How to Make Quinoa Salad Without A Recipe

September  2, 2013

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: How to make any quinoa salad, using whatever ingredients you like, in 5 steps flat.

How to Make Quinoa Salad Without a Recipe on Food52

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This is my secret weapon for never, ever eating a boring or otherwise unsatisfying lunch. I practically live on this.

Quinoa prepared this way also provides the launch pad for casual dinner party sides that your guests will adore. For easy weeknight dinners, we like this with just a few chopped tomatoes stirred in, along with a handful of arugula -- used as an herb, really -- to serve with grilled meats, shrimp and sausages. 

How to Make Quinoa Salad Without A Recipe

1. Wash the quinoa thoroughly under cold, running filtered water for about a minute. This gets rid of the bitter taste some quinoa otherwise will have. Black, red, or white quinoa will all work.

How to Make Quinoa Salad Without a Recipe on Food52

2. Put the quinoa into a heavy saucepan with twice its volume of water or stock -- I use a fragrant corn stock made from the inside husks of recently picked summer corn for this -- along with a crushed, but intact, clove of garlic, and a good pinch of salt. Give it a good stir.


3. Bring to a boil; then, reduce to a low boil and let it cook for about 15 minutes, or until all the water or stock is absorbed, and the little white rings on the quinoa have popped up.

Quinoa Salad


4. While the quinoa is still hot, fish out the garlic clove, and immediately stir in any finely chopped alliums you want to mellow. One scallion per quarter cup of dry quinoa works well. You can also finely chop the cooked garlic and throw it back in, but that’s optional. Add a couple generous splashes of vinegar -- I use about a tablespoon of vinegar for every quarter cup of dry quinoa but then, I really like vinegar -- and fluff up the quinoa with a fork. Taste it, and add more salt if necessary.

Quinoa Salad

5. Let the quinoa sit, covered, until cool and then, stir in a few tablespoons of finely chopped herbs. (We like parsley or cilantro, or both.) Follow that with a generous drizzle of the tastiest extra virgin olive oil you own, and a few grindings of nice black pepper. Taste just before serving, and add more vinegar, too, if it's not quite bright enough. This keeps for about four days in the fridge.

Quinoa Salad

This tastes delicious as is, but also provides the perfect blank canvas for a side or main dish salad. Stir in any combination of the following: chopped roasted or grilled vegetables, corn kernels (either raw or cooked), chopped cherry or heirloom tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, avocado or peppers, or marinated vegetables or olives.

A handful of toasted pine nuts or pepitas, or a small chunk of feta or blue, crumbled, goes well. Add whatever other chopped fresh herbs or acids, e.g., lemon or lime juice or sherry vinegar, strike your fancy. Have some leftover grilled shrimp, fish, or chicken? Cut into bite-sized pieces and add that, too, if you like. The possibilities are endless.

More: For more ideas, browse the entries for Your Best Quinoa Recipe!

Quinoa Salad

Still looking for a recipe? Here are some for inspiration:

Photos by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Midge
  • Renee B
    Renee B
  • Ruth McAllister
    Ruth McAllister
  • Sarah
  • Alice Gardner
    Alice Gardner

Written by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)


