This summer quinoa salad is packed with nutritious ingredients and lots of healthy protein — and it can be tailored to any diet. Make it with chicken, swap in chickpeas for a vegetarian variation, or use avocado instead of cheese to keep it vegan. The possibilities are endless!
High Protein Summer Quinoa Salad, Step by Step
Time needed: 40 minutes.
These quinoa and berry bowls come together in 40 minutes or less, as long as you stick to the recipe and multitask during inactive cooking times. (Both the chicken and the quinoa need 15 minutes to cook unattended, which gives you the perfect opportunity to get everything else chopped, mixed, toasted, and crumbled. Here are the basic steps, plus tips for prepping the ingredients as efficiently as possible:
- If you're including poached chicken in your salad, get it started first.
Put the chicken breasts in a pot, sprinkle them with salt, and pour in enough water to cover them by at least 1 inch. Put the pot over medium heat and let the water come to a simmer. (This will take 5 or so minutes, depending on your stove and the size of your pot. While you wait, start the quinoa: see step 2.)
As soon as the water is simmering (it will look restless, like it really wants to boil, and little bubbles will start to rise to the top), reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
- Start the quinoa.
As soon as you turn the heat to medium under the pot with the chicken (or first thing, if you're making plant-based salads), rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve under cool running water. Then, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pot. When the oil easily sloshes around the pan as you lift the handle, add the rinsed quinoa and toast it for 2 to 3 minutes or until it begins to make popping noises and smells nutty.
Pour in the water, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 15 minutes.
- While the quinoa (and chicken) cook, make the vinaigrette and prep the other salad ingredients.
Use those 15 minutes of inactive cook time wisely! Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Crumble the goat cheese or feta. Rinse the berries. Slice the radishes. Toast the nuts. And don't forget to gather your serving bowls or storage containers!
- Let he quinoa rest, and shred or chop the chicken.
When the quinoa is done cooking, take the pan off the heat and let it rest, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff it with a fork.
When the chicken is done (if using), transfer it to a cutting board and chop it or shred it with two forks.
- Assemble the salads, then serve them or store them for later.
Divide the quinoa and spinach or other greens among bowls and/or storage containers. Top each serving with chicken or chickpeas, berries, radish slices, toasted nuts, and crumbled cheese. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, or portion the vinaigrette into small bags or containers and nestle them in your storage containers for later.
The great thing about grain bowls like summer quinoa salad is that they're endlessly customizable (and gluten-free)!
- To make it vegetarian: Use two (15-ounce) cans of chickpeas instead of the chicken. (Bonus: This will save you about 10 minutes of cooking/prep time!)
- To make it vegan: Use chickpeas instead of chicken, opt for maple syrup instead of honey in the vinaigrette, and swap out the cheese for diced or mashed avocado.
- To make it nut-free: Leave out the nuts. (Duh!)
- To make it picky-eater-friendly: Use whatever tender salad greens your family loves. Also, play around with different summer fruits. Pitted cherries would be delightful, for instance, or try diced peaches or nectarines. Same thing goes for the radishes. Either leave them out or swap in another crunchy vegetable. You get the picture.
Looking for more healthy dinner recipes like this one? Check out the Every Night Meals plant-based dinner archive.
Summer Quinoa Salad with Fresh Berries, Goat Cheese, and Chicken or Chickpeas
- Medium saucepan
- Large pot
- Assorted mixing and prep bowls
For the poached chicken (if using)
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
For the quinoa
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups water or broth
For the dressing
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 teaspoons pure maple syrup or honey
- 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad
- ½ cup chopped pecans or sliced almonds
- 6 small red radishes
- 1½ to 2 cups fresh blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (or all blueberries)
- ½ to ⅔ cup crumbled fresh goat cheese (chevre) or feta cheese (or 1 ripe avocado, diced or mashed)
- 6 cups baby spinach, spring mix, or chopped romaine lettuce
To poach the chicken (if using)
- Put the chicken in a medium or large pot in a single layer, if possible. Sprinkle with the salt and pour in enough water to cover the chicken breasts by at least 1 inch.
