Southwestern Quinoa

Southwestern Quinoa

Southwestern Quinoa with black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, caramelized onions…too many good things to list them all!

I’m a big fan of quinoa as both a  cold salad and as a warm side dish. By now we’re all probably aware of all the good things about quinoa – high fiber, high protein, etc.  but to me, the versatility of quinoa as a base for just about any flavors is one of its biggest benefits.

This recipe comes from my lovely friend Sarah. She plays the oboe in the symphony with me in Duluth and was a member of The Happy Carpool for our last concert. Two different days she brought this tasty quinoa salad to eat in the car (trust me when I tell you the options on I-35 for fine dining are limited) and both days I said, “That smells amazing! What are you eating?”

After all my badgering while she was trying to eat, she was nice enough to share her recipe.

Here’s what you need:

Southwestern Quinoa Ingredients

Quinoa, Black Beans, Corn, Red Onion, Red Bell Pepper, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Cilantro (or Parsley), Lime, Lemon, Olive Oil, Cumin, Chipotle Chili Powder, Salt & Pepper

Click here for a Southwestern Quinoa Shopping List

I have this nifty tricolor quinoa from Trader Joes but any quinoa will do. Be sure to rinse your quinoa before cooking or it can be bitter tasting.

Bring 1 cup of rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan.


Add 1 teaspoon of cumin. When the water boils, turn the heat down to low and simmer the quinoa until all of the water has been absorbed.


While the quinoa cooks (it takes about 15 minutes) thinly slice 1 medium red onion


and chop up 1 red bell pepper. Cut a medium zucchini into quarters and then into bite sized pieces.


You could make this salad with all raw vegetables, but I think one of the things that made the flavor (and smell) of this dish SO fantastic is that the onions are caramelized.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook until tender and golden around the edges.


Speaking of flavor…want to spruce up plain old frozen corn? Roast it in a dry pan over medium heat!


No oil needed. It gets golden and toasty brown in about 5 minutes. I love this corn!


Check in on the onions and give them a stir to be sure they caramelize and brown on all those little edges.


Check in on the quinoa too. Give it a stir – notice how about half of the water has already been absorbed.


To make the dressing, squeeze 1/2 lemon and 1 lime to make 1/3 cup of juice. You could use all lemon (Sarah’s original recipe) or all lime, but I liked the combo.


Season the dressing with 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chili powder, and a pinch of salt & pepper.


Use more chili powder if you like things spicier. My chipotle chili powder is really strong so a little goes a long way. If you don’t have chipotle, regular chili powder will do.

Whisk in 1/3 cup of good olive oil. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste.


Build the salad in a large bowl. Add 1 can of drained and rinsed black beans to your chopped zucchini & bell pepper.


When the onions and corn are nice and golden brown, add them to the bowl.


Fluff up your cooked quinoa and add it to the bowl. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss it gently to combine.


Sarah’s recipe used 1 chopped tomato but I thought cherry tomatoes would be fun. Plus, you can almost always get decent cherry tomatoes at the store. Good tasting tomatoes are hard to come by in these parts.

Cut 1 cup of cherry tomatoes in half and finely chop 1/4 cup of cilantro. I used more cilantro because I love it. If you are a cilantro hater, feel free to substitute parsley.


Fold in the cilantro and tomatoes last so that the warm quinoa doesn’t wilt the cilantro.


Dish up a big bowl and eat this warm or cold, as a side, a salad, or a whole meal.


You can customize this to include any veggies that you like. I added the red bell pepper because I love them and the original recipe said “zucchini or other surprise veg.”  I certainly wouldn’t say no to a little sliced avocado on top too.

This is absolutely one of my favorite salads. Keep this in mind for summer since it doesn’t have mayo it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Perfect for picnics and outdoor parties!

Thanks Sarah!

Here’s the recipe – Adapted from Sarah Carmack

Southwestern Quinoa

PS. When she sent me this recipe, she also sent me one for banana oatmeal breakfast cookies. Coming soon!

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5 Responses

  1. I’ve never eaten or cooked quinona…..but i’ve wanted to try it.
    I’m going to publix today with your list. I’m excited to eat this, it includes all my fave flavors!!

    1. I LOVE quinoa. It’s so versatile that once you make it, you will start thinking of all kinds of different veggies/fruits/flavors to add. The other thing I love is that it is equally good hot or cold. Great for grabbing when I’m headed out the door.

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