My Favourite Quinoa Salad

by Hong Diep
My Favourite Quinoa Salad 5

My Favourite Quinoa Salad

If the thought of a Quinoa Salad doesn’t exactly rock your world, you and I will probably be friends. But being fully aware of the nutritional benefits of quinoa, I decided it was high time to grow up and start getting excited about it. Enter: My Favourite Quinoa Salad!

Quinoa Salad

I’m not going to lie to you. Put me in front of a salad bar, and you won’t see me pause for a beat in front of any option containing quinoa.

It’s not that I dislike quinoa as such. In fact, when cooked well (psst, toasting it certainly elevates it to loftier heights!), I’ll happily scoff it down plain, just like I do rice.

I think it’s more how it’s heralded so staunchly by “healthy” foodies, who insist it’s a superior alternative to rice and other grains we love that makes me – somewhat childishly! – want to not follow the trend.

Anyway, I finally grew up. So I’m here today with my favourite Quinoa Salad. I have eaten a LOT of quinoa salad in the past year, in a bid to get on board the quinoa train. And this is The One! Call it a “fusion” salad, call it a “mash-up” if you like. Whatever you call it, this Asian-inflected salad has it all going on!

What goes in Quinoa Salad

Here’s what you need for the Quinoa Salad:

  • Quinoa – I’ve used tri-colour quinoa here just for added extra interest, you can just use one type if you wish. Tri-colour quinoa is simply a mix of red, black and white quinoas. Both black and red quinoa have slightly more flavour than white quinoa;
  • Vegetables – No newcomers here. Just cabbage, red capsicum/bell pepper, cherry or grape tomatoes, carrot, cucumber and green onions;
  • Edamame – Also known as fresh soy beans. Buy them frozen, either in their pods or already shelled, and just prepare per the packet (usually a 5 minute boil); and
  • Wasabi peas – Our “treat” ingredient! Wasabi peas are dried peas flavoured with wasabi, that make delicious snacks. Regular readers know I always include a “treat” in salads, for textural interest and deliciousness. Whether it’s candied nuts, plain nuts, crispy-fried shallots, croutons to name a few … or crushed wasabi peas, in this case! Seriously don’t skip this. It’s the cherry on top!They can usually be found in the Asian section of everyday grocery stores – they’re very popular these days! Sometimes they’re even in the general snack aisle!

Crushed wasabi peas. I used a meat mallet. Sometimes I use a mortar and pestle. Use whatever works for you. Just don’t skip the wasabi peas!

Quinoa Salad dressing ingredients

And here’s what you need for the Quinoa Salad dressing:

  • Mayonnaise – Before you get turned off by the inclusion of (a bit!) of mayonnaise in the dressing, hear me out!First, there’s only 2 1/2 tbsp.Secondly, it takes the place of some oil in this recipe and adds a lovely creamy note without any cream. So if you skip the mayo, you’ll need to substitute with more oil.Thirdly, it’s Kewpie mayonnaise. Everybody knows it’s the best mayonnaise around!
  • Rice vinegar – Less sharp than most Western vinegars. Substitute with cider vinegar, sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar;
  • Oil – Any neutral-flavoured oil will do there. Grapeseed is a good option;
  • Mirin – A sweet Japanese cooking wine, we only need a tiny amount to add depth of flavour into the dressing;
  • Soy sauce – Light or all-purpose. Not dark soy, it’s too intense.
  • Sugar – To balance the flavours;
  • Toasted sesame oil – For that irresistible sesame flavour we all know and love!
  • Fresh garlic and ginger – Don’t skip these! They really add essential fresh punch to the dressing.

How to make this Quinoa Salad

Nothing groundbreaking here!!


Combine dressing ingredients in a container and shake! I like to use a jar, for maximum emulsification! (And useful storage)


Cheffy tip: toast the quinoa in the oven! It’s effortless, but makes it soooo nutty. It’s free flavour, don’t skip it!

  1. Spread quinoa on a tray;
  2. Toast in the oven for 15 minutes at 200°C/390°F. It will smell deliciously nutty when it’s ready!
  3. Rinse briefly in a sieve or strainer. Why? To remove quinoa’s natural coating (called saponin), which can make it taste bitter or soapy. Boxed quinoa is usually pre-rinsed, but it doesn’t hurt to get into the habit of rinsing;
  4. Scrape into a saucepan and add water;
  5. Simmer on low for 15 minutes with the lid on; and
  6. Rest 10 minutes – Once all the liquid has been absorbed, remove from the stove and rest for 10 minutes with the lid on. In this step, the quinoa absorbs residual water and becomes beautifully fluffy. If you skip this step, the quinoa will be watery.

Cool quinoa completely before making the salad.


After all the preparing and chopping up all the vegetables, I always find this part so therapeutic!

Nothing tricky here, just throw it all into a (very!) big bowl, pour over dressing then toss enthusiastically. And I’m not just saying “enthusiastically” to be cute. I mean it. To get everything mixed up properly, you need to toss, toss, toss with gusto!

How to serve this Quinoa Salad

This is one of those salads I like to call meal-worthy. It’s got:

  • That interest factor;
  • It’s pretty – should I have called it Rainbow Quinoa Salad?!
  • It’s filling – and keeps you full. Thanks Mr Quinoa! And;
  • It’s totally more-ish. It’s an overused descriptor but there really is something about this salad that makes it highly addictive.Just to illustrate – a response from my neighbour, after I took some over to them:

Being not too heavy and without proteins, it also absolutely has a place as a side salad. But I’ll be impressed if you make this as a side for a quick midweek dinner. Rather, I’m thinking you could take it to book club, or a pot luck, or have it as part of a salad spread for lunch with friends. It’s got the oomph to stand on its own two feet and certainly a step up from a basic garden salad!

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