Southwestern Quinoa Salad

By Alexandra Caspero on May 10, 2022
Perfect for lunch or meal prep!
Serves 4

This Southwestern Quinoa Salad is bursting with flavor! A crunchy quinoa salad with chipotle quinoa, butter lettuce, pinto beans, tomatoes, avocado, corn and a tangy lime dressing. 

I know that it’s incredibly cliche, but even as a Registered Dietitian one of my favorite foods is a good salad. My summer farro salad and Italian chopped salad have been on constant repeat this time of year.

Warmer weather calls for plenty of crisp vegetables, which I usually prefer in salad form. Here’s the kicker though– wimpy salads need not apply. I don’t eat salads for calorie control. I eat salads because I love them; salads only have to be part of diet culture if you let them. This Southwestern Quinoa Salad is loaded with beans, chipotle quinoa, tomatoes, corn and a tangy lime dressing.

It’s salad for salad lovers.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

Ingredients You’ll Need for this Southwest Quinoa Salad

This quinoa salad has essentially two prep parts– first, the chipotle quinoa and then then tangy lime dressing. That’s the only real work in this quinoa salad, the rest is just chopping the veggies and assembling. 

For the chipotle quinoa: 

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle in adobe sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup vegetable broth

For the Smoky Lime Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

The remaining ingredients are torn lettuce of choice; I prefer something crisp for this salad like butter, romaine or iceberg. Scallions, cilantro, pinto beans, corn, cherry tomatoes and avocado round out this recipe. Black beans can be subbed for pinto, or even my air fryer tofu cubes taste great in this recipe. Feel free to add in other veggies of choice, chopped red bell pepper, pickled red onions and cucumbers would work.

If you eat dairy, then a sprinkle of cojita cheese is nice on top but that’s completely optional if you want to keep this vegan. 

Two bowls of healthy quinoa salad

How to cook quinoa:

I’m convinced that quinoa is one of those items that you either love or hate– it’s fairly polarizing, especially if you are new to it. Technically a seed, quinoa is classified as a whole grain and contains 8g plant-based protein and 5g fiber per cup serving. It’s also gluten-free for my celiac friends and has a nutty, crunchy taste that I love in quinoa salads like this one. 

The key is to rinse the quinoa first, as this removes the bitter-tasting compounds called saponins that coat quinoa’s outer surface. While some quinoa comes pre-rinsed, if you are in doubt just give it a quick rinse before adding to a pot. The easiest way to do this is by placing the quinoa in a fine mesh colander, rinsing under the tap, then adding to a pot. 

If you typically find quinoa bland, then you’ve gotta try this flavorful version. With added shallot, chili powder, cumin and chipotle peppers it’s got a slightly spicy, smoky flavor that’s perfect in this southwestern quinoa salad.

To cook the quinoa, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Next, add the chopped shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just softened. Stir in the rinsed quinoa, chipotle pepper in sauce, tomato paste, cumin and chili powder and toast for ~30 seconds then whisk in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until quinoa is tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool while you prep the rest of the salad ingredients. 

Quinoa for Salad

How to make the Tangy Lime Dressing for Quinoa Salad

I really love homemade dressings and find that they can really make salads you make at home taste like salads you would get at a fancy restaurant. They take a few minutes to put together, and all you need is a handful of ingredients. I’m relying on similar spices that we used in the quinoa, but feel free to switch it up based on what you have in the house. If you don’t have smoke paprika, then use chili powder instead.

To mince the garlic fine enough that you don’t feel like you are biting into a large hunk of garlic, I use a microplane to finely grate the garlic. This technique almost melts the garlic into the rest of the ingredients without being too harsh. Alternately, use garlic powder.

Place the lime juice, olive oil, minced garlic clove, smoked paprika and maple syrup in a large bowl and whisk together. Add in the salt, pepper, lettuce, scallions (green onions) and chopped fresh cilantro then lightly toss to coat the lettuce leaves.

I like to coat the salad with the dressing first before adding all of the ingredients. This way every bit of lettuce is coated, ensuring maximum flavor in every bite.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

Instructions for Assembling the Salad:

Once your quinoa has cooled a bit, it’s time to assemble the salad! I prefer to have the quinoa cooled so it doesn’t warm the lettuce. If you are impatient, then just pop the quinoa in the freezer for a few minutes while you make the salad dressing and prep the rest of the salad ingredients. 

Place the reminder of the ingredients in the bowl with the lettuce and dressing: cooled quinoa, avocado, beans, tomatoes, corn and cheese, if using. Toss together to lightly combine, then plate. 

Doesn’t this one look delicious? It’s incredibly vibrant and colorful, exactly the way a salad should be! 

Vegan Quinoa Salad with Avocado

If you are looking to make this salad for meal prep, then I recommend making the quinoa ahead of time along with the dressing and then assembling right before eating.

This quinoa salad won’t keep long in the fridge once dressed, but the quinoa and salad dressing will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator if made ahead of time.

Southwest Salad with Quinoa and Beans

More Healthy Grain Salad Recipes

Once you try this Southwestern Quinoa Salad, make sure to come back to enjoy my other grain salad recipes.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

If you try this recipe, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag your Instagram photos with #delishknowledge . I absolutely love seeing your creations. Happy cooking! 

Print
Bowl of Vegetarian Quinoa Salad

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: salad, quinoa, lunch
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Southwest, Vegetarian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This Southwestern Quinoa Salad is bursting with flavor! A crunchy quinoa salad with chipotle quinoa, butter lettuce, pinto beans, tomatoes, avocado, corn and a tangy lime dressing. 


  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: salad, quinoa, lunch
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Southwest, Vegetarian
  • Diet: Vegetarian
  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: salad, quinoa, lunch
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Southwest, Vegetarian
  • Diet: Vegetarian
Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle in adobe sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 8 cups torn Butter lettuce, romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce. You want something crisp for this salad.
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn (cooked if frozen, rinsed if canned)
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large ripe avocado, chopped
  • Cojita cheese, optional

Smoky Lime Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook the Quinoa. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just softened. Stir in the quinoa, chipotle, tomato paste, cumin and chili powder and toast for ~30 seconds then whisk in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until quinoa is tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Make the dressing. Place the lime juice, olive oil, minced garlic clove, smoked paprika and maple syrup and whisk together. Add in the salt, pepper, lettuce, scallions and cilantro and lightly toss to coat the lettuce leaves.
  3. Assemble the Salad. Add in the cooled quinoa, corn, cherry tomatoes, avocado and cojita cheese, if using. Toss together until well combined, adding more salt and pepper as needed to taste.

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. DANA
      May 18, 2022 AT 4:07 pm

      Quinoa was yummy, this came together quick and easily and my family thought it was good. I would def make it again. Only thing I tweaked was making the dressing with some avocado and cilantro thrown in as well.

      1. Alex
        May 19, 2022 AT 3:33 am

        Ohh LOVE that idea of avocado and cilantro!