- Place the pot over medium heat. [Rinse the quinoa and start the quinoa NOW.] When the water looks restless and small bubbles start rising to the surface, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook for 15 minutes or until the chicken registers 165°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and place it on a cutting board. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces, or shred it with two forks.
To cook the quinoa
- Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve under cool running water.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until it begins to pop and smells nutty.
- Pour in the water. Increase the heat to high and bring the water to a boil, then cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Let it sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork.
To prep the other salad ingredients (while the chicken and quinoa cook)
- Make the balsamic vinaigrette: Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, honey or maple syrup, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Then, add the olive oil a little at a time, whisking in between additions, until the dressing looks creamy (emulsified).
- Toast the nuts: Put the pecans or almonds in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook for 3-ish minutes, stirring frequently, until the nuts are toasted and aromatic. Transfer the toasted nuts to a ramekin or small bowl.
- Prep the other ingredients: Thinly slice the radishes, rinse the berries, and crumble the goat cheese or feta. Put them in separate bowls.
To assemble the salad
- Grab some wide, shallow bowls or rimmed dinner plates. If you're saving a few portions for later, find a few lunch-size airtight containers. Divide the spinach and quinoa among 6 bowls, plates, and/or airtight containers. Top each serving with some shredded chicken or chickpeas, radish slices, berries, toasted nuts, and crumbled goat cheese or feta.
- If you're serving the salads now, drizzle the vinaigrette over top and serve. If you're saving them for later, spoon a couple tablespoons of vinaigrette into a mini airtight container or zip-top sandwich bag and tuck it into the container with your salad; seal and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
A perfect and easy to make summer salad! Thanks for the great recipe!
Peggy Paul Casella says
You're very welcome!
Mary O’Brien says
The chicken poaching tips alone were well worth the visit! This is perfect for a hot summer day when the last thing you want for dinner is something hot. In California we have more than our fair share of hot days so thanks!
Peggy Paul Casella says
Bryan Jones says
Peggy, thank you for what looks to be another epicurean treasure. On my way home from the public wifi access point, I stopped by a little bodega that sells the best quinoa. I never did like the taste though. It was all of those Bolivian summers away as a boy, sandwiched between the Andes and the Madeira, tagging along with father as he peddled commercial, bromine-free Freon to local purveyors and producers. They always said the chemical mixture was non-hazardous to mammals, however, the subequatorial regulatory commissions (unsurprisingly lacked the empirical rigor of its northern counterparts) failed to consider the effect of prolonged exposure in tropical climates. Alas, he lived a wild, free-spirited life, slinging refrigerator coolant to anyone who would listen. It was my final trip to Sucre, and the image of mother next to his casket on the tarmac, draped in the flag of his Upper Peninsula 4H club, is an ironic reminder that career choices are more than a capitalist extraction of value from labor - it is a referendum of one's soul, one's health. So there, pacing between Gates H and Ñ, in the East Terminale, I found an understocked vending machine that barely survived the bank runs from the prior week. The blood still soaked the floor. I inserted my final boliviano into the machine, and watched the quinoa bar slip between the rotating, half-circle divider and fall to the bay below. I reached in, unwrapped it, and took a bite. Oh, the herbaceous nose and amaranth tail. It was grainy, and unsatisfying, but it was beautiful. Of importance, it would be the only substantive calories in my person for the next 36 hours. It was a long, cold, dark, and lonely flight home over the Atlantic. My mother tapped my knee as I nodded off against the plexiglass window glaze while listening to a b-side cassette of the Talking Heads. Their music was never my taste. David Byrne lost his way after leaving London. So like I said, I never did enjoy the taste of quinoa, but it was the balance that I needed that day and for so many others. Thank you, and I cannot wait to try this recipe tomorrow after returning home from night shift.
Peggy Paul Casella says
Wow, Bryan. That is quite a tale. Enjoy the recipe!
Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.