This refreshing quinoa salad is chock full of flavorful fresh herbs, peas, asparagus, and mozzarella cheese for a light meal or satisfying side.
Meal salads are perfect when the weather turns warmer. Quinoa cooks up in a jiffy so you don’t have to slave over a hot stove, and a meal salad is lovely packed up on a picnic in the great outdoors – even if just as far as your backyard.
What is quinoa?
While we eat quinoa like a grain, technically it is a seed originating from the Andean mountains of South America. You will find it mostly in white, red, or black variations. In recent years it has gained popularity due to its high nutritional content. In particular, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein in itself. It is also gluten-free.
It can be cooked like rice, but only takes 10-20 minutes, depending on how much you cook at once. If you have time, it’s best to soak the quinoa for a few hours or overnight to reduce the bitterness. This also means it will cook faster and require less cooking liquid.
Quinoa has a nutty flavor and pleasant crunch. Make sure to rinse off the quinoa before cooking, as otherwise, the quinoa can be bitter from saponins on the outside. Let the quinoa steam with the lid on after turning off the heat so it gets extra fluffy.
If you cook the quinoa in bone broth or stock, you’ll also get the added nutritional benefits of collagen and other proteins in your salad as well. If stock isn’t available, don’t sweat it – it’s still delicious cooked with just water.
How to make our herbed quinoa salad
With half a cup each of chives, basil, and parsley, this quinoa salad packs a taste both bold and fresh.
Herbs are low in calories but high in nutrients. All three herbs are anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, as well as lowering blood pressure and aiding digestion. Chives and parsley are especially high in vitamin K, less commonly found in foods, which is essential to bone health.
While they are available year-round in the produce section (asparagus) and freezer section (peas), the best versions are farm or garden fresh in the springtime. For an even faster and easier way to make the salad, you can skip cooking the peas and just use them fresh. You can even use frozen peas and just let them thaw.
Fresh mozzarella is light-tasting cheese that won’t overpower the flavors of the herbs, but you could also use feta or chevre too. Feta is sharp compared to the mild milkiness of fresh mozzarella. Chevre, soft goat cheese, is mildly tangy but as it’s soft best sliced on top of the salad.
Making the recipe your own
The base of this herby salad doesn’t have to be quinoa. You can achieve the same deliciousness with a number of grains or even pasta.
Gluten-free alternatives include buckwheat, rice or gluten-free pasta. For pasta, short pieces like macaroni or farfalle (bow ties) will work better than long noodles.
Other alternatives that would be delicious – but contain gluten – are barley, farro, bulgur or regular pasta.
Meal planning with herbed quinoa salad
When planning to cook herbed quinoa salad, make a note to soak the quinoa or other grains the night before. Not only does soaking whole grains help them cook faster, it also releases minerals that are otherwise bound up with phytates. When bound up, the minerals are there but your body can’t absorb them and use them.
To make it ahead, you can cook the quinoa beforehand and store it in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-4 days before making the salad.
Herbed Quinoa Salad
- 2 c quinoa
- 2 c vegetable stock, chicken stock or filtered water
- 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt, plus more taste
- 1/2 lb asparagus
- 1/2 c fresh basil
- 1/2 c fresh parsley
- 1/2 c fresh chives
- 1 lemon
- 3 c peas
- 8 oz fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese
- Soak quinoa overnight and rinse well.
- Bring stock to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. As soon as it reaches a boil, add the quinoa, cover with a lid, and remove from the heat. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Add olive oil and stir to coat and season to taste with sea salt.
- Slice asparagus very thinly into rounds. Finely mince the basil, parsley and chives. Juice the lemon.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add peas, and blanch until peas are bright green. Drain and rinse the in cold water, then drain again.
- Add the asparagus rounds, the basil, the parsley, the chives, and the lemon juice to the bowl with the peas. Stir to mix. Add the couscous to the greens and stir to coat. Season to taste with sea salt. Serve room temperature or chilled. Cube fresh mozzarella cheese and fold into salad just before serving.