Quinoa Apple Salad

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Quinoa Apple Salad is loaded with good-for-you ingredients: spinach, quinoa, apples, pears, pistachios, and dried cranberries. The salad is tossed in a simple lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette.

 

Overhead image of Quinoa Apple Salad with wooden spoons on the platter.

A light and nutritious salad

This salad is healthful, nourishing, and loaded with complementary textures. The spinach and quinoa are topped with crisp apples, juicy pears, salted, crunchy pistachios, and sweet, dried cranberries.

And in theme with all the other ingredients, we stick to a lighter dressing — a lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette. While I’m totally obsessed with a good creamy poppy seed dressing (like in this strawberry poppyseed salad!), I love how light and flavorful this lemon vinaigrette is. It’s also a lot healthier — no mayo or heavy cream; instead we use vinegar, oil, and lemon juice as the main dressing ingredients.

Process shots-- images of the spinach being tossed with the quinoa; fruits, nuts, and cranberries being added; the dressing being mixed; and then drizzled over the salad.

Quinoa Apple Salad tips

  • Coarsely chop the spinach. This gives the spinach more surface area for the quinoa to cling to.
  • Use dry-roasted and lightly salted pistachios. This ingredient adds a ton of flavor without adding any work (like toasting the pistachios) on your part.
  • A ripe and juicy pear makes all the difference (as opposed to an unripe, crunchy one!) 
    • Speaking of ripe pears, you can test a pear for ripeness by applying gentle pressure near the stem end. If there is a slight give, it is most likely ready to be sliced and added to this Quinoa Apple Salad. And if you can’t smell any sweet pear-ness, it probably isn’t ready to use.
  • If you have a fresh lemon on hand, squeeze a bit of lemon juice on the sliced pears and apples to keep them from browning too quickly.

How to make quinoa more flavorful

I love adding quinoa to this salad as it adds texture, flavor, and lots of protein. I find quinoa to be quite mild, especially in a salad with lots of other ingredients. The quinoa tends to take on the flavor of the supporting ingredients and dressing. 

  • Make sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking it. Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin which can make it taste bitter. Pour the uncooked quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water thoroughly for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • You can improve the flavor of quinoa by seasoning it properly. Don’t forget the seasoning: A little bit of salt and pepper can go a long way!  I also like adding a few tablespoons of the dressing to the quinoa right after it’s done cooking. This gives it loads of flavor.
  • Another way to infuse quinoa with great flavor is to cook it in chicken or vegetable stock. For this quinoa apple salad, I recommend cooking the quinoa in vegetable stock and seasoning with salt and pepper.

Quinoa Apple Salad variations

  • Make this salad vegetarian/vegan: Use water or vegetable broth (to cook the quinoa in) this salad to make it naturally vegan and vegetarian! 
  • Make this salad gluten free: Quinoa Apple Salad is naturally gluten free, but make sure all the packaged products are processed in a gluten-free facility. Quinoa is gluten free, but it is still considered a high risk ingredient because of the cross-contact possibility with other grains.
  • Add a creamy element such as an avocado or some cheese (like goat, feta, or bleu cheese). For maximum creaminess, pick out a ripe avocado.
    • How to test if an avocado is ripe: If an avocado yields to a firm gentle pressure (shouldn’t give in too easily) you know it’s ripe and ready to eat. 
  • Add more protein: Using this chicken marinade recipe, grill some chicken and serve on top of this salad. Alternatively, some roasted chickpeas would be a delicious salad addition.

Process shots-- images of the sliced pears and apples being added to the salad.

Leftovers

Once dressed, Quinoa Apple Salad doesn’t store well. The dressing makes the spinach soggy and the quinoa bloats. The apples and pears begin to brown and become mushy.

I’d recommend only dressing what you will enjoy the same day. Store dressing and salad separately. Try to only cut pears and apples that will be consumed immediately after making.

