This Italian Quinoa Salad features fresh, beautiful flavours of mozzarella and tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil and sea salt, which are so reminiscent of being on holiday. Close your eyes and you’re almost eating this salad in the sun, under a blue blue sky, with sandy feet and waves crashing in the background (then open you eyes and you’re eating it at your desk, under fluorescent office lighting, the hum of computers and other peoples’ conversation in the background…)
So many people are scared of quinoa as it has a reputation for being difficult to cook without ending up bitter. To counteract the bitterness, the quinoa needs to be really well washed: thoroughly rinse and drain at least three times, under cold water in a finely meshed sieve. This removes the saponin (the bitter outer coating of the quinoa grain), making it much more palatable, and easier to cook to the perfect fluffy consistency.
This recipe can be scaled easily to serve more or fewer people. Three portions makes a great packed lunch through the week, leaving a couple of days free for leftovers, but this salad would be a beautifully colourful addition to a big meal for family and friends: serve as part of a picnic, barbeque or summers dinner to add a healthy dose of vegetables and protein. Made with fresh, mouth-watering ingredients, this dish just needs a simple Italian dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to perfect it.
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The Italian Quinoa Salad recipe:
- 180g quinoa (dry weight)
- 250g plum tomatoes
- 4 baby bell peppers (a mix of red, orange and yellow)
- 60g black olives
- 250g mozzarella, in pearls if possible
- 1 tblspn. Olive oil
- 1 tblspn. Balsamic vinegar
- Pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper
- Small handful fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
- Put the rinsed quinoa into a saucepan and add double the amount of cold water (360ml). Turn up the heat, bring to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes. No matter how thoroughly you washed the quinoa, some froth will probably rise to the surface throughout cooking - scoop this off periodically.
- Whilst the quinoa is cooking, prepare the vegetables by roughly chopping the tomatoes into halves or quarters and slicing the baby peppers - you can use 2 regular-sized bell peppers if you can’t get hold of baby peppers, but I prefer the sweetness of the little ones for this salad.
- Roughly chop the olives into halves. Put all these ingredients into a bowl together, and add the mozzarella (tearing or chopping into bite-sized pieces if it isn’t in pearls).
- After 20 minutes, drain the quinoa, rinse well in cold water, and thoroughly drain.
- For the dressing, mix the oil and vinegar in a jar, put the lid on and shake well. Open the jar, grind in a little fresh sea salt and black pepper. Finely chop the fresh basil and add that in too, then screw the lid back on and shake the dressing again.
- Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, peppers, olives and mozzarella, and toss together.
- Fluff up the quinoa with a fork and lay it out to make a bed for the dish, then add the rest of the salad on the top, and garnish with more fresh basil.