Someday I might not feel like eating a quinoa salad…but today is not that day! Quinoa isn’t new on the scene at this point. And I think we all know there’s no shortage of recipes out there. But I finally wrote down one of my favorite versions to share on the blog. Keep reading to see more!
Quinoa is, and probably always will be, a staple in our house. It’s just so EASY! I’ve been known to cook up a small bowl, throw some spinach or frozen veggies into the mix, melt some butter, and call it a meal. It’s basically my grown-up, slightly more food conscious version of mac & cheese in a box.
This recipe here is one of my all time favorite quinoa salads. I first tried it years ago when I was teaching cooking classes in my community nutrition job. It was such a hit, we didn’t have any leftovers the first night we tried it! Over time, it’s morphed more than once and still turns out slightly differently every time I make it. But I’m convinced that’s one of the fun parts about home cooking, plus it gives me a chance to use up any veggies that are about to go bad.
I’m not under the illusion that folks are visiting my blog, copying or printing recipes word for word, and following the directions exactly as they’re written. If you are…huge thanks 🙂
But I think most people are like me, in that they’ll check out a blog to get inspired. We want to see ideas that look great, sound realistic, and aren’t overly complicated. After all, we all have crazy busy lives and if we’re running to the store every day searching for unusual ingredients or specialty cooking tools, it’s no longer practical or convenient to cook at home!
So I’m rounding up a few of my favorite strategies to make home cooking more simple. They can all be used in this recipe, but the sky is the limit! I use these kitchen hacks all the time for any number of recipes of main entrees, side dishes, or snacks.
- This recipe calls for bell peppers in three colors…this is completely optional. The colors don’t matter so much as the fact that you’re adding a hefty amount of non-starchy veggies. So if all you have is red because that’s what was on sale 5 for $5 this week, or you only have two instead of three, so be it!
- Red onion: I like these because the flavor is more intense, but I’m totally into onions. If you’re not one of those people that likes to smell like a dragon for the rest of the night, use half the amount, swap for a more mild yellow or white onion, or skip altogether.
- Fresh or frozen: Some night we have the time, energy, and interest in chopping veggies for meals. Other nights, not so much. If that sounds like you, don’t overlook the value of using frozen vegetables instead of fresh. Nutritionally, they’re the same. And might be friendlier for your grocery budget, too. Frozen peas, carrots, edamame, or other mixes could be quickly thawed and mixed in with the quinoa in the last few minutes of cooking.
- Plant based or Team Omnivore? This recipe is vegan to start with but can be a blank canvas for adding additional sources of protein. Chicken, pork, beef, or seafood can be added to your bowl at the time you sit down to eat – just be sure to store separately if you plan to use it for leftovers. You want to be able to reheat the protein fully in the interest of food safety.
- Mr. Street Smart is a big fan of cheese. He’s always sprinkling something or other on top of meals I prepare, whether or not that’s intended to be part of the recipe or not! So here’s some tasty cheese pairings he would include: shredded mozzarella, pepper jack, or cheddar jack cheese, or cojita. He’s also been known to drizzle copious amounts of crema on top of dishes like this…
- Black beans are a pantry staple for me, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can sub chickpeas, kidney beans, or pinto beans (among many others).
Dressing and Herbs
- Check your spice cabinet beforehand and see which bottles are dwindling down to the last little bit. A dressing like this can be the perfect mixing pot of flavors in the same family. Garlic, chile powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and dried herbs can all be used in place of, or in addition to, the cumin this recipe calls for.
- Cilantro is a summer staple but if you’re trying this in the colder months or cilantro prices are higher than what you want to pay, opt for something like parsley or green onions (use slightly less and adjust for taste) that is more available and price stable year round.
- Because we’re layering flavors here, it doesn’t matter much whether the citrus is coming from fresh squeezed or that weird neon colored bottle…yeah, I said it. I use that from time to time, especially if I only need a little bit for a recipe. And if you’re not a fan of lime, lemon is a good substitute for this dressing.
So there you have it! Plenty of options to take this recipe and make it your own. Go crazy!
And yeah, here’s the actual recipe.
Confetti Quinoa Salad
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup sweet corn kernels
1 small red onion, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 limes, cut into wedges
FOR THE DRESSING
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the water in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and bring to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool, the gently fluff. While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, chop the veggies and cilantro.
In a large bowl, add the chopped veggies and cilantro. Toss to combine. When the quinoa has cooled, add to the bowl and mix well to combine.
Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small measuring cup. Stir with a fork to combine and adjusting flavor as needed. Pour over the quinoa mixture and fold together until the dressing is evenly distributed.
Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. May be served warm or chilled.
If needed, the quinoa could be cooked ahead of time. The peppers may also be diced beforehand.
And here’s a few of my other recipes that could easily swap quinoa for other grains!
- Thai Freekeh Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
- Orzo with Lemon Chimichurri Sauce
- Sweet & Spicy 30 Minute Curry