Quinoa Apple Salad made ahead

The dressing for this quinoa apple salad can be prepared ahead of time and stores well for up to a week. Store the dressing in a mason jar in the fridge and shake before tossing with the salad.

If the dressing separates or forms clumps, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the olive oil solidifying which it does at cold temps. Take the vinaigrette out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes or so before you need it to bring it back up to temperature, then shake it up to remix.

Up-close overhead image of the salad tossed and ready to be eaten.

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Apple Quinoa Salad

5 from 3 votes
This Quinoa Apple Balad is loaded with good-for-you ingredients: spinach, quinoa, apples, pears, pistachios, and dried cranberries. The salad is tossed in a simple lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette.
Print Recipe

Apple Quinoa Salad

5 from 3 votes
This Quinoa Apple Balad is loaded with good-for-you ingredients: spinach, quinoa, apples, pears, pistachios, and dried cranberries. The salad is tossed in a simple lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette.
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword Apple Quinoa Salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 as a side
Calories 371kcal

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1/2 cup (80g) tri-colored or plain quinoa
  • 1 cup (220g) chicken broth, veggie broth, or water
  • 6 cups (150g, 5 oz) baby spinach
  • 1 large apple (Pink Lady or Honeycrisp)
  • 1 large pear (Anjou)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (70g) shelled, roasted, and salted pistachios
  • 1/3 cup (45g) dried cranberries

Lemon Poppyseed Dressing

  • 4 tablespoons (51g) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (do not use regular mustard)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar (See Note 1)
  • 1/3 cup (64g) olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds

Instructions

  • QUINOA: Prepare the quinoa by rinsing it under cold water in a fine mesh sieve. This removes the bitter saponin coating. Combine the quinoa and water (or broth) in a small pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add in a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt to taste), reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, keep the quinoa covered, and let stand for 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and then add 2-3 tablespoons of the prepared dressing (see next step). Toss and place in the fridge to chill until at room temperature.
  • DRESSING: While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing. Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, onion powder, Dijon mustard, salt, and sugar in a small blender or food processor. Blend or pulse until completely smooth. Slowly pour in the oil and blend just until emulsified. Do not over blend. Stir in the poppy seeds, transfer to a mason jar, and allow to chill in the fridge while preparing the other components of the salad. Re-shake to combine before dressing the salad.
  • SPINACH: Remove large stems and then coarsely chop the spinach (just a few coarse cuts through all the spinach). Add to a large bowl and toss with the room temperature quinoa.
  • FRUIT: Chop or thinly slice the apple and pear. Toss both fruits with lemon juice to keep from browning too quickly. Add to the spinach and quinoa.
  • FINISHING SALAD: Sprinkle the pistachios and dried cranberries into the salad. Drizzle with dressing (add to preference; store any leftover dressing in the fridge for up to 1 week). Gently toss to combine and enjoy.
  • STORAGE: This salad doesn't sit well with the dressing, so only dress what will be enjoyed the same day. Store any leftover salad and dressing separately. Apples and pears will brown if cut in advance.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Add sugar gradually and to taste preference. We prefer the dressing on the sweeter side to complement the savoriness of the quinoa and spinach.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 6servings | Calories: 371kcal | Carbohydrates: 38.3g | Protein: 7.4g | Fat: 23.2g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Fiber: 5.7g | Sugar: 20.6g

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17 Comments

  1. Chelsea, this looks so fresh and delicious! I haven’t eaten dinner yet, and looking at these pics has me wanting to gnaw my arm off! I love the color in this dish, and I do need more meatless recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Such a beautiful salad. I love every component of this dish and am happy for your reminder to integrate quinoa in my salad! Thanks for the share!

  3. This is one totally stunning fall salad! Apples and pistachios go hand in hand this time of year, and I love that this is a whole-meal-in-one with all that gorgeous quinoa! Such stunning photos too, Chelsea! 🙂

  4. Chelsea, this salad looks so flavourful. I think apple and spinach go really well together. I love this recipe especially because you added quinoa too 😉

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