Midge September 26, 2014
Thanks so much for an excellent post AJ. I've been hesitant to jump back on the quinoa bandwagon ever since I made an inedible mushy batch, but your directions yielded a super delicious side dish to roast chicken last night. I've a feeling I'll be making versions of this again and again. p.s. looking forward to making your chicken and mushrooms on toast with the leftovers from my roast tonight :).
AntoniaJames September 26, 2014
So great to hear, Midge. Thank you for your kind words. (And I hope you enjoy the chicken and mushrooms on toast -- one of my all-time favorite dinners from leftovers.) Cheers! ;o)
Renee B. September 3, 2014
Just made this for lunch and it was delicious. Red quinoa, apple cider vinegar, scallions, parsley, diced tomatoes (from the garden), avocado, walnuts, feta, and kalamata olives. As hard as I tried, I couldn't wait for it to fully cool before adding most of the ingredients. I will make this again and again. Thanks, Antonia!
AntoniaJames September 3, 2014
Thank you so much, Renee B! My mouth is watering just reading your description. I'm so glad it worked out. Cheers! ;o) P.S. I'm making a note of the ingredients you used. It sounds simply perfect, as we often eat grain/quinoa salads + simple soup + fruit dessert for supper.
Ruth M. February 6, 2014
Sarah, try using apple cider vinegar.
Sarah February 6, 2014
Thanks, Ruth! I even have that one in my kitchen already. :)
Sarah February 6, 2014
What kinds of vinegar do you use? I'm a pretty novice cook and not sure what would work best.
Alice G. November 6, 2013
Grain salads are great, but quinoa provides the extra protein I need to make it a whole meal. The best thing is that it can be hot or cold, whichever tickles your fancy. I like mine with lemon juice, olive oil green onion and feta- both warm and cold.
stitchinfox October 9, 2013
I make a cup of Quinoa weekly and have it ready to go in my refrig. I nuke it to heat it and add arugula or any green, avocado, goat cheese, green onions, grape tomatoes, left over cooked veggies or fruit(raspberries, grapes, apple, pear)or nuts. Then I splash it with avocado oil and white balsamic vinegar or Lemon Honey or...The possibilities are totally endless...I eat it for breakfast as a hot cereal...Love, love, love it!!!
Susan September 9, 2013
I also use QUINOA as an extender for meat sauces and for taco meat! The family cannot tell the difference in taste but can tell by the look of the little tails! I now use 1/2 pound of ground beef and 1 or 2 cups of prepared QUINOA! I believe that I can continue to minimize the portion of meat and add even more QUINOA! HEY! Even my 18 year old grandson loves it!
Susan September 9, 2013
I put leftover QUINOA, fresh or leftover sauteed veggies such as onions, peppers, broccoli, etc., into a low carb tortilla shell that I have spread with hummus, dijon mustard, and nuts and/or seeds or both! Makes for a quick, filling, and nutritious meal! I love the nutty taste of QUINOA and the protein and nutritional value!
CottageGourmet September 8, 2013
We eat a lot of quinoa and consider it as you do, a blank canvas -- but this puts everything into a really pretty frame. Thank you!
phyllis September 8, 2013
I'm trying to lose 10 pounds and, for me, lunch is the hardest to control, so I boil up a pot of Quinoa, bulgar or faro put in the refrigerator and add chopped up raw vegetables for a delicious healthy lunch. Thanks for sharing this.
Ruth M. September 8, 2013
It's also really delicious with cooked green lentils, lemon juice and curry paste or powder. Thanks for posting.
harriet September 8, 2013
Quinoa, like bulgar, has so many variations. I usually add chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes, cukes (any kind), chopped garlic, celery, lime juice, kosher salt, olive oil. Mix it up the day before, and when ready to serve, taste and add more kosher salt and/or juice and olive oil.
Fairmount_market September 3, 2013
Thanks so much for a great post. This will be the backdrop for tomorrow's left over grilled vegetables and corn.
AntoniaJames September 3, 2013
Thank you so much, F_m. I hope you all like it. As I mentioned in the head note, I practically live on this stuff . . . we have found it quite handy for (very) quick bean and quinoa burgers, too!
cookinginvictoria September 2, 2013
This is such a great post, AJ! Quinoa and salads made with grains have been some of our favorite make-ahead dishes to eat this summer. I love all of the thoughtful, helpful tips here, such as cooking the quinoa itself in a flavorful stock (just made corn stock last week for a quinoa soup and it was delicious!) and mixing the aromatics and acid into the cooked quinoa while it is still warm. I always look forward to your excellent writing, AJ -- so wonderful to see your work featured as part of the Not Recipes column! :)
AntoniaJames September 3, 2013
Thanks, cookinginvictoria. If you make it with corn stock, you'll find yourself eating it right out of the pot and asking yourself why you didn't make a double batch. Putting the vinegar in the warm quinoa is a carryover from my all-time favorite potato salad -- "German potato salad" is what my mother called it -- made by tossing the hot potatoes with vinegar. They both absorb the vinegar. And the scallions . . . well, I'm just not a fan of raw onions of any kind, so the scallions get cooked a bit when folded in right away. ;o)