Total Time
Prep: 20 min. Cook: 15 min.
Southwest quinoa salad is a hearty, but not heavy, dish that combines protein powerhouses black beans and quinoa with colorful vegetables and creamy avocado. Fragrant cilantro and smoky chili-lime vinaigrette finish it off.

Updated: Jun. 28, 2024

Everyone needs a go-to grain salad that’s colorful, nutritious and easy to prep ahead of time, and this Southwest quinoa salad is a top contender. It’s both vegan and gluten-free, but it contains a variety of flavors and colors, so it doesn’t feel as though it’s lacking anything at all.

The salad starts with a base of quinoa cooked in broth, then gets loaded with corn, beans, tomatoes, sweet sauteed peppers and a chile-lime vinaigrette. It comes together in about 30 minutes, and though it’s lovely warm, it’s equally good prepped ahead of time and chilled for easy packed lunches or as a side dish.

Ingredients for Southwest Quinoa Salad

  • Vegetable broth: Cooking quinoa in vegetable broth instead of water infuses it with flavor. Store-bought, reconstituted and homemade broth are all fine.
  • Quinoa: Though it cooks like a grain, quinoa is actually a high-protein seed and the base for this Southwest bean and quinoa salad. We recommend rinsing quinoa in a fine mesh sieve before cooking it to reduce the presence of a naturally occurring bitter coating.
  • Sauteed vegetables: Orange bell pepper, red onion and garlic, all browned just until tender, add a layer of sweetness to the finished salad.
  • Black beans: Canned beans, drained and rinsed, add even more protein, fiber and substance.
  • Corn: A cup of frozen corn, quickly thawed in the microwave or in a sieve under running water, punctuates the salad with pops of sweetness.
  • Cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes, halved, add their trademark burst of taste and color to this quinoa salad.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil serves as the base for a quick chili-lime vinaigrette that dresses both the vegetables and the quinoa.
  • Lime juice: As the primary acid in the salad dressing, the flavor of the lime carries throughout the dish.
  • Balsamic vinegar: Italian balsamic vinegar has a faint sweetness and a caramel note that rounds out the sharpness of lime in the salad dressing.
  • Chili powder: Chili powder is a spice blend that contains a mix of dried pulverized chili peppers as well as granulated garlic and onion. It’s a shortcut ingredient to add complex flavor to a quick dressing.
  • Avocado: Diced avocado adds richness and creamy texture to the cascade of colorful veg that crowns this Southwest quinoa salad.
  • Cilantro: The citrusy, grassy aroma of fresh cilantro is a finishing touch on top of the completed salad. For some people, the flavor of cilantro reminds them of soap. If you’re one of them, feel free to substitute finely chopped scallions instead.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the quinoa

In a small saucepan, bring the broth and water to a boil. Add the quinoa. Reduce the heat, and cover and simmer for 12 to 16 minutes or until the liquid has absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat, and fluff the quinoa with a fork.

Step 2: Cook the vegetables

In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, cook the orange pepper, onion and garlic for two minutes. Stir in the beans and corn, then cook for two to three minutes longer, until the onion is tender. Remove the skillet from the heat and let everything cool for five minutes, then stir in the tomatoes.

Step 3: Make the dressing

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and chili powder. Pour the dressing over the vegetable mixture, and toss to coat.

Step 4: Assemble the salad

Spoon the quinoa onto a serving platter. Top it with the vegetable mixture, followed by the avocado and cilantro.

Southwest Quinoa Salad Variations

  • Change out the grain: Substitute the quinoa with cooked couscous, rice of any type, wheat berries, farro or a grain blend.
  • Add even more protein: Though it doesn’t need it from a nutritional perspective, you can easily add some meat to this salad. It would be especially good with grilled shrimp or grilled honey-lime chicken.
  • Dress it up: A little crumbled queso fresco, a drizzle of sour cream, toasted pepitas or some fresh pico de gallo—basically anything that would be good on nachos would be good on this Southwest bean and quinoa salad.
  • Add a tropical fruit: Dice up fresh mango or pineapple and scatter them on top with the avocado for a delightful combination of sweet flavor against creamy texture.

How to Store Southwest Quinoa Salad

Store leftovers of this quinoa salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Can you make Southwest quinoa salad ahead of time?

Absolutely. If you do plan to make it ahead of time to enjoy later, omit the avocado during prep, then add it to the salad immediately before serving.

Southwest Quinoa Salad Tips

Can you use fresh corn instead of frozen?

Absolutely. If you have access to supremely fresh corn, simply slice it off the ear and scatter it on top of the salad. You can also microwave corn on the cob, either with or without the husk, and cut the kernels off to add to this quinoa salad once the ears are cool enough to handle.

How do you make quinoa taste better?

First off, don’t skip the step of rinsing your quinoa before you cook it. This step removes the saponin, a naturally occurring bitter compound that coats the exterior of each seed. Besides improving the flavor, it’s a good idea to rinse off the saponin because it prevents the grain from expanding as it cooks. Alternatively, you can now buy packaged quinoa that has been pre-washed.

Second, consider toasting your quinoa (after rinsing it) to give it a nutty flavor. Simply add the quinoa in a thin, even layer to a large, dry nonstick skillet and cook it over medium heat, shaking the pan often. It’s done when it starts to make popping sounds. Transfer it to a plate to cool before proceeding with cooking it.

How do you cook quinoa so it doesn’t get mushy?

Quinoa is a seed that cooks a little bit like a grain and a little bit like pasta. It’s like pasta in that you want to make sure to add it to hot water, as opposed to cooking it like rice, where you add both it and the water to the pan cold and bring them up to simmering together. It’s like a grain in that it benefits from some time in steam. Once your cooking water has been absorbed into the grains and their tails are unfurling, let your pot of quinoa sit, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. This time in a steamy environment, off of direct heat, allows the grains to evenly absorb the moisture and helps to prevent mushiness. For more ideas, check out our full guide to how to cook quinoa.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 15 min
Yield 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 medium sweet orange pepper, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring broth and water to a boil. Add quinoa. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-16 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat; fluff with a fork.
  2. In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, cook the orange pepper, onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Stir in beans and corn; cook 2-3 minutes longer or until onion is tender. Remove from the heat; cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and chili powder. Pour over tomato mixture; toss to coat.
  4. Spoon quinoa onto a serving platter. Top with tomato mixture, avocado and cilantro.

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 255 calories, 12g fat (2g saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 378mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate (3g sugars, 6g fiber), 7g protein.

This good-for-you dish is full of must-have Southwestern flavors. You can either serve it cold as a side for eight people or warm as an entree for four. The lime vinaigrette brings it all together. —Yvonne Compton, Elkton, Oregon
Recipe Creator