Southwest Quinoa Salad

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A delicious and healthy Southwest Quinoa Salad with a flavorful cilantro-lime vinaigrette, black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, red onion, pepper, and avocado.

This nutrition packed salad is quite filling on its own, but if you’d like to pair it with some meat, try this grilled chicken marinade or grilled steak marinade.

Overhead shot of the southwest quinoa salad in a bowl with two serving spoons on the side

It’s no secret we’re huge fans of adding quinoa to a salad (two of our favorites: this avocado orange quinoa salad or this greek quinoa salad).

Quinoa is packed with protein which helps make a salad more filling and satisfying. And in this southwest quinoa salad, we’re also adding black beans which further improves the satiability. (Black beans are loaded with protein and fiber as well).

While there are tons of delicious ingredients in this salad, the real show stopper is the dressing! The lime cilantro vinaigrette hits all the right notes — sweet, savory, and a hint of spice. 

Process shot-- Image of the lettuce and quinoa being added to a bowl for this southwest quinoa salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad quick tips

  • Cook the quinoa in vegetable or chicken stock and don’t forget to season it (more on this below)
  • Cut the romaine lettuce into thin and short ribbons. This gives the lettuce more surface room for the quinoa to cover.
  • Wash lettuce and make sure to dry thoroughly. There’s nothing that ruins a salad quicker than wet lettuce! Use a salad spinner if you have one to ensure the lettuce is 100% dry before adding anything else.
  • If you’re feeling ambitious, grill or skillet char the corn, it adds a delicious flavor. 
    • To grill corn: Preheat a grill to medium high heat, around 400 degrees F. Once hot, clean the grill grates. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Pour about 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil on each corn cob and rub that oil into 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. Allow to cook (temps remaining at 400 degree F) 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. Cut off the cob once cool!
  • Pick out a ripe avocado it gives this salad a delicious creamy element. 
    • 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 🙂 

Process shot-- Image of all the ingredients being added to bowl for this quinoa salad

How to make quinoa taste good

If you aren’t a huge fan of quinoa, there are several ways to make it taste delicious. Especially in a salad with tons of other ingredients — the quinoa tends to take on the flavor of the supporting ingredients and dressing.

Beyond pairing it with this delicious southwest quinoa salad, you can improve the flavor of quinoa by making sure to season it properly. A little bit of salt and pepper can go a long way! Don’t forget the seasoning.

You also want to make sure to rinse your 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 thoroughly for 30 seconds to one minute.

Another way to infuse it with great flavor is to cook it in chicken or vegetable stock. For this recipe, I recommend cooking the quinoa in vegetable stock and seasoning with salt and pepper.

For some more ideas, I’ve written an entire guide on how to cook quinoa

Process shot-- Image of the cilantro-lime vinaigrette being made

Dietary modifications

This southwestern quinoa salad with lime cilantro vinaigrette can fit into so many diets. Check below for modification ideas for this recipe!

  • Vegetarian: this salad is naturally vegetarian! 
  • Vegan: omit the cheese 
  • Dairy free: omit the cheese 
  • Gluten free: this salad is naturally gluten free, but ensure 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.
  • Sugar free: remove the sugar from the dressing; if using natural sugars, replace with 1/2 teaspoon honey

Image of the cilantro-lime dressing being added to the southwest quinoa salad

Southwest quinoa salad storage

Leftovers

Unfortunately once dressed, this salad doesn’t store well. The dressing makes the lettuce and other ingredients soggy and the quinoa bloats. I’d recommend only dressing what you will enjoy the same day. Store dressing and salad separately. You’ll also want to store the avocado separately as well since it has a tendency to brown.

Make ahead

The components for this salad can all be prepared ahead of time and then assembled just before serving. 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.

