Quinoa Salad Variations

I was writing this blog, today, March 30, 2020, and Googling a bit to see what fun facts I could share with y’all about quinoa, and I learned that March is quinoa month according to the Whole Grains Council! Who knew??? I, for one, did not, but that knowledge has inspired me to get this blog out the door before the sun sets on March!

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, has been all the rage for a number of years now, so you have more than likely tried it. Some love it, some hate it. Some just don’t know what to do with it. It’s a bit like rice, yet not. Want to know more? Read 5 things you didn’t know about quinoa!

There are a million and one things you can do with it, so if you are part of the Quinoa Club, this is just another set of options for your repertoire. Most of these will keep well for a few days in the fridge and the flavor will only develop more. For me, this is a great thing to make Sunday night and then take to work during the week.

The key to dishes like this is finding the ingredients that marry well together. I’ll be making one version for the sake of the photos (it is currently the COVID-19 2020 Quarantine, so I must make due with what I have in the house) but will give you ideas for others.

You always need to cook and cool the quinoa first.

It cooks just like rice, so you use double the liquid as quinoa. I would advise against just plain water. Now is the moment to let the otherwise bland quinoa being to suck up yummy flavor. Any stock (meat or veg) will work, you definitely want to salt the water (check if you stock has salt or not, so you don’t over salt), and you could even add a bouquet garni of herbs with flavors that will go well with your salad.

1 cup quinoa (there are different colors of quinoa, but the cook the same, so it does not matter which you choose.)
2 cups liquid


Rinse the quinoa off first.


Put it in a pot with room to expand and pour your liquid over it. Combine and stir once.

Put the lid on it. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cook until liquid has absorbed (20-30 minutes). I do like to taste it here to make sure it’s cooked. If the heat is too high, you may boil off the liquid, but the quinoa might still be too crunchy. If that’s the case, add a little more water and cook till that is gone. Once you’re happy, turn off the heat and toss with fork, but do not stir. Leave the lid off and let it cool. This will make about 3 cups.


Sometimes, I also like to try to add another protein (although technically, quinoa is already a complete protein) form if it makes sense. This might be beans, cheese, lentils or both. I just found this great page with info on all types of lentils, which are a great addition to this salad. For me, I tend to like the quinoa to be the star, so to the three cups of cooked quinoa, I might add, at most, 1 cup of lentils, but again, not an exact science.

After the quinoa has cooled, you will add the other ingredients. I’m not going to provide measurements because with salad, it is all just a matter of taste. Use what you have, and use as much or as little as you want.

As you mix an match, here are some tips:

  1. Use a combination of sweet and bitter (or not sweet).
  2. Include a form of fat (oil, nut, cheese).
  3. Cut the items to more-or-less the same size, and go for bite-sized pieces.
  4. Try not to combine too many flavors at once.
  5. I’m not vegan, so I’ve included cheese in some, but that is easily eliminated with no real need to substitute anything else.
  6. Always include fresh black pepper and salt as needed to taste.
  7. The dressing. You may find there is plenty of flavor without.
  8. Be creative!

Quarantine Salad

As I started to write this post, it became clear that it was going to be a challenge because I don’t have a lot of fresh produce right now. I haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week, and I have been doing a lot of cooking. This recipe was literally a, “What-do-I-have in-my-fridge recipe”, but I think it works, and it proves my point that this is NOT an exact science

Grated carrots (I had three very sad ones left in my produce drawer from my smoothies!)
Oranges (2 seemed to be the right number)
1/3 cup pepitas (what was left of a bag. They were supes stale, so I toasted them in a dry pan)

1/2 cup dried cranberries, which go nicely with the items I already had
1/4 of a red pepper (because that’s what I had)
About 2 cups of baby spinach cut into ribbons (this is maybe more than I would want, but it was what I had left in the bag, and it needed to be used)
Crumbled feta (This is about 1/4 of a block)
2 T each of orange juice and olive oil
Salt, pepper and freshly grated ginger


I combined it all with the cooled quinoa.


I have tasted it and it is good!

Here are some more variations to try. I have not tested most of these; they’re just ideas of flavors that I know go well. I make a version of this a lot, and I usually use what I have, so these ideas have come out of that trial and error.

Get creative and have fun–it will be ok!  

Fall Salad I

Dried cranberries
Crumbled blue cheese
Kale chopped in ribbons
Roasted walnuts
Diced pears
Brown lentils
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Rosemary and thyme are nice herbs for this one.

