Quinoa Corn Salad

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A healthy Mexican-flavor inspired avocado and corn quinoa salad packed with veggies and coated in the most delicious chipotle vinaigrette | chelseasmessyapron.com | #quinoa #salad #healthy #easy #vegetarian #quick #chipotle #dressing #spinach #health #Mexican #corn #avocado

A nutritious Mexican-flavor inspired Quinoa Corn Salad with fresh avocado, crisp corn, black beans, cilantro, and green onions. This salad is dressed in our favorite chipotle lime vinaigrette. The dressing packs a punch, so if you’d like to try this salad with a less spicy dressing, I’d recommend the dressing on this Mexican chopped salad instead!

Quinoa Corn Salad

This salad was inspired by a craving for this popular Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad. I decided since I might not be the only one trying to eat more veggies this month I should create a more nutritious version of that salad. While this salad ended up pretty different from the Mexican pasta salad, it has similar ingredients — corn, black beans, cotija cheese, fresh lime, lots of cilantro, and green onions. And while this salad is insanely tasty, the real star here is the chipotle vinaigrette — it’s spicy, tangy, and downright addictive!

Chipotle Vinaigrette

This dressing is one of our absolute favorites and a total show-stopper in this Quinoa Corn Salad. It’s a mix of red wine vinegar, honey, oil, herbs, garlic, lime juice, and a chipotle pepper. Below are a few notes about this dressing:

  • For the chipotle pepper in the dressing we use chipotle chilies in adobo (1 pepper and surrounding sauce). You can find canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce in the Latin isle of most grocery stores. See quick tip below on storing leftovers!
  • Taste and adjust the dressing to personal preference; the chipotle is important to balancing the dressing (so it isn’t too sweet), but add slowly and taste as you go, so you don’t end up with an overly spicy dressing. Remember the dressing will taste more spicy straight out of the blender, but does become more tame with all the veggies and quinoa.
  • While this dressing can be made ahead of time (and leftovers stored), note that flavors intensify and it does become more spicy as it sits
  • If the dressing does end up too spicy, try adding some more honey to sweeten it up and counteract the spiciness.
  • If you’re very concerned about the spiciness of the dressing, use the sauce from the can instead, which has the same great flavor, but much less heat.

QUICK TIP

There’s nothing worse than using only one or two peppers (like in this quinoa corn salad) and not being able to use the rest of the can before it goes bad. Luckily, canned chipotle peppers freeze beautifully! Here’s how to freeze leftover chipotles:

  • Spread a sheet of parchment paper onto a large pan.
  • Spoon out peppers with sauce, 1/2 inch apart, on to the pan. Place the pan in the freezer until peppers and sauce are frozen solid, about 1 hour.
  • Once frozen, the chipotles and sauce will peel off the tray easily.
  • Add all the frozen peppers to a freezer-safe plastic bag, seal while pressing out any air, and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • To thaw: Take as many peppers as needed out of the bag and let stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes or until thawed through (or pop individual peppers in the microwave for 10-15 seconds).

Let’s talk quinoa

We eat quinoa salads a lot at my home. My number one tip is to prepare the quinoa ahead of time. With cooked and cooled quinoa ready to throw in the salad, the overall prep is so much quicker. Waiting for quinoa to fully cook, steam, and cool is simple, but time consuming.

That said, if you’re making the quinoa at the same time you’re making this quinoa corn salad, here’s how to speed up the process for quinoa cooling: spread the cooked and fluffed quinoa on a sheet pan in one even layer. Place the sheet pan in the fridge (or freezer) for 10-15 minutes or until cooled to room temperature.

A few other quinoa tips:

  • 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 for 30 seconds to a minute.
    • Want to skip this step? Some quinoa comes pre-rinsed now; just check the package to see if that is advertised.
  • Allow time for the quinoa to steam. Once the liquid is absorbed, don’t rush to cool the quinoa, instead let it stand (covered) for at least 10 minutes. Letting the quinoa stand allows the quinoa to fully “pop” and ensures it doesn’t end up watery or mushy.
  • If the quinoa has cooked through, but there is still liquid in the pot, make sure to drain off that liquid to avoid soft or mushy quinoa. Alternatively if the quinoa has not cooked through (the grains haven’t visibly popped), but the liquid has absorbed, add a few more tablespoons liquid.