Meal prep this Southwest quinoa salad

  • Get 3-4 equal-sized meal prep containers, and 3-4 small containers for the dressing. You’ll want to store the dressing separately. You can buy bulk dressing containers, use dressing-sized Tupperware containers, or use small snack-sized plastic bags.
  • Prep the salad and prep the dressing according to directions. (Leave out the avocado for meal prep)
  • To enjoy each day: add the dressing (and fresh avocado if desired) to the salad, toss together, and enjoy!

Overhead image of the southwest quinoa salad with black beans and corn ready to eat

More quinoa recipes:

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Southwest Quinoa Salad

5 from 4 votes
A delicious and healthy Southwest Quinoa Salad with a flavorful cilantro-lime vinaigrette, black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, red onion, pepper, and avocado.
Print Recipe

Southwest Quinoa Salad

5 from 4 votes
A delicious and healthy Southwest Quinoa Salad with a flavorful cilantro-lime vinaigrette, black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, red onion, pepper, and avocado.
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword southwest quinoa salad
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 -6 as a side
Calories 219kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cups COOKED quinoa (measure after quinoa has been cooked, about 1/2 cup raw)
  • 5 cups romaine lettuce (loosely measured after being cut)
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 small green pepper, diced (~3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup roasted corn
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 small avocado, diced (~3/4 cup)
  • Queso cotija cheese blend, optional

Dressing

  • 1 cup cilantro (remove stems to loosely measure)
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • QUINOA: I recommend cooking the quinoa in a chicken or vegetable broth for extra flavor (don't forget to rinse it really well before cooking). Once the quinoa is cooked transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely.
  • LETTUCE: Wash and chop the lettuce. I like to cut the lettuce into ribbons and halve the ribbons -- thinner salad pieces allow for more surface area that the quinoa and dressing can adhere to. Use a salad spinner to ensure the lettuce is 100% dry before adding to the quinoa. Toss the cooled quinoa and washed/chopped lettuce together.
  • VEGGIES: Dice the red onion (Note 1), chop the green pepper, drain and rinse black beans, prepare the corn (Note 2), halve the cherry tomatoes and add all to the salad. Remove the pit and peel of the avocado, chop it, and add it to the salad.
  • DRESSING: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor except for the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste (I usually add 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper). Pulse until ingredients are combined and then drizzle in olive oil last and quickly pulse until emulsified. Don't overmix/pulse/blend the olive oil or it can create a metallic flavor. Taste and adjust any seasonings to personal preference.
  • ENJOY: If eating the salad immediately, pour the dressing over, toss the salad, and top with cheese (if desired and to taste preference).
  • STORAGE: If you aren't eating the salad immediately or don't plan on it being finished after one sitting, do not dress the entire salad. ONLY add dressing, avocado, and cheese to portions of the salad that will be finished promptly after dressing. Store leftovers salad, avocado, and dressing separately otherwise salad becomes soggy.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: if desired, you can take away the "bite" of the red onion by soaking the chopped red onion in cold water and soaking for 5-10 minutes. Drain and dry thoroughly before adding to the salad.
Note 2: grab some frozen corn and thaw and then saute in a skillet OR grill fresh corn. To grill fresh corn: Preheat a grill to medium high heat, around 400 degrees F. Once hot, clean the grill grates. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Pour about 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil on each corn cob and rub that oil into 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. Allow to cook (temps remaining at 400 degree F) 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. Cut off the cob once cool!

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 219kcal

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Nutrition facts in southwest quinoa salad

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18 Comments

  1. Carbs also = my life. So does quina, cilantro lime vinaigrette and pretty much everything about this salad. Sounds EPIC lady! 😀

  2. This is my kind of salad right here. Love all the toppings and things you put in it, and I REALLY love that queso fesco. I’m pretty sure my parents never ever would have thought to feed me an avocado when I was little, haha. That’s impressive your little guy likes them! Anyway, beautiful salad! Pinned. 🙂

  3. What a fantastic salad! I have no idea how I found your website, but I am so glad that I did because I make your recipes all the time! Thanks for so many healthy, fast, and easy options!

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