If the thought of a Quinoa Salad doesn’t exactly rock your world, you and I will probably be friends. But being fully aware of the nutritional benefits of quinoa, I decided it was high time to grow up and start getting excited about quinoa. Enter: My Favourite Quinoa Salad!
I’m not going to lie to you. Put me in front of a salad bar, and you won’t see me pause for a beat in front of any option containing quinoa.
It’s not that I dislike quinoa as such. In fact, when cooked well (psst, toasting it certainly elevates it to loftier heights!), I’ll happily scoff it down plain, just like I do rice.
I think it’s more how it’s heralded so staunchly by “healthy” foodies, who insist it’s a superior alternative to rice and other grains we love that makes me – somewhat childishly! – want to not follow the trend.
Anyway, I finally grew up. So I’m here today with my favourite Quinoa Salad. I have eaten a LOT of quinoa salad in the past year, in a bid to get on board the quinoa train. And this is The One! Call it a “fusion” salad, call it a “mash-up” if you like. Whatever you call it, this Asian-inflected salad has it all going on!
What goes in Quinoa Salad
Here’s what you need for the Quinoa Salad:
- Quinoa – I’ve used tri-colour quinoa here just for added extra interest, you can just use one type if you wish. Tri-colour quinoa is simply a mix of red, black and white quinoas. Both black and red quinoa have slightly more flavour than white quinoa;
- Vegetables – No newcomers here. Just cabbage, red capsicum/bell pepper, cherry or grape tomatoes, carrot, cucumber and green onions;
- Edamame – Also known as fresh soy beans. Buy them frozen, either in their pods or already shelled, and just prepare per the packet (usually a 5 minute boil); and
- Wasabi peas – Our “treat” ingredient! Wasabi peas are dried peas flavoured with wasabi, that make delicious snacks. Regular readers know I always include a “treat” in salads, for textural interest and deliciousness. Whether it’s candied nuts, plain nuts, crispy-fried shallots, croutons to name a few … or crushed wasabi peas, in this case! Seriously don’t skip this. It’s the cherry on top!
They can usually be found in the Asian section of everyday grocery stores – they’re very popular these days! Sometimes they’re even in the general snack aisle!
Quinoa Salad dressing ingredients
And here’s what you need for the Quinoa Salad dressing:
- Mayonnaise – Before you get turned off by the inclusion of (a bit!) of mayonnaise in the dressing, hear me out!
First, there’s only 2 1/2 tbsp.
Secondly, it takes the place of some oil in this recipe and adds a lovely creamy note without any cream. So if you skip the mayo, you’ll need to substitute with more oil.
Thirdly, it’s Kewpie mayonnaise. Everybody knows it’s the best mayonnaise around!
- Rice vinegar – Less sharp than most Western vinegars. Substitute with cider vinegar, sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar;
- Oil – Any neutral-flavoured oil will do there. Grapeseed is a good option;
- Mirin – A sweet Japanese cooking wine, we only need a tiny amount to add depth of flavour into the dressing;
- Soy sauce – Light or all-purpose. Not dark soy, it’s too intense. More on different soy sauces here;
- Sugar – To balance the flavours;
- Toasted sesame oil – For that irresistible sesame flavour we all know and love!
- Fresh garlic and ginger – Don’t skip these! They really add essential fresh punch to the dressing.
How to make this Quinoa Salad
Nothing groundbreaking here!!
1. Shake the dressing
Combine dressing ingredients in a container and shake! I like to use a jar, for maximum emulsification! (And useful storage )
2. Cook the quinoa
Cheffy tip: toast the quinoa in the oven! It’s effortless, but makes it soooo nutty. It’s free flavour, don’t skip it!
- Spread quinoa on a tray;
- Toast in the oven for 15 minutes at 200°C/390°F. It will smell deliciously nutty when it’s ready!
- Rinse briefly in a sieve or strainer. Why? To remove quinoa’s natural coating (called saponin), which can make it taste bitter or soapy. Boxed quinoa is usually pre-rinsed, but it doesn’t hurt to get into the habit of rinsing;
- Scrape into a saucepan and add water;
- Simmer on low for 15 minutes with the lid on; and
- Rest 10 minutes – Once all the liquid has been absorbed, remove from the stove and rest for 10 minutes with the lid on. In this step, the quinoa absorbs residual water and becomes beautifully fluffy. If you skip this step, the quinoa will be watery.
Cool quinoa completely before making the salad.
3. Toss salad!
After all the preparing and chopping up all the vegetables, I always find this part so therapeutic!
Nothing tricky here, just throw it all into a (very!) big bowl, pour over dressing then toss enthusiastically. And I’m not just saying “enthusiastically” to be cute. I mean it. To get everything mixed up properly, you need to toss, toss, toss with gusto!
How to serve this Quinoa Salad
This is one of those salads I like to call meal-worthy. It’s got:
- That interest factor;
- It’s pretty – should I have called it Rainbow Quinoa Salad?!
- It’s filling – and keeps you full. Thanks Mr Quinoa! And;
- It’s totally more-ish. It’s an overused descriptor but there really is something about this salad that makes it highly addictive.
