Recipe: Southwest Quinoa Salad

Lunch Recipes, Salad Recipes, Vegetarian Recipes

By: Deborah Murphy, MS, RD, LDN

This healthy southwest quinoa salad is a great make-ahead salad for lunch, parties, or potlucks since it doesn’t get soggy like lettuce based salads. Plus, it is packed full of protein, fiber, and flavor!

If you are looking to add some more plant-based protein to your diet, this southwestern quinoa salad is an excellent great source of protein! This zesty vegan quinoa salad is full of southwestern flavors and colorful fresh vegetables.

We love meal prepping a big batch of this vegan southwest quinoa salad on Sunday for a quick work lunch option for busy weeks since this salad tastes even better as it hangs out in the fridge.

Explore even more delicious salads by trying my favorite healthy salad recipes you can eat for any meal!


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    What is Quinoa?

    Although we usually think of quinoa as a whole grain, it is actually a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. Since the nutrition composition of quinoa is so similar to other grains, it is considered a “psuedograin”

    Quinoa is packed with nutrients and is often called a “super food”. Just one cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber (a nutrient too many of us need more of!). Speaking of protein, quinoa is a complete protein which means it provides sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. It is also a good source of nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and iron.

    If you love quinoa as much as we do, here are 21 healthy quinoa recipes you’ll want to make ASAP.

    Ingredients You’ll Need

    • Quinoa: this nutrient dense superfood makes a delicious base for this grain-based salad. Simmer your white quinoa in vegetable broth for an extra flavorful salad. 
    • Black Beans: add extra fiber and protein by mixing black beans into this quinoa salad. If you don’t like black beans, you can use pinto beans or chili beans instead.
    • Veggies (red bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, sweet corn, creamy avocado): add antioxidants and color to this salad with a variety of chopped veggies. The spice level of jalapenos varies pepper to pepper, so be sure to taste a small piece to decide how much you want to add to the salad. 
    • Chili Powder and Cumin: add southwest-inspired flavors with some cumin and chili powder in the flavorful dressing. If you like spice, you can also add a pinch of cayenne.
    • Maple Syrup: just a little maple syrup helps balance out the dressing. We like to use maple syrup, but you can also use honey, agave, brown sugar, or granulated sugar.
    • Lime Juice: for best flavor, use fresh lime juice in the dressing rather than the packaged lime juice you find in the store.


    • Use green onions instead of red onions.
    • Add chopped cherry tomatoes. 
    • Add another protein like some chopped chicken or cooked ground beef
    • Add crunch; we love topping this easy southwest quinoa salad with roasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts for added crunch (+ healthy fats!).
    • If you want to add cheese to this salad, we recommend crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese.

    How to Make Southwest Quinoa Salad

    dual image of pan with cooked quinoa and whisk in bowl of southwest salad dressing
    • Make the quinoa: add your quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water. Add the rinsed quinoa a small saucepan with the broth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then cover with a lid. Allow to simmer for 12-15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Set aside to cool a bit before tossing in the salad. 
    • Chop the veggies: chop up all the veggies (red bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and fresh cilantro) and thaw the corn (if using frozen). Add to a large bowl. 
    • Make the lime dressing: in a small mixing bowl, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients (olive oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, maple syrup, and salt). 
    • Assemble: add the cooked and cooled quinoa, black beans, and dressing to the bowl with the veggies and toss to combine. Serve this southwest quinoa salad recipe warm or cold. (We like to serve it cold during the summer months!)

    What to Serve with Quinoa Salad

    This healthy quinoa salad is an easy vegetarian main dish, great for meal prep lunches, or a delicious side dish full of healthy ingredients that will impress your family and friends. If you want to serve it as a side, here are some of our favorite dishes to pair with this salad:

    single serving of southwest quinoa salad in white bowl on countertop with limes cilantro and gold napkin


    • Refrigerator: leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you plan on meal-prepping this salad or making it in advance for a party or weeknight dinner, add the chopped avocado just before serving as it will brown when stored in the fridge. 
    • Freezer: leftover salad can be stored in the freezer in a freezer friendly container for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.

    Is quinoa gluten free?

    Yes, quinoa is a naturally gluten free food so this salad does not contain gluten. 

    Is it important to rinse quinoa before cooking?

    Yes – you should always try to rinse your quinoa before cooking. Quinoa is a small seed that is coated in a substance called saponin which has a bitter taste. Rinsing the quinoa before cooking removes the saponin. We rinse our quinoa by adding it to a fine-mesh sieve and running under cold water.

    Total Time: 35 minutes

    Yield: 6 serving(s)


    • For the Salad:
    • 1 cup dry quinoa
    • 1 ¾ cups broth or water
    • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 red pepper, diced
    • ¼ red onion, diced
    • 1 cup corn (thawed if frozen)
    • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed and diced
    • 1 avocado, cut into cubes
    • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
    • For the Dressing:
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 lime, juiced
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • 1 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon sugar/maple syrup
    • Salt & Pepper to taste


    1. Add quinoa and broth/water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cover with a lid. Allow to simmer for 12-14 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool slightly.
    2. Combine all black beans and chopped veggies (red pepper, onion, corn, jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro) in a large bowl.
    3. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.
    4. Add quinoa to vegetables and toss with dressing.

    Nutrition Information Per Serving

    Calories: 368

    Protein: 12 gram(s)

    Fat: 16 gram(s)

    Carbohydrates: 46 gram(s)

    Fiber: 12 gram(s)

    Sugar: 3 gram(s)

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