Caprese Quinoa Salad starts with a seasoned quinoa base, topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, creamy avocado, pearled mozzarella, and fresh basil. A simple balsamic dressing ties everything together!
Caprese Quinoa Salad
This quinoa salad has it all! Fresh cherry tomatoes, caramelized onion, savory cooked quinoa, creamy avocados, mild and slightly tangy mozzarella cheese, and sweet basil. Not to mention, we’ve also got a balsamic vinaigrette that brings everything together and packs a punch of delicious tangy flavor.
When you’re craving summer in the dead of winter, this Caprese Quinoa Salad is just the thing to make!
- 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 thoroughly for 30 seconds to a minute.
- You can improve the flavor of quinoa by seasoning it generously. A little bit of salt goes a long way so don’t forget to add it in. (Be sure to taste the Caprese Quinoa Salad before serving to see if it does need an additional pinch or two of salt.)
- 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.
- Let the cooked quinoa cool completely before adding the other ingredients. (See “quick tip” below.)
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. My favorite way to make a quinoa salad is with leftover cooled quinoa (the process is so much quicker). So next time you’re prepping food for the week or preparing a dish with quinoa in it, cook up extra quinoa and use it straight from the fridge in this Caprese Quinoa Salad.
Other Caprese Quinoa Salad Toppings
- Cherrytomatoes. While any tomatoes will work, we love the sweetness and juiciness of cherry tomatoes. I like using a medley pack of cherry tomatoes (in hues of orange, red, and yellow) to add a nice vibrant color to the salad.
- Freshavocado. The avocado lends an amazing creamy texture to this salad. Wait for perfectly ripe avocados, as they make a huge difference in this salad. Here’s how to tell when an avocado is ripe.
- Fresh basil. The basil adds a classic Caprese flavor and sweetness to this salad. I like to stack the basil leaves in a pile and then roll them up tightly (like a cigar). Thinly slice the cigar of basil to get a perfect chiffonade (visual here).
- Mini mozzarella pearls. The mozzarella pearls are fun, but not entirely necessary. Larger mozzarella balls can be used instead– just cut them into quarters first. Alternatively, block mozzarella will work too. I recommend cutting block mozzarella into small 1/2-inch cubes.
- Dressing. The dressing is simple, mild, and adds the perfect finishing touch to this salad. Just combine all the ingredients into a mason jar and shake to combine. The dressing can be made in advance but be sure to shake it up again before drizzling over the Caprese Quinoa Salad.
Adding Protein to This salad
While it may seem this vegetarian salad is missing protein, it’s actually loaded with it. One cup of cooked quinoa has 24 grams of protein. Mozzarella cheese is also a great source of protein with around 8 grams of protein per ounce.
That said, this Caprese Quinoa Salad lends well to additional protein being added; I’d recommend leftover shredded rotisserie chicken — a lemon-herb flavored rotisserie chicken if you can find it! A side of grilled chicken is also a great option.
Caprese Quinoa Salad Storage
Once dressed, this salad doesn’t store well. The dressing makes the lettuce and other ingredients mushy. I 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 tends to brown.
More quinoa salad recipes
- Thai Quinoa Saladwith a peanut dressing
- Southwest Quinoa Saladwith acilantro-lime vinaigrette
- Citrus Quinoa Saladwith avocado and pistachios
- Quinoa Black Bean Saladwith a cilantro vinaigrette
- Roasted Sweet Potato Quinoa Saladwith a lemon vinaigrette
Caprese Quinoa Salad
Caprese Quinoa Salad
- 2tablespoonsolive oil
- 1cupfinely diced yellow onion (~1 medium onion)
- 2teaspoonsminced garlic(~2-3 cloves)
- 1/2cupwhite quinoa + 1 cup water
- Fine sea salt & cracked pepper
- 5cupschopped romaine lettuce
- 2cupshalved cherry tomatoes
- 1package (3/4 ounce)fresh basil leaves,thinly sliced
- 1/2cupfresh miniature mozzarella pearlshalved
- 1largeripe avocadochopped
- 2tablespoonsbalsamic vinegar
- 1tablespoon EACH:red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey
- 1/4cupextra virgin olive oil
QUINOA: Heat the olive oil in a medium non-stick pot (that has a fitted lid) over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the quinoa (no liquid yet) and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Pour in the water, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (or to taste). Cover the pot with a lid, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa has «popped,» about 18-25 minutes. 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.) Quinoa can be prepared 3-4 days in advance.
DRESSING: In a Mason jar, add all the dressing ingredients. Season with salt and pepper, I add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Shake to combine and store in the fridge until ready to top the salad. (Shake again before dressing the salad.)
SALAD: In a large bowl, toss the chopped romaine lettuce with the completely cooled quinoa. Add in the shredded basil, freshly chopped avocado, mozzarella, and halved cherry tomatoes. Add black pepper to taste (I add 1/8 teaspoon) and any additional salt if needed. Gently toss and then drizzle with dressing, gently tossing once more.
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