Two options for corn

There is nothing that compares to good, sweet, fresh corn on the cob! If you have access to it, that makes the perfect addition in this quinoa corn salad. That said, frozen (and thawed) or canned (and thoroughly drained) corn also works well. As far as preparing the corn for this salad there are two options:

  1. Add the corn “raw” to the salad. Simply cut the corn from the cob, thaw the frozen corn, or drain the canned corn and toss it in the salad. Personally we love the crunch of uncooked corn kernels in this salad, plus it’s easy!
  2. Char the corn. If you’d like the corn roasted or charred, it can be cooked on a grill pan or grill or in a nonstick skillet. Below are more instructions:
    1. To char canned corn: heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 teaspoon butter or oil and then the well-drained corn in one even layer. Let it sit, stirring occasionally until you get a nice browning on the outside of the corn (I don’t stir often so it gets nicely browned!). Remove the corn from the heat and set aside allowing to cool completely.
    2. To grill corn on the cob: Preheat a grill (or grill pan) to medium-high heat, around 400 degrees F. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Pour about 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil on each corn cob and rub that oil onto all the sides. Very lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the corn. Place corn on grill grates (nothing needs to go down first; don’t wrap in foil) and close grill. Cook (temps remaining at 400F) for about 3 minutes per side undisturbed. Using tongs, rotate, and continue cooking, for about 12 minutes total. When all sides are browned, remove from the grill onto a plate.

Quinoa Corn Salad Variation Tips

  • Add some meat. This salad is vegetarian by default, but feel free to grill some chicken to serve on the side or to chop up and put on top of the salad. (Don’t think it’s necessary to add meat to the salad, it’s actually loaded with protein even without meat (thanks to the quinoa & black beans!) You’ll be amazed just how satiating this quinoa corn salad is! For a chili-lime spiced chicken addition, try the marinade on these chicken tacos
  • Change up the herbs. If you aren’t a fan of cilantro or green onions, you can replace one with the other to only have 1 herb in the salad.
  • Add other toppings. I kept this quinoa corn salad pretty simple toppings-wise, but there are so many great options to top this salad with such as roasted pumpkin seeds, tortilla strips, roasted red peppers, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc.

Quinoa Corn Salad Storage

  • Unfortunately this salad doesn’t sit very well with the dressing and avocado mixed into it. If you aren’t planning on eating the whole salad at one sitting, toss only what you’ll being eating on day 1 with the dressing. If you keep the dressing separate this salad can store in the fridge for up to 3 days (with the exception of the avocado). Unfortunately the avocado browns and takes on an odd texture. I’ll typically add half the avocado one day and place the other half in a plastic bag (squeeze some lemon or olive oil on the exposed side) in the fridge until I’m ready to add that to the salad.
  • Here’s how I store this salad to eat throughout the week:
    • Prepare the salad as the recipe indicates but leave out the avocado and cheese, and don’t add the dressing.
    • Separate the salad evenly into four containers, leaving space for the dressing and cheese.
    • Add the cheese and dressing into small containers or snack-sized bags and then add the sealed cheese and dressing to the meal prepping containers.
    • Seal the containers and store in the fridge until ready to eat.
    • For the avocado: On the first day you’ll be enjoying the salad, halve the avocado. Chop 1/4th of the avocado and add it to the salad. Take the remaining avocado and squeeze lime juice over it all. Store it in an airtight plastic bag in the fridge. Add 1/4th of the avocado each day slicing off the top layer if it’s browned.
    • To enjoy a portion of this quinoa corn salad each day: add the avocado, pour the dressing over everything, sprinkle on the cheese, toss to combine and enjoy!

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Quinoa Corn Salad

5 from 5 votes
A nutritious Mexican-flavor inspired Quinoa Corn Salad with fresh avocado, crisp corn, black beans, cilantro, and green onions. This salad is dressed in our favorite chipotle lime vinaigrette.
Print Recipe

Quinoa Corn Salad

5 from 5 votes
A nutritious Mexican-flavor inspired Quinoa Corn Salad with fresh avocado, crisp corn, black beans, cilantro, and green onions. This salad is dressed in our favorite chipotle lime vinaigrette.
Course Salad
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword Quinoa Corn Salad
Prep Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 -6 servings (4 meal prep servings)
Calories 339kcal
Author Chelsea

