Garden Fresh Quinoa Salad

Summer is the season of potlucks and picnics, and this quinoa salad is my ace in the hole. It was a spontaneous invention born of a busy schedule, ingredients I had on hand, and the need to bridge several distinct dietary restrictions in a single dish that everyone could enjoy. This recipe makes enough for a party, but my little family of two can polish off the whole batch in about a week. It can be a meal in itself, but it also makes an excellent side dish. It’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates, gluten free, vegan, nut-free, whole-food, and grain free*. All of these ingredients are readily available in organic versions at my local grocery store, and some of them might even be ripe in your garden right now. This fresh lemony dish sparkles with the light of summer.

Cooking from scratch with whole, unprocessed ingredients is an essential skill for the environmentally conscious person. Ingredients are often shipped long distances in between each stage of processing, which adds food miles, carbon emissions, and packaging. When you feel comfortable working with fresh ingredients, you’ll always know what to do with your farmers market finds and your own garden produce. It becomes that much easier to eat seasonally and locally. Once you become confident in your kitchen skills and you learn which ingredients you gravitate towards the most, you can grow your own or purchase in bulk to save additional packaging materials. You can develop these skills one day at a time, one recipe at a time, one bite at a time.

*Quinoa tastes like a grain, but the plant isn’t in the grass family, so it isn’t technically a grain.

Preparation Notes

It is ideal to begin this recipe the night before you plan to serve it. Make the quinoa and the lemon mixture for the dressing, then store them in the fridge overnight to allow the quinoa to cool and flavors to develop. However, life often throws surprises our way and if you aren’t planning that far ahead, you can still make the recipe as long as you have at least two hours to wait for the quinoa to cook and partially cool. Active preparation time required for this recipe is minimal: about 30 minutes to wash, chop, and mix the ingredients. If you have access to a rice cooker, the quinoa practically cooks itself.

If you’re a no-nonsense, advanced cook, feel free to skip to the bottom for my TL:DR cook’s notes summary.


For The Quinoa

2 cups dry quinoa: any color, or blend different colors together as desired
1.5 – 2 cups water

For The Dressing

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 cloves fresh garlic (the stuff in the jar really isn’t as good)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
Generous grinding of black pepper

For The Salad

2 14oz cans organic chickpeas, or 3 cups home cooked chickpeas
2 cups fresh salad greens of your choice. My favorites are sunflower microgreens, arugula, or kale.
Up To 2 cups other fresh seasonal veggies or pickled veggies of your choice, or more salad greens if desired (optional).


Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer under plenty of cold water until the water runs clear.

If you happen to own a rice cooker, that is the easiest way to cook quinoa. If you don’t have a rice cooker and would like one, it’s worth noting that I almost always see them at second hand shops (and usually for about $6). If you’re a kitchen minimalist, you can definitely make quinoa in a regular pot on the stove (just follow the directions on the quinoa package).

Most recipes suggest a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water (2 cups quinoa and 4 cups water). My particular rice cooker is very sealed up and it doesn’t evaporate much of the water, so I find that a 1:1.5 ratio works best in my rice cooker (2 cups quinoa to 3 cups water).

While the quinoa cooks, begin preparing your salad dressing. Slice open fresh lemons and squeeze their juice into a glass measuring cup until you have one whole cup of lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice really will not work in this recipe. It does not have the fresh lemony flavor that is needed for this dish to succeed. The number of lemons needed will vary depending on the size and juiciness of the lemons, and how effective you are at squeezing the juice out. I like to use a manual hand press to extract juice from my lemons. (Similar to this one.)

Peel your garlic cloves and mince them finely.

Collect your fresh basil leaves into a few manageable stacks. Roughly chop them, or roll them up lengthwise and slice thin slices off the roll with a sharp knife to create a chiffonade cut (long thin strips). Take care to protect your fingers- you’re not a contestant on a cooking TV show, and no one will judge you for taking your time.

Add the minced garlic, basil, salt, and pepper to the lemon juice. Set it aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. This process will not only infuse garlicky flavor throughout the lemon juice, but the lemon and salt combo will also take the bite out of the raw garlic. If you’re on a no-salt diet, it’s okay to omit it, but you might want to soak the garlic a little longer to achieve the same mellow flavor with plain lemon juice.

When the quinoa is finished cooking, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool before mixing in the other ingredients. If you’re really in a rush, you can combine the ingredients while the quinoa is still hot, but the quinoa will soak up all the dressing and the veggies will wilt a bit. The resulting dish will not be as good, but it will still be reasonably good. Try to let the quinoa cool as much as time allows, or make it ahead and chill it in the refrigerator overnight.

Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Add chickpeas and lemon mixture to a large salad bowl. Add the olive oil. Toss to combine, and allow to marinate while you chop the veggies.

Roughly chop your fresh greens and any other veggies you want to add to your salad. Add them to the salad bowl with the chickpeas and toss to combine. If you’re planning to serve picky eaters (as I often am) leave any veggies that aren’t unanimous choices on the side. I like to make a separate mixture of chopped artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, fresh red bell peppers and tomatoes. I mix a few spoonfuls of this garnish into my own bowl right before serving. I don’t find that this addition requires any extra salad dressing, but you can always drizzle a little extra something on top if you feel that it’s needed. Olive oil, lemon juice, and basil pesto are all nice additions. However, I think you’ll find that the dressing portion is already pretty generous in this recipe.

Add your cooked, cooled quinoa to the salad bowl. Toss one more time to thoroughly combine. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for later.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days, and tastes best served cold. Serve as-is for a salad or use as a filling for wraps.

Cliffs Notes For Cooks (TL/DR)

  • Rinse and cook the quinoa. Allow to cool to room temperature or chill in the refrigerator.
  • Combine lemon + salt + pepper + basil + garlic, marinate at least 30 minutes
  • Chop up some veggies and put them in a big salad bowl
  • Pour the lemon mixture over the veggies. Add olive oil. Mix it up.
  • Add cooked, cooled quinoa and rinsed chickpeas to the veggie bowl. Mix it again.
  • Serve chilled.