This Balsamic Caprese Quinoa Salad Recipe is the perfect summer side dish! Loaded with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, it’s a healthy, light, easy and refreshing meal that everyone will love! It’s gluten-free and only takes 20 minutes to prepare!
We eat a ton of salads in the summer. Salad is so fresh, light and easy to make that it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of refueling our family after a long day of fun in the sun!
However, after swimming all day long, we need a salad that is healthy but still hearty, like this Balsamic Caprese Quinoa Salad! It’s loaded with two of my favorite summer produce items, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil! Add some fresh mozzarella and toss it all in the best balsamic dressing EVER, and this is sure to become your favorite quinoa salad recipe!
How to Cook Quinoa Perfectly
Ok, I feel the need to discuss how to actually cook quinoa before I proceed any further with this caprese quinoa salad recipe. Quinoa is really easy and quick to make, however it is also very easy to mess up! There is a fine line between perfectly fluffy quinoa and a chewy yet mushy mess that is totally inedible! 🙂 So here are a few tips on how to cook quinoa perfectly every time!
- Use a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water. I have seen different packages of quinoa suggest other ratios, but I have found the best results when using 1 part quinoa, 2 parts water!
- Boil the water first. Always bring the water to a boil and then add quinoa!
- Add quinoa & return to a boil. After the quinoa is added to the boiling water, make sure the water returns to a boil before reducing the heat (see below). This happens very quickly, so be careful to watch it so the water doesn’t boil off!
- Reduce heat to a simmer. This is where I have gone wrong in the past. Sometimes, in an attempt to speed up the process, I cook the quinoa with the heat turned up too high. When you do this, the water boils off before the quinoa can fully cook, leaving you with a crunchy mushy mess!
- Cook for 15 minutes. 15 minutes is the perfect cooking time for quinoa!
- Fluff! After 15 minutes all the water should be absorbed and the quinoa should be soft (not crunchy or hard). Take a fork or a wooden spoon and fluff the quinoa.
- Cover and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is another key step in cooking quinoa that is often overlooked. Letting the quinoa cook in the residual heat from the burner (turned off) and in it’s own steam really finishes the process and results in a perfectly fluffy quinoa every time!
And that’s it! Please let me know in the comments below if you have any other questions about cooking quinoa!
How to make Caprese Quinoa Salad
This is one of the easiest recipes you will ever make! Just cook the quinoa, chop the ingredients, shake up the dressing, mix and presto! You’re done! Here are a few notes just to ensure your quinoa salad making success!
- Cook the quinoa & let it cool. This can be done minutes, hours or even a day before it’s time to assemble the salad. Making the quinoa ahead of time and storing it in the refrigerator will cut down on the prep time the day of your BBQ or party!
- Make the dressing. This can also be done a day in advance. I usually make the dressing while the quinoa is cooking/cooling. It literally takes 3 minutes so don’t worry, it’s super easy!
- Chop the tomatoes and basil. This is a step I don’t recommend doing ahead of time. Adding the fresh tomatoes and basil to the salad and then immediately tossing it with dressing helps keep the basil fresh and green!
- Taste! I always prefer to under salt/season my recipes at first…because you can always add more, but you cannot take it away! I recommend tasting the salad before putting it in the fridge to chill, to ensure the flavors are to your liking!
- Chill. I recommend chilling this caprese quinoa salad for at least 1 hour before serving, preferably a little more. This gives times for the flavors to blend together nicely!
- Taste again and serve. Always taste recipes one last time before serving. Garnish with a little more freshly chopped basil and enjoy!
FAQs about Quinoa Salad!
Do you need to wash quinoa before cooking
Yes! I recommend rinsing quinoa before cooking it! Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin that, if not rinsed off, can cause the final cooked quinoa to taste bitter!
Is Quinoa Healthy?
Yes! Here are a few facts about the nutritional benefits of quinoa
- Quinoa is a complete protein. This is one of my absolute favorite qualities of quinoa! If you’re like me and prefer to get most of your protein from plant-based sources, then quinoa is a great choice!
- Quinoa is gluten-free. So for those of you who have to say no to pasta salads because of the gluten, quinoa salads are a perfectly delicious alternative!
- Quinoa is lower in carbohydrates and calories than rice. If you watch your intake of carbs and calories, then quinoa is a great alternative to rice!
- Quinoa is high in fiber. I’m always trying to find ways to get more fiber into our diet. Quinoa is a great way to do that!
- It’s high in other nutrients. Including but not limited to: iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, calcium, and potassium!
How long can you keep quinoa salad in the fridge?
This Caprese Quinoa Salad can last for up to 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator (if you don’t eat it all much faster)!
Caprese Quinoa Salad: Ingredients & Substitutions
- Quinoa. I adore quinoa, it’s one of my favorite grains out there! However, if you don’t love it, orzo and pasta are great substitutes! You just may need to make a touch more dressing to ensure that everything is evenly coated and flavorful!
- Pearl Mozzarella. This is another food I love! It’s so convenient. Just drain and dump into your favorite salad or pasta dish! If you can’t find pearl mozzarella, regular fresh mozzarella chopped into small pieces works well too!
- Cherry Tomatoes. Most tomato varieties that are sweet and firm will work well in this recipe…especially if they are fresh from the garden!
- Maple Syrup. Honey is a great substitute for pure maple syrup if you don’t keep it on hand!
- Olive oil. Avocado oil also works well in this recipe. Flavor infused olive oils are a great way to add another layer of flavor to this caprese quinoa salad as well!
- Mustard. Literally any type or variety of mustard works very well in this recipe. It mostly acts as a stabilizer for the dressing, but it does add a nice tangy flavor as well. I have used dijon, yellow mustard and honey mustard, all with great results!
- Garlic powder. Fresh, minced garlic can be used in place of garlic powder!
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Balsamic Caprese Quinoa Salad
Caprese Quinoa Salad
- ¾ cup quinoa uncooked
- 1 ½ cups water
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 8 oz pearl mozzarella
- ½ cup fresh basil chiffonade
Cook the Quinoa
- Bring 1 ½ cups of water and ¼ tsp salt to a boil.
- Add quinoa and return to a boil.
- Once water is boiling turn the heat down to a simmer.
- Simmer on low for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes turn off the heat, stir the quinoa, and return the lid to the pot.
- Let the quinoa sit covered for 15 more minutes.
- After 15 minutes, transfer cooked quinoa to a large bowl to cool.
Make the Balsamic Dressing:
- Add dressing ingredients in a glass jar.
- Shake to combine, set aside.
Putting it together
- Add tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to the cooled quinoa in a large bowl with a lid.
- Add dressing and stir to combine.
- Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
- Taste and adjust salt to your liking.
- Garnish with fresh basil.
- Serve cold.
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