A reader recently sent me an email saying that no matter what she does she cannot change her family’s mind about quinoa. They just don’t like it. She asked that I give her some suggestions as to how to make quinoa taste better, or even perhaps, help her find ways to hide it so that they won’t notice that it is there.
Well, I don’t know about “hiding it” per se but I have a few good tips on ways to make quinoa flavorful. I have been using this ancient superfood in my everyday cooking for over 8 years now. As a result, I have learned a thing or two about how to make it taste good.
In this post, I will share my favorite ways on how to jazz up quinoa with the hopes that even the pickiest eaters in your family will give it a chance. I will also answer some questions as to what it tastes like, how to spice it up, and what to add in it to make it irresistible along with my most flavorful quinoa recipes for inspiration.
After you apply my foolproof tips, you will be able to confidently use this ancient grain in your daily cooking.
What Does Quinoa Taste Like
I think the taste of quinoa is somewhere between oatmeal and brown rice with a mild earthy and nutty flavor that pairs with just about anything. When I am creating recipes with quinoa I think of it as a blank canvas or as a messenger to carry over the flavors that I want to have in my dish.
It also has a nice crunch to it as it is actually a seed rather than a grain. When cooked properly, it provides a bit of crunch, a bit of creamy and a bit of nutty taste all at the same time.
How To Season Quinoa To Make It Taste Better
Now that we covered what it tastes like, let’s talk about a few ways to make quinoa flavorful:
- Rinse quinoa before cooking: If you have cooked quinoa before you probably heard a lot of chefs suggest giving quinoa a good quick rinse before cooking. This is because quinoa has a bitter-tasting natural coating called saponin. Essentially, it is a self-defense mechanism for the plant to protect itself from fungi, birds, insects, and other foraging animals in its natural habitat.
While virtually all quinoa that is sold in the markets today has already had the saponin removed with various techniques some people might taste the bitterness that may have remained after processing. That is why I recommend placing quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and giving it a good rinse under cold water until the water runs clear.
- Toast quinoa with a little bit of oil: It might be a few minutes of extra work but toasting quinoa unlocks its nutty flavor and even produces fluffier cooked quinoa. For additional flavor, I like to toast quinoa with a bit of oil (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or even butter would work) over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until it is lightly browned.
- Cook in vegetable, beef, or chicken broth: Cooking quinoa in vegetable, beef, or chicken stock is probably the easiest way to flavor it. You can simply swap the water with your choice of stock and use the same amount to cook your quinoa. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can also use half water and half stock.
- Season the liquid well if you are using water: While there is nothing wrong with cooking quinoa in water, similar to pasta and rice, it needs to be seasoned well. I personally add a ½ teaspoon kosher salt for every cup of raw quinoa I cook.
- Add some seasoning into the pot during the cooking process: You can easily up the flavor of quinoa by using some of the basic pantry items. I find that some of the best seasonings for quinoa are cumin, dried bay leaf, turmeric, and salt, and black pepper. I also love to flavor it with fresh garlic and herbs such as parsley, dill, and cilantro.
You can add the seasonings of your choice into the pot at the same time with the liquid and cook it as directed. Alternatively, you can also add them in after your quinoa is cooked.
Seasoned Quinoa Recipe Ideas for Inspiration
Below are a few examples of well-seasoned quinoa recipes from my archives and a few of my tips on how I use seasonings and spices to flavor quinoa in my everyday cooking. Click on the recipe name to take you to the full post.
- Lemon Herb Quinoa: This is one of my go-to side dishes to serve with meat. It is made by cooking quinoa with onion and garlic and then mixing it with lemon juice, lemon zest, and fresh parsley.
- Quinoa Lentil recipe: Cooking quinoa and green lentils together is a great way to flavor otherwise tasteless quinoa. In this simple salad recipe, I cooked them together while I was preparing the rest of the salad ingredients.
- Mexican Quinoa: As the name suggests, for this recipe I was going after Mexican flavors. Therefore, I flavored it with various spices (i.e. ground coriander and ground cumin), vegetables (i.e. black beans, jalapeno, corn), and garnishes (i.e. cilantro and avocado) that inspired by the Mexican cuisine.
- Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad: The traditional tabouli recipe is made with bulgur. However, I think with its mild and neutral taste quinoa is a great alternative. In this recipe, I used fresh herbs like Italian parsley, mint, and dill along with a simple lemon juice and garlic vinaigrette to flavor it.
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad: Adding a few cups of cooked quinoa into salads is my favorite way of using it. In this recipe, I made a salad using classic Mediterranean ingredients like chickpeas, bell peppers, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese. At the last minute, I added a few cups of cooked quinoa to make it more wholesome, protein-packed and filling. Want more? Check out all my Quinoa Salad Recipes.
- Quinoa Porridge: This is one of my favorite ways to serve quinoa in the morning for a plant-protein packed breakfast. Cooking with coconut milk and topped off with seasonal fruit, it is a simple breakfast to make when you need a break from oatmeal.
- Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad and Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts: I also love roasting a bunch of vegetables and tossing them with cooked quinoa for a quick wholesome and healthy lunch or a side dish for dinner.
- Quinoa Chili and Quinoa and Vegetable Stew: Adding a cup of uncooked quinoa into soups and stews is a great way to incorporate it into your meals.
- Quinoa Sweet Potato Bowl: You cannot share a list of healthy quinoa recipes and not mention this quinoa bowl recipe. Perfectly flavored with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans and drizzled with yogurt tahini dressing, it is ready in 30 minutes.
What Goes With Quinoa:
Before I let you go, I also wanted to share a few recipes that I serve quinoa with. Similar to other grains like pasta, bulgur, black rice, and wild rice, I think with its short cooking time that requires no advance planning, quinoa makes the perfect side dish.
I love serving quinoa with meat dishes such as:
- Ground Turkey Meatloaf or Turkey Meatballs
- Chicken Fricassee
- Mediterranean Lemon Chicken
- Ina Garten’s Pot Roast
There you have it, friends. These are all my tips and tricks on how to spice up your quinoa. I hope you’ll try a few of them and even figure out your own ways to serve this incredibly versatile ancient superfood to your family on the regular.
Seasoned Quinoa Recipe
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1 small onion or 2 small shallots ¾ cups chopped, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- 1 ½ cups raw quinoa rinsed and drained
- 3 cups of water vegetable broth or chicken stock would also work
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Zest of a lemon
- 3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh Italian parsley chopped – plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons fresh or dried thyme chopped
- ¼ cup sliced almonds lightly toasted
- 2 small sliced radishes optional
- Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add in the shallots (or onion) and ground cumin. Saute mixing constantly until shallots are translucent or softened 5-6 minutes.
- Add in the minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
- Stir in the quinoa and toast (or sautee), stirring constantly, for a minute. Add in the water, salt, and black pepper. Give it a stir. Put the lid on. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and there are tiny holes on the surface of the quinoa.
- Turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes with the lid on.
- Fluff the now-cooked quinoa with a fork.
- Add in lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, thyme, sliced almonds, and sliced radishes if using.
- Give it a gentle toss and serve while it is still warm.
If you want to make this seasoned quinoa side dish ahead of time:
- Cook the quinoa according to instructions in the recipe.
- Let it cool to room temperature.
- Place it in an airtight container and keep in the fridge. It should keep fresh up to 4 days.
- When ready to serve, warm it up in a saucepan (or microwave).
- Add in the quinoa seasonings, i.e. lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, thyme, sliced almonds, and radishes in the end.
- Give it a toss and serve.