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The How-To Guide: Cook Perfect Quinoa

Heirlooms & Avocados Quinoa Salad | Photo by Randy Mayor and Mandie Mills

Quinoa is hot. The gluten-free, protein-packed whole grain remains one of the most popular ingredients on our web site and Pinterest boards. Month after month, you guys light up the search fields, looking for our best tips on cooking with quinoa.

So how do you cook quinoa [KEEN-wa]? It's not quite like pasta where you boil water, cook pasta to al dente, and then drain. No, quinoa is more like rice--add the right ratio of water to grains and let the grains absorb it all slowly over low heat. But what is the right ratio? It's a discussion we've had around the tasting table many times, especially in recent weeks as we're working on several new quinoa recipes.

Conventional wisdom suggests a simple 2-to-1 ratio. However, we think that leaves grains a bit soggy and watered down. In her book "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals," (which we chose as one of the best cookbooks of the past 25 years) Maria Speck calls for a 1 3/4-to-1 ratio. We tried that and thought it was still a bit damp, but it was getting closer to ideal.

The sweet spot: 1 1/2-to-1. That's 1 1/2 cups of water to every 1 cup of quinoa.

Here's how you cook perfect quinoa:

1. Thoroughly rinse your quinoa under cold water, and drain it in a fine-mesh sieve. Better yet, let the quinoa soak for about 15 minutes in cold water, then drain the grains through a fine-mesh sieve. Quinoa has a natural protective coating called saponin. If you don't rinse it well, the quinoa will be bitter because of this coating. Much of the quinoa sold in the United States is pre-rinsed. If the box or bin does not say the quinoa is pre-rinsed, assume it's not and rinse it anyway. An extra rinse or soak won't hurt the quinoa or affect the cooking process.

2. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and the rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. You'll know the quinoa is finished cooking when it appears as if each grain has "popped" open. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork. Yield: About 3 cups.

For a tasty change, try cooking your quinoa in unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson) instead of water. The stock imparts a lot of flavor to the quinoa without big nutritional changes.

Last year, we tasted several different brands of boxed quinoa for our Taste Test Awards. See our winner and runner-up here. Plus, find a collection of 15 quinoa recipes.

Have your own tips for cooking or flavoring quinoa? Share them in the comments. We'd love to hear!