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (95g) uncooked regular quinoa
  • 2-3 large ears (1-3/4 cups; 248g) sweet yellow corn Note 1
  • 3 cups (81g) coarsely chopped baby spinach
  • 1 can (15.25 oz, 432g) canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup (12g) coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup (33g) thinly sliced green onions (~3 full onions)
  • 1 large ripe avocado, pit removed and diced
  • 2-3 fresh limes, optional
  • Optional: Cotija cheese

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons (45g) red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (45g) honey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (84g) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 clove coarsely chopped garlic
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (19g) of 1 large chipotle pepper (with surrounding adobo sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Instructions

  • QUINOA: Combine the quinoa and water with salt to taste (I add 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt) in a small pot. Follow package directions to cook the quinoa. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa has "popped", about 15-25 minutes (depending on heat, pot size, etc). Remove from heat; let stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes to steam. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a bowl; refrigerate to chill through. (To get it cold faster, spread it on a lined sheet pan and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.) Quinoa can be prepared 3-4 days in advance -- this salad comes together so quickly if the quinoa was prepped in advance!
  • CORN: Two options here, see note 1. Easiest option: cut the corn off the cob (no need to cook it, it's delicious and crunchy raw!) OR throughly drain a can of corn and use that without charring it.
  • DRESSING: add all the dressing ingredients to a small blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I add about 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, but add to your preference). Blend until smooth. Store dressing in a sealed mason jar in the fridge until ready to use. (The heat from the chipotle pepper does intensify as this dressing sits.)
  • SALAD PREP: remove stems and coarsely chop the baby spinach, drain and rinse the black beans, coarsely chop the cilantro, thinly slice the green onions, chop the avocado (squeeze a wedge of fresh lime over the avocado to keep it from browning).
  • ASSEMBLY: In a large bowl, toss the spinach with the cooked and completely cooled quinoa. Add in the completely cooled corn, black beans, cilantro, green onions, and avocado. Remove the dressing from the fridge and shake it to re-combine and then pour over the salad (*read storage note below) to desired preference -- you may not want all the dressing on the salad.
    We usually use about 3/4ths of the dressing, but if you like a very generously dressed salad you may like to use all of it! Leftover dressing stores nicely for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
    Using two large salad spoons, toss the salad and then sprinkle with cotija cheese. Serve salad on plates with fresh lime wedges if desired.
  • *STORAGE: If you aren't planning on finishing this salad all in one day, I'd recommend keeping the dressing separate from the salad and only dressing what you'll be eating. Also, only add avocado to what you'll be eating that day.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Use either 2-3 ears of corn OR 1 can corn well drained. Either add the corn into the salad raw OR you can char/grill corn if you'd like. To char canned corn: heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 teaspoon butter or oil and then the well-drained corn in one even layer. Let it sit, stirring occasionally until you get a nice browning on the outside of the corn (I don't stir often so it gets nicely browned!). Remove the corn from the heat and set aside allowing to cool completely. To grill corn on the cob: Preheat a grill to medium-high heat, around 400 degrees F. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Pour about 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil on each corn cob and rub that oil onto all the sides. Very lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the corn. Place corn on grill grates (nothing needs to go down first; don't wrap in foil) and close grill. Cook (temps remaining at 400F) for about 3 minutes per side undisturbed. Using tongs, rotate, and continue cooking, for about 12 minutes total. When all sides are browned, remove from the grill onto a plate.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 339kcal

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12 Comments

  1. Looks delish! Loving the salads this year, I’m adding it to menu for next week since I’ve already done my meal prep for this week. I made the Avocado Orange Quinoa one last week – amazing!

  2. Are the macros the same even though it says 6 servings, when I want to make 4 meal prep servings? Kinda confused.

    1. No they would be different. The nutrition label is if the entire meal was split evenly for 6 plates (like if you served this as a side salad to a meal for 6 people). So if you are meal prepping into 4 containers it will be different (Multiply calories by 6 and divide by 4).

  3. 5 stars
    this is amazing! I’m making it for the second time for my weekly lunch meal prep. the dressing is super flavorful and complements the salad well.

  4. 5 stars
    Just wow! I made this recipe to try for my son who is “nearly” vegetarian. He loves quinoa but I am not a big fan. This recipe is to die for! and that dressing!!!?? I put that **** on everything! :)Thanks! I have even passed along the recipe to coworkers and other children. Just Wow.

    1. Haha, thank you so much for your sweet comment Melody! I’m so happy to hear how much you guys enjoyed this dish! 🙂

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