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NTM Tuesday: Quinoa

When I first started this bento journey in 2007, I knew I’d never make it if I didn’t (1) learn to cook and (2) expand my palate.  Before bento, I was a very limited eater.  I still am in some ways, but have grown to like other things.  This comes from trial and era.  Almost nearly as soon as the blog started, I began to talk about “new-to-me” foods.  These were foods I had tried for the first time or were retrying to see if I could grow to like them.  Quinoa fell into the first category.



I first purchased quinoa in February 2007, just 4 short months after I’d started Not Exactly Bento.  I was looking for a substitute for white rice.  I’m not a huge fan of white rice to begin with, but I live in an area where it’s cuisine often calls on rice to be a part of the dish.  I had heard of people using whole grains as a sub for white rice and was wondering which ones were used.  I knew I didn’t want to use brown rice for a variety of reasons.  Then I ran across a mention of quinoa.  If you want background information on quinoa as a grain, I’m going to refer you to the Ancient Harvest company website.  I have no affiliation with this company.  This is where I first got some of my information quinoa from, since that was the first brand of quinoa I purchased.  I now buy it in bulk.

Quinoa ended up being a big win on the new-to-me food scale.  It was easy to cook.  In fact, it was easier to cook than rice for me.  It also takes very little time to cook, which is a big plus.  It had an easy ratio to remember (1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid).  It freezes extremely well.  Sometimes, I’ll cook a large batch of quinoa and freeze a portion of it for quick future defrosting and cooking.  Most of all, I liked the way it tasted.  Quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor.  The only thing going against it is that the grains are very small, making it not the greatest substitute for rice sometimes.  Don’t try quinoa thinking you’re getting an exact substitute for rice.  You aren’t.  It is a nice change of pace though.

Cooking quinoa is super simple.  All you need is a bit of quino and liquid to really get things going.  You’ll also need a pot with a nice, tight-fitting lid.  To cook quinoa, you need 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water.  This means 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.  I normally coook a 1/2 a cup of quinoa at a time for just me.  For my liquid, I like to split it in half between regular water and vegetable stock.  The vegetable stock gives a great flavor to the quinoa and I find I often don’t need to add in extra salt this way.

Most quinoa that is sold at grocery stores have been prewashed for you (or so I have read).  Naturally, quinoa has a bitter-tasting coating on it (saponin).  This bitter coating protects the plant.  I tend to wash my quinoa before use.  Place your quinoa into a strainer with small holes (like a metal mesh strainer) and run water through it until the water runs clear.    Shake out the excess water and dump the wet grain into your pot (as shown below).  There is no need to try to dry the grain after the cleaning process.  Also, there is no real need to reduce the amount of liquid in the ratio (or so I’ve found).

In a pot, place a your quinoa.  In this example I’m giving, I’m using a half a cup of quinoa.  Using the 1:2 ratio, I need a cup of liquid now.

Pour in 1/2 cup of water.

Pour in a 1/2 cup of vegetable stock.  You can flavor this with chicken or beef stock instead.  Just substitute a 1/2 cup of that for the vegetable stock if you so wish.

To cook quinoa, you want to place the heat on medium-high (which is a number 6/7 on my stove’s dial) and bring it to a boil.  Once it begins to boil, immediately throw a top on the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer (a 2 or 3 on my stove).

You want to cook your quinoa until the water is nearly boiled out.  The total cook time for quinoa is normally 15 -20 minutes depending on how much you’re cooking.  Don’t be surprised after you boil it if you find a few dark bits in the quinoa (as seen above).  Quinoa also comes in a red variety, and I find sometimes you get a few of the darker kernels in the mix naturally.

When the water is boiled out, you might find that the grains seem a bit too wet.  To remedy this, you need to fluff and steam the quinoa.  Using a fork, turn the quinoa over in the pot, which is what I’m calling the fluff.  Let this sit on the simmer setting that your pot is already set at for 3-5 minutes, checking to make sure the bottom doesn’t get too brown.  If necessary, stir the grains around one more time.

You’ll notice after about 3-5 minutes the grains look much drier.  They are now ready to eat or use in another recipe.  You can also let the quinoa cool at this point and then package to freeze.

This Photo Friday, I’m sharing with you a way I like to eat quinoa that I’ve dubbed in my head as the Quinoa Scramble.  It is a take on the egg rice my mom  used to make for us when we were kids.

Until then, be the bento everyone!  Have a lovely Tuesday.


  1. Sarah says:

    i’ve been wanting to try quinoa. great information! i’ll look for it at my next trip to the supermarket.

  2. Christine says:

    Well now I think I need to try quinoa, it sounds really good and I’m sure Ryan would be happy to eat something besides rice once in a while… I wonder if it’s possible to do in a rice steamer…

    • Jenn says:

      Yes, you can do this in a rice steamer. I’ve cooked it that way as well. You still use the 1:2 ratio. Just use the steamer instead. Just watch it as it cooks and when the water is nearly boiled out do the same thing. Take the lid off, fluff the quinoa, and let it sit in the steamer for a few minutes to steam off the last of the liquid.

      I know steamers are supposed to cook by way of moisture level or something, and that’s how they tell when to kick off. The only problem with that is that I don’t find they kick off quite when they need to with the quinoa. So I’d just watch it.

      Quinoa is done when it’s edges take on a slightly translucent color and the outer ring of the grain (called the germ) is really noticeable or has separated from the grain itself.

  3. Susan says:

    hmmmm, I’m still not sur if I’d like it. I do love rice but I think I need to try this when out somewhere first befor I run off and buy a big bag!

    • Jenn says:

      My comment to you would be, see if there is anywhere you can purchase it by the pound near you. I know you don’t live in the states, so I have no idea if you have such a store near you. I can purchase it this way at Whole Foods’ bulk section. So, either I could buy several pounds at once, or I could purchase just 1/4 pound if I want (just enough to try).

  4. Thien-Kim says:

    I was just going to say that I make quinoa in my rice cooker. I don’t even use a steam basket (my japanese model doesn’t come with one). I like cooking in there because it won’t stick to the bottom link in my stainless steel pots. Also, I’ll throw frozen veggies in it when right after it clicks over to warm, when it’s still steaming. Like frozen peas or corn.

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks for commenting on it Kim! The rice steamer is a great way to cook this with little effort.

      My rice steamer does have a steam basket. I sometimes pop in frozen veggies half way through the cooking process. Then, I just mix it all together at the end.

      Now, I want to go cook something in my rice steamer! LOL!

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