Just say no to boring side dishes! This Instant Pot Quinoa Pilaf is tasty on its own and even better with lots of fresh toppings like crisp-tender asparagus, creamy avocado, and crunchy pine nuts! Vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free.
A lot of people think they don’t like quinoa, but they’re wrong. They just haven’t had it cooked correctly. Bold statement? Maybe. But I’m not afraid to speak the truth. I hereby issue this challenge to the Quinoa Haters – try this quinoa pilaf, and then thank me for helping you discover that this seed actually IS worth eating. Oh, and yep, quinoa is a seed.
So, I realize I’ve set the bar high here, but I stand by my claim after having gotten virtual thank-you notes from so many people who have tried this method and become converts. So let’s dive in to how to make this tasty dish.
How to Cook Quinoa Pilaf
1. Dry toast the quinoa in the Instant Pot on the saute setting.
Toasting the quinoa before cooking brings out a nutty flavor and also does something magical to the consistency. It’s similar to how rice is sometimes toasted before cooking. It takes less than 5 minutes, and is totally worth it. Set the toasted quinoa aside in a bowl so you have the Instant Pot insert free for the next steps.
2. Dry toast the pine nuts.
I love how this dish is all done in the Instant Pot, even though it has multiple steps. Since you’ve dry toasted the quinoa, the cooking insert is already hot, so it will make quick work of toasting the pine nuts. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often, until you start to see some browning and your nose detects the delectable fragrance of pine nuts (you can also sub another nut or seed of your choice!). Set the pine nuts aside in a small bowl.
3. Saute the asparagus.
Ok, now we’re done with the dry stuff, so we can move on to the wet! Saute some chopped asparagus (or broccoli) in a couple of tablespoons of water, and then plunge it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep it bright green.
It’s totally normal to display asparagus in a flower vase, right?
4. Saute onion and garlic in the Instant Pot.
This how the quinoa gets seasoned, and it adds flavor without noticeable onion pieces, because it’s cooked under pressure with the quinoa. Sauteeing it now just helps bring out the flavor. I sometimes use oil and sometimes not, but I always sprinkle in a bit of salt when cooking to help bring out the moisture from the onions. You can leave the onions and garlic in the cooking insert, because it’s finally time to cook the quinoa! I know you were getting impatient. Oh wait, I lied. One more thing.
5. Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer.
Do you have to rinse quinoa before cooking? Quinoa naturally has saponins coating the seeds which can leave a bitter taste. No fun. Rinsing the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer removes the saponins. Luckily, some packaged brands (like Kirkland from Costco) already come pre-rinsed, which saves a step! NOW it’s time to add the quinoa to the pot and get cooking.
5. Cook the quinoa at high pressure for 1 minute.
The key to absolutely perfect quinoa in the Instant Pot is the Formula of Ones:
One cup of quinoa + One cup of liquid + One minute of cooking time = Light and fluffy quinoa
Now, I need to be clear about something. One minute of cooking time is actually more like 20 minutes of cooking time. That’s because it takes a few minutes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure, then the 1 minute cooking time passes, then you need to allow 10-15 minutes for the pressure to release naturally. But that’s ok, because all of that time is completely hands-off, giving you time to catch up on your favorite Netflix show. Or do the responsible thing and do the dishes. I think you know what to do.
For this particular recipe, you can use water or vegetable broth. I use two cups of quinoa, and therefore 2 cups of vegetable broth. But I still cook it for 1 minute. Quinoa math.
Video: Instant Pot Quinoa Pilaf (cook along with me!)
Ok, friends, now you have perfectly seasoned, savory, light and fluffy quinoa, and it’s time to make it fancy fresh with some toppings!
Here are just a few suggestions:
- Toasted pine nuts (from step 2)
- Steam-sauteed asparagus or broccoli (from step 3)
- A squeeze of fresh lemon
- Diced avocado
- Fresh herbs like dill, mint, parsley, or cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I add red chili flakes too!)
For all of you without Instant Pots, I know you’re asking, Beth, can I make this on the stovetop? Of course you can. The liquid/quinoa ratio is slightly different, as is the cooking time, but all of the other steps are the same (toasting the quinoa and pine nuts, cooking the asparagus, onions, and garlic, etc.). Use this perfect quinoa cooking method and you’ll be good to go!
So, quinoa-skeptics, I ask you. Do you accept the Quinoa Conversion Challenge? Tell me in the comments! For the rest of you, congratulations, now you have another way to enjoy this super seed. Happy cooking!
Instant Pot Quinoa Pilaf
- 2 cups quinoa
- 2 cups water or vegetable broth*
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced fine diced fine
- 3 garlic cloves, minced minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, or cashews
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces**
- 1 avocado, peeled and diced , peeled and diced
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped***
- Set Instant Pot to saute mode.
- Add quinoa and dry toast for 3-5 minutes until fragrant, stirring often.
- Remove quinoa to a fine-mesh sieve and rinse and drain throughly. Set aside.
- Still on saute mode, add the pine nuts and dry toast for 3-5 minutes until fragrant, stirring often.
- Add the asparagus to the Instant Pot along with two tablespoons of water and saute for 2-3 minutes until the asparagus is bright green and still crisp-tender. Remove to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Remove pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
- Saute the onions, garlic, and salt in the Instant Pot for 2-3 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir often to prevent the garlic from browning.
- Add the quinoa back to the Instant Pot along with the water or vegetable broth. Stir to combine.
- Cook on high pressure for 1 minute.
- Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, the use the release valve to allow the remaining pressure to escape.
- Strain the asparagus and remove any unmelted ice cubes.
- Remove the quinoa to a serving bowl and top with asparagus, avocado, toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, chopped dill, and a sprinkle of salt to taste.