Just to illustrate – a response from my neighbour, after I took some over to them:
Being not too heavy and without proteins, it also absolutely has a place as a side salad. But I’ll be impressed if you make this as a side for a quick midweek dinner. Rather, I’m thinking you could take it to book club, or a pot luck, or have it as part of a salad spread for lunch with friends. It’s got the oomph to stand on its own two feet and certainly a step up from a basic garden salad! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
My Favourite Quinoa Salad
It makes an excellent meal-worthy Asian-style salad, or colourful rainbow salad to take to gatherings. Don’t skip the sprinkle of Wasabi Pea dust. It’s the cherry on top!
Serves: 10-12 as side, 5 as meal
- 1 cup quinoa , tri-colour (or other colour, Note 1)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup cucumber , finely diced (Note 2)
- 1 carrot , medium, peeled and finely shredded (Note 3)
- 3 cups red cabbage , finely shredded (~1/4 small or 1/8 large cabbage)
- 2 green onions , finely sliced
- 250g/ 8oz cherry tomatoes , small ones quartered, large ones cut into 6
- 1 cup shelled edamame , cooked per packet then cooled (Note 4)
- 1 red capsicum/bell pepper , finely chopped
- 1/2 cup coriander/cilantro leaves , finely chopped
- 5 tbsp soy sauce , light or all-purpose (Note 5)
- 2 tbsp mirin (Note 6)
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (sub: cider, sherry or champagne vinegar)
- 2 tbsp sesame oil , toasted (Note 7)
- 2 1/2 tbsp canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil
- 2 1/2 tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise (sub whole-egg mayo such as Hellman’s or S&W, Note 8)
- 2 1/2 tsp sugar (white or brown)
- 2 tsp ginger , freshly grated
- 1 garlic clove , crushed using garlic press or finely grated using microplane
- 1/3 cup wasabi peas , crushed (Note 9)
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds , toasted (Note 10)
Toast for extra flavour: Preheat oven to 200°C/390°F (180° fan) Spread quinoa on a tray. Bake 15 minutes, stirring halfway, until it’s lightly browned and smells nutty.
Rinse: Transfer to fine mesh sieve or strainer. Rinse under running water for 10 seconds, shake off excess water well.
Cook: Scrape into a medium saucepan. Add water, place lid on. Bring to simmer on medium heat, then lower stove to low and simmer for 15 minutes (or until all water is absorbed, tilt pot to check).
Rest: Remove from stove (lid still on) and rest for 10 minutes.
Fluff & cool: Remove lid, fluff quinoa with a fork and allow to fully cool before using. (Spread on a tray if you want to speed things up).
Dressing: Place ingredients in a jar and shake well.
Toss salad! Place quinoa in a large bowl. Add all salad ingredients. Pour over dressing, toss very well.
Garnish: Either transfer to a large serving platter or individual bowls. Sprinkle generously with crushed Wasabi Peas and sesame seeds. Devour!
2. Cucumber – If using Lebanese (shorter) cucumbers, there’s no need to peel them but scrape out the watery seeds using a teaspoon (cut in half lengthwise then scrape out). If using the longer ones (English/Telegraph), use around 20cm/8″ and peel the skin (it tends to be a bit tougher) but no need to remove seeds (it’s not as watery).
3. Carrot shredding – I use a shredder tool that creates really thin strands, it cost a pittance from an Asian store. The finer the strands, the better. Fallback: Standard box grater.
4. Edamame – The fresh beans of young soybeans, easily found these days in the freezer section of everyday grocery stores alongside peas! Cook time is the same for with-pod vs podded, around 5 minutes.
5. Soy sauce – Use light or all-purpose soy sauce. Do not use dark soy sauce (too strong) or sweet soy sauce (too sweet). More on different soy sauces here.
6. Mirin – A sweet Japanese cooking wine, it adds depth of flavour and complexity to anything. Substitute 1/2 tsp sugar + 1 tbsp extra rice wine + 1/2 tbsp extra mayonnaise.
7. Sesame oil – Use toasted, which has a more intense sesame flavour (it’s brown in colour). Untoasted oil is yellow and harder to find in Australia.
8. Kewpie mayonnaise – A popular Japanese mayonnaise easily found these days in the Asian section of grocery stores. Famed for the smooth flavour and gentle rice vinegar tang! Sub with any mayo.
Substitute: More oil (same amount as mayo).
9. Wasabi peas – Common these days, find them in the Asian section of any grocery store. Crush so some of it becomes a powder using whatever method works for you, eg. mortar and pestle, or tea towel and meat mallet or rolling pin.
10. Sesame seeds – Toast, stirring regularly, in a small skillet (no oil) until lightly browned and they smell nutty!
11. Storage/make ahead – Being cabbage-based, this salad keeps pretty well the next day! It wilts a bit and becomes a little slaw-like. Toss well and consume at room temperature. If intentionally making ahead, best to keep dressing and garnishes separate.
11. Nutrition per serving, assuming 10 servings as a side dish.
Life of Dozer
Inspection of new herb and veggie garden underway! He approves.