My Summer Quinoa Salad makes the perfect lunch or light dinner. It's vegetarian with a dairy-free option. It's also perfect for meal prep!
This healthy quinoa salad is perfect for summer for several reasons.
First, it takes advantage of summer produce like those perfectly sweet tomatoes you have growing in your garden (or you know, waiting for you at the farmer's market).
Second, it requires very little heat as both the quinoa and spinach cook quickly.
Finally, it comes together FAST! I love cooking, but Summer is not the time I want to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen. This recipe is straight from our Super Fast menus, which means it's quick and easy with a short ingredient list.
I hope you love it!
Summer Quinoa Salad
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 5 oz spinach
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
- 4 oz crumbled goat cheese (optional)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- S&P to taste
- 1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
- In a large pot bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil. Cover pot and lower heat to simmer. Cook ~20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Set aside to cool. Store.
- Halve 1 pint cherry tomatoes.
- Whisk together: 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar.
- In a large bowl toss cooked quinoa, 5 oz spinach leaves, halved cherry tomatoes and balsamic dressing.
- Top each serving w/ crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts (optional).
What is the nutrition like in this Summer Quinoa Salad?
Tomatoes (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K1, Potassium, Folate)
Due to their high antioxidant content and their high lycopene content, in particular, eating tomatoes may help reduce cancer risk. Redder tomatoes tend to have more lycopene so make sure yours are nice and ripe. Furthermore, eating tomatoes along with a source of fat, like the olive oil and pine nuts in this recipe, can help you absorb up to four times as much lycopene.
Spinach (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium)
Low in carbs and packed with fiber, spinach is great for your eye health and may help prevent inflammation. Several studies have also shown that eating spinach may help lower blood pressure.
Pine Nuts (Vitamin E, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Antioxidants, Omega-3 Fatty Acids)
Pine nuts are thought to be good for both your heart and your skin. Like other nuts, pine nuts may help improve cholesterol levels. Despite their name, pine nuts are actually seeds, rather than nuts. Due to their omega-3 content, they may also be beneficial for your brain.
Goat Cheese (Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Probiotics)
If dairy bothers your stomach, you may want to try goat cheese. Goat cheese, and particularly hard goat cheese, is easier on digestion due to differences in the protein structure and lowers levels of lactose.
Olive Oil (Monounsaturated Fats – Oleic Acid, Antioxidants, Vitamin E, Vitamin K)
Due to the type of fat it contains, oleic acid, olive oil may reduce inflammation. It also may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, stroke and heart disease. Make sure to get high quality extra virgin olive oil, as it retains more antioxidants and nutrients.
Balsamic Vinegar (Antioxidants, Probiotics)
Made from grape juice, balsamic vinegar contains antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol. It also contains probiotics that are good for healthy digestion. As with other types of vinegar, balsamic vinegar is also known as anti-glycemic. This means it can actually reduce blood sugar spikes when consumed with food.
Quinoa (Magnesium, Phosphorus, Folate, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Potassium)
One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein (including all 9 essential amino acids) and 15% daily value of iron, making it an excellent choice, especially for vegetarians. Quinoa is also naturally gluten free.
Do you have to rinse quinoa?
If you've made a lot of recipes with quinoa, you've likely seen the instruction to rinse your quinoa before cooking. The problem is, this can be super annoying due to quinoa's small size. So is it really necessary, do you have to rinse quinoa?
Why rinse quinoa?
Quinoa contains a coating called saponins, which can give quinoa a bitter, or even soapy, taste. Some people are really sensitive to this flavor, making un-rinsed quinoa taste bad to them.
There are two things to consider though.
First, some people really aren't bothered by the taste of saponins. Since rinsing quinoa is kind of a hassle, it may be worth it to try cooking up a small batch without rinsing and see if you actually notice a difference.
