~ A healthy, beautiful and wildly delicious quinoa salad! Quinoa and confetti greens are accented with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, cheese and a fabulous balsamic vinaigrette. ~
This Recipe Is: • Make Ahead • Vegetarian • Gluten Free •
I’ve been making various versions of this salad for years, and it’s always, always the showstopper.
As in, everyone at the party asks for the recipe and volunteers to take home the leftovers. (Ummmmm … no … I kinda wanted them for myself …)
And as in, my husband stands at the refrigerator, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth and incoherently mumbling, “This is so good … I can’t stop eating it … you have to post this …”
Ok – I have to post this.
It’s like a party in a bowl (and in your tummy).
Colorful confetti-bits of greens, veggies and cheese make it eye-catching. A delicious balance of bold flavors makes it sensational. Quinoa (our friend the protein powerhouse) combines with salty parmesan and feta, tangy sun-dried tomatoes, sunny fresh basil, rich pine nuts, and kicky radicchio.
Super-healthy spinach hangs out quietly in the background, and nobody even realizes how many healthful ingredients are piling onto their plates. It all comes together with a simple balsamic dressing.
And for those who are not olive-impaired … you must add the kalamatas. They put this salad completely over the top on the taste-o-meter.
Now, Gretchen and I do both understand that olives are not for everyone. Try as they might to overcome it, both our husbands harbor strong, incurable olive aversions. It’s sad. We feel sorry for them.
But since our Romeos have so many, many other wonderful qualities, we have eventually come to accept what we just cannot change. They swear this salad is awesome without the olives, but we just laugh, comfortable in the knowledge that it’s even better yet if you add the kalamatas.
You be the judge … stirred in or served on the side … (pssssst … include the olives!).
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 small- to medium-sized head radicchio, cored and finely chopped (to yield about 2 cups)
- 6-ounce bag baby spinach, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (see note)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat feta cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped kalamata olives, optional
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or white balsamic – see note)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Prepare quinoa according to package directions. After cooking, allow to cool completely and fluff with a fork.
- In a large bowl, combine cooled quinoa, radicchio, spinach, tomatoes, parmesan, basil, feta, pine nuts, garlic, and olives (if using). Stir to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over quinoa mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.
- Chill until serving.
Parmesan: The flavor profile and assertiveness of parmesan can vary notably depending on the brand and quality, and that can really impact the final flavor of this salad. Depending on the flavor of your parmesan and whether you're including the olives, you will likely need just ½ cup of parmesan. However, if your parmesan isn't quite as flavorful, you might need the extra bit of salty-tang from the full ¾ cup of cheese. We recommend that you start with the more modest ½ cup and see how you like the taste – you can always add more if you choose.
Balsamic Vinegar: For the purposes of presentation, white (or golden) balsamic yields a prettier and more vibrantly colored salad because it doesn't tinge the other ingredients with the brown color of typical balsamic vinegar. If regular balsamic is all you have on hand, though, definitely just use that – the salad will still be lovely and will taste just as fabulous.
Make-Ahead Option: This salad can easily be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated until serving.
This salad is inspired by the flavors of the Orzo with Everything recipe I found years ago in America’s Test Kitchen “Cook’s Country” magazine. I’ve made a lot of changes, both to make my version healthier (by subbing quinoa and adding spinach, and upping the sun-dried tomatoes while cutting back on the fat from the parm, pine nuts, olives and olive oil) and also played with the aesthetics (adding reduced-fat feta to help provide a salty kick for those who don’t like olives and using white balsamic for a prettier presentation). Still, the original recipe is fantastic in its own right and definitely deserves a nod as the recipe that inspired me.