Quinoa Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

A pasta salad with quinoa is for days when you crave a good Italian pasta salad, yet want to eat a low-calorie healthy dinner! This quinoa pasta salad with a delicious and light basil balsamic vinaigrette and feta is all you need on those hot summer days.

Italian quinoa salad in a blue and white plate and a small bowl of sliced almonds next to it.

Reasons You’ll Love This Recipe

Like most of my salad recipes, this balsamic quinoa salad is also quick and easy.

The quinoa gets cooked in the microwave within 20 minutes. The balsamic dressing comes together in less than 5 minutes. The rest of the prep time depends on your chopping speed!

You don’t have to drain quinoa. That means no additional pot or colander is required😉

You’ll need just one microwave-safe glass bowl to cook quinoa, toss in the veggies and dressing and serve!

Replacing pasta with quinoa makes this a nutrient-dense, high-protein vegetarian salad with significantly lower calories. It also makes this salad gluten-free and low-carb.

Video

There are just about 190 calories in this “pasta” salad with quinoa. It can be eaten on its own as a wholesome vegetarian lunch or dinner.

If you happen to be adventurous, try mixing cooked quinoa with red chili pesto, roasted garlic pesto, or Thai basil pesto. Easy, healthy, and delicious!

The basil balsamic vinaigrette works well for this Italian quinoa salad. Quinoa tastes the best with a light oil-based dressing.

Creamy dressings are more for pasta salads like the veggie chicken salad, in which I used a yogurt-based dressing.

Balsamic dressings taste equally good on pasta. Like this cold pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette, which is one of my (and my readers’) favorite recipes.

easy Italian pasta salad with balsamic dressing in a ceramic bowl.

Italian Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

20 minutes and a few simple ingredients are all you need to enjoy this great Italian summer salad. Minimum effort, mega taste!

Ingredients For Balsamic Quinoa Salad

(You can find the exact measurements and instructions in the printable recipe card at the end of this page.)

Labelled ingredients for pasta salad with quinoa.
  • Quinoa: I’ve used tricolor quinoa here, but any quinoa (white, red, or black) is fine.
  • Stock: Vegetable stock or chicken stock. You can also use a bouillon cube dissolved in 2¼ cups of water for this recipe.
  • Italian herbs: Use dried basil, oregano and thyme, if available. They can be substituted with ¾ teaspoon of Italian seasoning.
  • Add-ins
    • Vegetables: Use any salad vegetables you have in your fridge: peppers, carrots, onions, cucumbers, romaine, celery, etc. I’ve used Japanese cucumber which is crunchier than most other types.
    • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, or seeds like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds can be added.
    • Cranberries: They give sweetness to the salad. This helps us make a sugar-free balsamic dressing. If you don’t have them, use raisins, chopped dates or any other dried fruits. If nothing is available, chop up fresh fruits like apples or pears and add.
    • Basil: It gives this quinoa pasta salad the unique ‘Italian’ flavor (along with balsamic vinegar). So I don’t recommend a substitute for it.

How To Make Italian Quinoa Salad: Step by step

Cook Quinoa

Quinoa can be cooked in a pot on the stovetop or in the microwave. I prefer the microwave method for 3 reasons:

  • It is quicker and takes just about 20 minutes in total.
  • You don’t have to worry about quinoa sticking to the bottom of the pot. No stirring, simmering and babysitting is required here 😉
  • Using a microwave-safe glass bowl makes washing up easier. (Quinoa doesn’t stick that much to glass.)
  1. Rinse and drain quinoa using a fine-mesh strainer. Add 2¼ cups of stock to 1 cup of quinoa in a microwave-safe bowl. (Use 2 cups for white quinoa.) Close with a lid.
  2. Cook in the microwave on high power for 10 minutes. Remove from the microwave and give it a stir. There would be some water left at the bottom.
  3. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Remove from the microwave and fluff up the quinoa with a spatula or fork. Let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Note: The timing mentioned above (10 + 10 minutes) is for tricolor/red/black quinoa. If you’re using white quinoa, cook for 10 minutes first, then 8 minutes. The quinoa should be soft and fluffy and not crunchy. It shouldn’t be mushy either. Perfectly cooked quinoa will be tender with a tiny white “tail” separating and curling around each grain, which is the germ of the kernel.

Add Mix-ins

Vegetables, feta and olives added to quinoa in a white bowl.

Chop the vegetables. Slice the olives and almonds. Crumble the feta.

Once the quinoa cools down, add in everything and toss.

Make Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

Whisk together balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes, dried Italian herbs, salt and pepper.

Toss!

Add half of the balsamic vinaigrette to the quinoa and veggies and toss. Add rest of the dressing and toss again.

Serve immediately or chill to serve later. This balsamic quinoa salad can be eaten cold or at room temperature. Either way, it tastes delicious!

Quinoa pasta salad in a white bowl with a wooden spoon and a small bowl of sliced almonds next to it.

Tips To Make The Best Quinoa Pasta Salad

Balsamic quinoa salad on a black plate and a small bowl of sliced almonds next to it.
  • Don’t like the harsh bite of raw onions? Use this hack to mellow down your onions: Slice the onions and submerge in a bowl of water with 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for a minimum of 10 minutes. Tastes even better if you can soak it for 30 minutes.
  • Quinoa absorbs the dressing better when it is warm. Add a couple of spoons of the dressing when the quinoa is warm, and add the rest after adding all the mix-ins.
  • Slice the vegetables into either match sticks or half discs. Chunky pieces of veggies don’t work well for this Italian quinoa salad.
  • Toast the sliced almonds (or whatever nuts or seeds you’re using) to make them crunchier and tastier.
  • To make this quinoa salad vegan just leave out the feta cheese.

