Southwestern Quinoa Salad Recipe - Pamela Salzman Skip to content

Southwestern Quinoa Salad Recipe

Have you ever read a cookbook or food blog where an unbelievable, creative recipe was put together with “odds and ends” from the pantry or produce bin?  I am always in awe of people who can do that.  Those same people go grocery shopping without a list and simply buy what looks good and then create a meal around it.   I too can use bits of this or that and turn it into something fairly tasty, but it usually ends up as a frittata, Pantry Pasta, or some sort of fried rice dish.  Definitely enough to get an acceptable dinner on the table, but nothing that will win me any accolades.


One day a few years ago, I decided to try my hand at “throwing something together.”  I figured I had done this many a time at salad bars, I should be able to do this within the limitations of my own pantry and refrigerator.  Whereas I pride myself on keeping things simple,  on this particular day I got a little carried away.  It all started with some quinoa, corn and cilantro which sounded Southwestern to me.  Pretty soon I was dicing up red pepper, red onion and opening a can of black beans.  Just when I thought I was done, I spied a mango and that went into the mix, too. After squeezing in some lime juice, olive oil and cumin, I had myself one fresh and tasty salad that I could happily bring to a backyard barbeque or serve to guests, even that same day to my mother-in-law who is slightly skeptical of quinoa.

I’ve made this salad countless times since then and changed it up every time.  Red onion has been replaced with scallions or shallots.  Ripe avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds have found their way in on many an occasion.  When corn is crazy fresh and sweet, I just cut it off the cob raw and use it that way.  With Father’s Day coming up, I am thinking about including this on the menu, but I might just leave out the quinoa entirely since I made quinoa tabbouleh last year on Father’s Day.  Although my husband likes quinoa just fine, he doesn’t consider it very “manly.”  Please.  I keep trying to tell him how much protein it has — it’s like eating meat, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol.  But it’s his day and I aim to please!  So I think next weekend I’ll make this with extra corn and beans and thrown in some “manly” diced up grilled chicken.  Regardless, “creating” this salad was a good exercise for me in learning how to be flexible, but also gave me some confidence to use what I’ve got — in more ways than one.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Southwestern Quinoa Salad
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed if canned (1 can)
  • 1 ½ cups fresh or cooked corn (cut from 2 large ears)
  • ¾ cup diced red pepper (1 small pepper or ½ large)
  • ½ large red onion, diced (soaked in ice water if you want to cut the harsh onion flavor)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ⅓ cup fresh lime juice (about 1 ½ limes)
  • ⅓ cup unrefined, extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Rinse quinoa in a bowl with water or place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Transfer to a saucepan and add a healthy pinch of sea salt and 1 ¾ cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and place a kitchen towel over the pot. Place the lid over the towel and let sit covered for 5 -10 minutes.
  2. Transfer quinoa to a serving bowl, fluff with a fork and cool slightly. Add beans, corn, red pepper, onion, (optional) jalapeno and cilantro. Sprinkle with cumin and sea salt.
  3. In a small bowl combine lime juice and olive oil. Pour over salad and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
Options for substitutions/additions: Also delicious in this salad are sautéed zucchini, diced celery, diced fresh mango, sliced scallions, diced tomato or diced avocado.

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  1. This is Awesome Pamela! I took it to a covered dish at church and it was a big hit! Thank you so much for another winner!

    • Fabulous! Love hearing that. Thank you Cathy 🙂

  2. I took thisnl to a neighborhood BBQ and it was definitely a crowd favorite. And my kids asked me to make a big batch so they could take it in their school lunches. Will be making this one again and again

    • That is the best feeling!!

  3. Made this recipe for the first time this week and it was wonderful. What a perfect side dish. We thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to taking it to our next pool party or barbaque. So easy and full of flavor. Loved pairing it with your crock pot pulled barbaque chicken recipe. Wonderful leftovers. Made it according to original recipe and added one ripe mango. Yum!

    • Thanks for your feedback, Lisa! I, too, love this salad with the mango added. Yum!

  4. Thank you, this sounds good. I have one question, I am planing to buy cooked chicken pieces, can I still use this marinate without cooking it?

    • If you are buying already cooked chicken, I wouldn’t make the marinade. I would make a simple salsa to spoon on top, but not using too many of the same ingredients in the quinoa salad. You can make or buy a simple pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa) and add avocado and grilled corn to it. I think this keeps it fresh and summery, but still elegant and complementary with the quinoa. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  5. Hi Pamela,
    This is Ils,Tina Brutsch’s mom, I love this S.W. Quinoa salad, and have made it many times. I want to make it for a found raiser to the Children’s Hospital for 80 people. I thought four ladies could make patches to serve 20. I would like to add chicken breast, and looking for a glace or sauce to marinate to make it interesting and elegant. Can you help me with this? Would appreciate it very much.
    Best regards, Ilse

    • Hi Ilse, I would keep the marinade for the chicken very simple, perhaps using the recipe for chicken fajitas – equal parts lime juice and olive oil with ground cumin, salt and pepper. Enjoy!

  6. This is so good. I didn’t have a ripe mango so I used peaches. My husband and seven year old loved it.

    • That’s awesome, Lynette! It’s really good the next day to if you have leftovers. Perfect for a lunchbox or work.

      • It’s in my lunchbox right now. 🙂

  7. This looks fabulous, as do all of your recipes. I am not a fan of bell pepper of any color. Any substitutions you can recommend? I know it probably take the ‘western’ out of the Southwestern but I’m a little picky…

    • Thank you, Tonya! I don’t think the bell peppers make or break this recipe, so feel free to leave them out or substitute something juicy like diced tomatoes or diced, roasted zucchini.

  8. You are very sharp, Karen! I wrote this recipe three years ago and that’s how I used to make quinoa (with the towel) — I thought it made it fluffier. But now I just leave the quinoa to steam on its own and I’m perfectly happy with it. I was wondering if anyone was going to notice the towel bit!

  9. I noticed that you changed the way you cook quinoa from previous recipes. Is this way better or just a variation? Thanks – I always look forward to the your posts!

  10. This was the first recipe I ever learned from Pamela and is a STAPLE in our house. It is truly delicious and everyone here loves it!!!

    • Totally forgot, Teddi! You’re right. So glad it has stood the test of time!

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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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