Fall Salad II

Cubes of oven-roasted butternut squash, pumpkin, yams (or other sweet potato)
Roasted pepitas or pumpkin seeds
Crumbled feta
Chopped celery
Green lentils
Balsamic vinegar and pumpkin seed or avocado oil
Sage and thyme are nice herbs for this one

Holiday salad

Dried cherries
Pomegranate seeds (I HATE crunching on pomegranate seeds, but if you don’t, add them to this one!)
Diced apples
Chopped celery
Black beluga lentils
Red wine vinegar and olive oil
Thyme will work here, as would a small amount of cloves, but probably not together.

Holiday Salad II

Oranges segmented and cut in half (be sure to take out any seeds)
THINLY sliced fennel
Roasted butternut squash
Pomegranate seeds
Slivered almonds
Chopped apples
Red wine vinegar and pumpkin oil

Super Salad

Dried and/or fresh blueberries
Kale chopped in ribbons
Slivered almonds
Chopped apples
Puy Lentils
Balsamic vinegar and avocado oil (you could add some blueberry preserves to this dressing for a nice touch.)

Roasted vegetable salad

*Roast the vegetables in olive oil with salt and pepper then and cool first
Roasted red peppers
Roasted (or pan caramelized onions)
Roasted garlic (roast the cloves whole and then smash up)
Roasted broccoli
Roasted zucchini
Roasted cherry or grape tomatoes (leave them whole)
Toasted Walnuts
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano. This is heartier, so it can take a heavier hand with the herbs.

Margarita-plus salad

Halved cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh spinach chopped in ribbons
Chopped cucumber
Fresh mozzarella
White cannellini beans
Red wine vinegar and olive oil
Fresh basil (alternatively, you could make a fresh pesto and toss it all in that)
* I LOVE avocado on this one, which is so not Italian! It has to be added just before serving and really does not store well, however.

Middle-Eastern Salad

Roasted eggplant
Roasted red pepper
Olives (be sure to remove the pits!)
Chick peas
Crumbled feta
Red wine vinegar and olive oil

Indian Salad

Roasted cauliflower (toss in salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric and olive oil to roast)
Roasted red peppers
Brown lentils
Desiccated, unsweetened coconut
Curry powder

Sun and earth salad

Roasted beets (if you have not tried roasted beets, you have not lived!)
Oranges segmented and cut in half (be sure to take out any seeds)
Sunflower seeds
Dried cranberries
Orange juice, balsamic vinegar and avocado oil

Mexican salad

Chopped tomatoes
Diced red onion
Chopped sweet bell pepper (any color)
Canned corn
Chopped canned chili peppers (totally optional!)
Chopped black olives
Black beans
Queso fresco or contija (Mexican cheeses)
Avocado (top with this just before serving)
Avocado oil and lime
Cilantro (if you like it)

Asian Salad

*A food processor is your friend on this one, but otherwise, good knife skills will work
Shredded cabbage (any color)
Grated carrots
Oranges segmented and cut in half (be sure to take out any seeds)
Super thinly sliced red peppers
Cashews or peanuts
Sesame seeds
Bean sprouts
Shredded broccoli (another option her is to roast broccoli florets for a contrast of flavor)
Puy lentils
Freshly grated ginger (go crazy here, more is more!)
Rice wine vinegar and sesame oil ( you could add about a tablespoon of peanut butter and some chili paste to your dressing)

Warm Earth Winter Salad

*For this one, don’t cool the quinoa. Combine it all while it is hot and serve warm.
Sautéd mushrooms (any variety or combinations. I like baby bella)
Sautéd onions
Sautéd garlic
Do those altogether with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine, which will create a dressing.
Green lentils (also still warm)
Toasted pine nuts
Baby spinach
Grated Parmesan cheese
Toss it all in one large bowl while everything is still warm, which will wilt the spinach. Serve still warm.

This is only the tip of the iceberg– you can literally try so many different combinations!  

Sometimes one’s own fear of ‘failure’ and insecurity about ones perceived ability to cook that keeps one from just going for it. You cannot mess up a salad, I promise! Try it. If the flavor combination doesn’t work well, ask, ‘why?’ Too sweet? Too bitter? Do two of the items clash? And next time, try something different. See what you have in your fridge and pantry, but resist the urge to throw EVERYTHING in. Try to think about each flavor that you want to enjoy and try not to overwhelm the palette.

Have fun thinking up new ways to use quinoa!

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