Second, most quinoa you buy in a package or box is pre-rinsed. Unless you buy quinoa from the bulk bins, the work of rinsing the quinoa has likely already been done for you.
So, basically, it's up to you. If you want to skip the annoying task of rinsing quinoa though, there's no harm in trying it.
How can I make this healthy quinoa salad a heartier main dish?
My healthy quinoa salad is a great main dish as-is, but if you want something heartier, there are a few simple ways to amp it up and make it more filling:
- Top with avocado: If you want to keep this vegetarian but make it even heartier, avocado is a delicious addition. If you prep this salad ahead, make sure to add the avocado right before eating so it stays fresh.
- Add chickpeas, white beans or kidney beans: If you eat beans, they're also a nice (and easy!) add-in and give the salad an extra protein boost.
- Add chicken: If vegetarian isn't your thing, chicken is a natural addition. Grilling the chicken will complement the summery flavors while also keeping your kitchen cool.
- Top with shrimp: Shrimp would also be really tasty with this quinoa salad!
What are some variations on this vegetarian quinoa salad?
In addition to adding some extra protein or healthy fats to make this salad even heartier, there are lots of fun and simple add-ins you can use if you feel like mixing it up.
One caveat here though – this salad is totally delicious as-is, so don't be afraid to keep it simple! Stacking your weekly meal plan with simple yet flavorful recipes is an excellent way to make cooking homemade meals more manageable.
That said, if you have a few extra ingredients or leftover veggies laying around, these would be great mix-ins for the salad:
- Finely diced red onion: For a little extra zing, add a bit of finely diced red onion. (Make sure you know how to efficiently chop an onion with my short how-to video here!)
- Toasted walnuts: If pine nuts are too pricey or just aren't your favorite, chopped toasted walnuts would be really tasty here too. Slivered almonds are another great choice!
- Fresh herbs: Basil, mint, parsley or chives would be equally delicious here. I love cooking with fresh herbs!
- Feta, parmesan or fresh mozzarella: I love goat cheese here, but use your favorite, or whatever you have in your fridge. You can also simply omit the cheese, the Summer quinoa salad still has plenty of flavor.
- Sliced kalamata olives: If you want to make this dish even more savory, try adding a few sliced kalamata olives.
- Diced bell pepper: You can really add any chopped veggie that you like here. Bell peppers, zucchini or shredded carrots would all be delicious.
- Fresh corn: Is there anything better than fresh corn on the cob? And did you know you don't even have to cook it? Simply slice the corn off the cob and toss it raw into the salad. Trust me on this one, it's so good.
- Grilled veggies: Toss any leftover grilled veggies into this salad, it's super versatile.
- Grilled peaches: If you've been following me long, you know I love grilled fruit! Grilled peaches would take this to the next level.
Is this a good meal prep quinoa salad?
Absolutely! This is the perfect meal prep quinoa salad.
You can prep the whole salad ahead, and then mix together when you're ready to serve. Make the quinoa and store it in the fridge. You can also halve the cherry tomatoes and store.
Lastly, make the balsamic vinaigrette and store it in the fridge. Make sure to let it come to room temperature before mixing with the salad.
When you're ready to serve, toss the quinoa with the spinach, tomatoes and balsamic dressing. Then top with goat cheese and pine nuts if you're using them.
You can also just make the whole salad ahead if you like, but it will taste a bit fresher if you wait to do the final step until soon before serving.
What are some other quick and easy healthy meals?
- Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps: This is another great, adaptable recipe perfect for warm weather.
- Cajun Shrimp: These zesty shrimp have only 6 ingredients and are full of flavor!
- Mix & Match Gluten Free Lunches: If you're looking for a simple lunch or dinner that comes together quickly, this is a great resource with plenty of healthy options.
And don't forget to try out our Super Fast menus if you haven't already! Subscribers get simple, healthy, seasonal recipes delivered to their inbox each week, along with an organized grocery list and easy prep-day instructions. You can try it out for free here!