Common Questions

I have listed some potential questions (and answers) you might have about the quinoa pasta salad. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section 👇

Can I substitute quinoa for pasta?

Quinoa works similarly to pasta in terms of absorbing the flavors of the dressing and blending in with vegetables. Quinoa is healthier and more nutritious than pasta since it is rich in protein, fibre, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. It is also gluten-free. All these factors make it an ideal, healthier substitute for pasta. If you’re looking for a low-calorie, high-protein vegetarian dinner, look no further than this Italian quinoa salad!

How long does quinoa salad last?

This quinoa salad lasts for 4 to 5 days in the fridge. This salad cannot be frozen unless you store cooked quinoa, the mix-ins and the dressing in separate containers. That way, you can freeze it for a couple of months. To use, thaw it in the fridge overnight. (For freezing, you’ll have to leave out cucumber, since it will lose its crisp texture when thawed.)

Is quinoa good for you to lose weight?

Quinoa, being low in calories and high in fiber, keeps you full for longer. So you’re less likely to overeat at meals or snack between meal times. Dietary fiber found in quinoa also promotes healthy bacteria in your gut, which can influence your weight as well. Since fiber is digested a lot slower by the body, it provides a slow and steady release of energy over time. This helps support blood sugar management, which in turn improves body metabolism and helps you lose weight.
Quinoa is also rich in protein. Protein is an important component to have at each meal, as it requires extra calories to digest and process the protein. By eating protein, your body uses up calories, which can aid in weight loss.

What To Pair With Balsamic Quinoa Salad

This quinoa pasta salad tastes delicious on its own and can be eaten as a well-balanced vegetarian meal.

It also tastes great with chicken dishes like:

We often eat it with seafood recipes like:

Health Benefits of Quinoa

(Source)

Quinoa is a good source of plant-based protein. It is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own.

It is loaded with many important nutrients, including fiber, folate, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

Quinoa contains flavonoids which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

It is high in fiber that can help support gut health, body weight maintenance, and more.

It can help support overall health and may improve certain disease risk factors, like high blood lipid levels.

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, and it can increase the nutrient value of your diet when you’re avoiding gluten.

If you still cannot satisfy your craving for pasta, make this no-cream mushroom pasta with zucchini or creamy veggie pasta with vegan garlic sauce.

More Salads

Balsamic quinoa salad in a white bowl with 2 wooden spoons in it.

Quick Quinoa Pasta Salad Recipe

A pasta salad with quinoa is for days when you crave a good Italian pasta salad, yet want to eat a low-calorie healthy dinner! This quinoa pasta salad with a delicious and light basil balsamic vinaigrette is all you need on those hot summer days.
Author: Sheeba
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course dinner, LUNCH, Salad
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6
Calories 190 kcal

Ingredients
  

Quinoa

  • 1 cup Quinoa (note 2)
  • cups stock (vegetable/chicken)

Add-ins

  • 1 cucumber (note 4)
  • 1 red onion
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • 15 almonds
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  • A handful of basil leaves

Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (or ½ teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme

Instructions
 

Cook quinoa

  • Rinse and drain quinoa using a fine-mesh strainer. Add 2¼ cups of stock to 1 cup of quinoa in a large microwave-safe bowl. (Use 2 cups for white quinoa.) Let it sit for a couple of minutes.
  • Close with a lid. Cook in the microwave on high power for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the microwave. There would still be some water left at the bottom. Stir well with a spatula.
  • Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the microwave and fluff up the quinoa with a spatula or fork. Let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Prepare add-ins

  • Chop the vegetables. Slice the olives and almonds. Crumble the feta.
  • Remove seeds from the cucumber and slice them into thin half discs. Slice the pepper and onions thin.
  • Slice the olives and almonds. Crumble the feta.
  • Add all the mix-ins with torn basil leaves to the cooled quinoa.

Basil balsamic vinaigrette

  • Whisk all the ingredients together in a small jar.

Quinoa pasta salad

  • Drizzle half of the dressing on the salad. Toss well.
  • Add the remaining dressing. Toss again. Serve immediately or chill to serve later.

Video

Notes

  1. Well-cooked quinoa is important for this recipe since it may not absorb much of the dressing if it is either crunchy (undercooked) or mushy (overcooked). Make sure you stick to the time specified.
  2. I’ve used tricolor quinoa here. The measurements and cooking time is the same if you’re using red or black quinoa. If you’re using white quinoa, use 2 cups of stock and cook for 2 minutes less (10+8 minutes).
  3. Quinoa absorbs the dressing better when it is warm. Add a couple of spoons of the dressing when the quinoa is warm, and add the rest after adding all the mix-ins.
  4. I’ve used Japanese cucumbers here. They are crunchier than most other types.
  5. Slice the vegetables into either match sticks or half discs. Chunky pieces of veggies don’t work well for this Italian quinoa salad.
  6. To remove the harsh bite of raw onions: Slice the onions and submerge in a bowl of water with 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  7. Toast the sliced almonds (or whatever nuts or seeds you’re using) for a couple of minutes to make them crunchier and tastier.
Nutrition facts for quinoa pasta salad.

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