recipe with just two steps. Win-win!

Swap out your oatmeal

If you take a look at cooked quinoa with its flaky, rice-like consistency, it's hard to believe that it could actually pass for oatmeal, but don't write off quinoa breakfast bowls just yet. By simmering cooked quinoa in water or milk (I like almond milk), those little grains will absorb even more liquid, break down a little, and take on a beautifully creamy consistency.

This heavenly warm quinoa and berry bowl from Wendy Polisi could pass for a hearty breakfast or decadent dessert. This recipe simmers cooked quinoa with fresh berries and coconut nectar for a sweetly comforting breakfast bowl. Feel free to throw in any of your favorite oatmeal toppings such as raisins, cinnamon, slivered almonds, or dried cranberries.

Quinoa pancakes anyone?

I love a good healthy swap. I'd even consider myself a connoisseur of healthy pancake recipes. Coconut flour pancakes? Check. Almond flour pancakes? My favorite. Whole wheat pancakes? Please, challenge me. But even I never dreamed of the day I could combine one of my all-time favorite grains with my Sunday morning meal. Quinoa adds a rich texture and nutty flavor to any type of pancakes.

These quinoa pancakes from The Patrician Palette are topped with homemade blueberry maple syrup. Cooked quinoa is combined with traditional pancake ingredients to give you a hearty breakfast and a punch of protein with your starchy goodness. Top with blueberries and walnuts for a superfood breakfast that will last you all day.

Beef up your salad

If you've been eating the same bland iceberg lettuce salad for lunch everyday, it's really time to switch things up. A make-ahead salad doesn't have to be bland or boring. Next time you're packing your lunch for work, sprinkle in some cooked quinoa to fill you up and keep you from hitting that 4 p.m. slump at your desk.

This Asian quinoa salad from Two Peas and Their Pod uses quinoa as its base and tops it with red cabbage, edamame, carrots, red pepper, cucumbers, and cilantro. It looks perfect for a hearty lunch or light dinner. Not only are all the colors gorgeous, this is an easy dish to bring to a dinner party or a barbecue.

If you'd prefer a warm salad, try quinoa with buttery roasted vegetables from The Pioneer Woman. Start with cooked quinoa, then add slow-roasted vegetables and warm buttery dressing. This salad could be a delicious vegetarian main course or a fun side dish at the holidays.

For your sweet tooth

Quinoa in sweets? I'll admit, as much as I love quinoa, I've never had it past dinner. However, there are thousands of recipes out there featuring quinoa with rich chocolate, creamy almond butter, and delightful berries. For a dessert recipe, I'd recommend rinsing the quinoa first to avoid any unwelcome bitterness. I'm willing to try it if you are!

This recipe for quinoa brownies from Womanista Wellness replaces some of the flour with cooked quinoa. It even cuts down on the fats and butter by using pureed butternut squash! Too good to be true? Better try them to find out.

Baking macarons has always intimidated me, but I think even I could handle these sweet little quinoa coconut macarons from Amy Green. With just a handful of ingredients, these cookies are crunchy on the outside thanks to toasted coconut and melty on the inside. They're also gluten and refined sugar-free.