quinoa arugula salad

Quinoa arugula salad

15 July 2011

My friend Kim turned me on to quinoa again recently with this colorful and satisfying summer salad. The recipe she used had chickpeas, red pepper and artichoke hearts; when I made it I used sweet grape tomatoes and feta. If you have quinoa, arugula and a good dressing, any extras are icing on the cake.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), a high-protein, gluten-free pseudo-grain that was important in ancient Andean civilizations, has been all the rage in recent years. I made it once before, and it was such a mushy, bitter mess I never tried again. Quinoa is coated with bitter-tasting substances called saponins, but I’ve read that most packaged quinoa has been pre-soaked to remove bitterness (maybe mine wasn’t). In any case, I took precautions this time around.

I’ve read that quinoa should be rinsed for two or three minutes before cooking, but even better is to soak the quinoa. Fifteen minutes is good to ensure no bitterness, but two to four hours is enough to start the germination process, which as we discussed both increases the available nutrients and decreases any anti-nutrients.

Arugula, with its peppery bite, is one of my favorite salad greens. Its popularity in the last decade or so has made it more readily available in the US, but it can be expensive. Trader Joe’s almost always carries organic or wild arugula, conveniently washed and packaged, for a reasonable price. If you buy it bunched, be sure to soak and rinse it well, as it can be sandy.

This recipe is really just a springboard for your own ideas. My version is generous with arugula, but if you can’t find it in fresh abundance, use a smaller amount and add in other goodies, such as shallots or scallions, red pepper, cucumber, olives, capers or chickpeas.

To me, a salad is only as good as the salad dressing. I love a good balsamic vinaigrette on pretty much anything, also because it keeps well in the fridge and I always have a jar handy. I loved how the recipe Kim used added a bit of cayenne and siracha sauce to the dressing for a hint of heat.

An equally wonderful and blessedly easy alternative is fresh lemon and extra-virgin olive oil – it brightens up any salad. I don’t even mix the dressing: just drizzle olive oil first with a good shake of salt and pepper and toss; and then squeeze lemon over and toss again.

This is salad, not souffle – let loose with substitutions based on what’s available and what you like, and it’ll be great. Let me know how it goes – I always love to hear back.

And now for our little walkthrough…

So convenient that my neighborhood Trader Joe’s carries quinoa.

Scarred by my mushy experience, I took some advice I found online and reduced the proportion of cooking water to quinoa. One cup quinoa, one-and-a-half cups water, simmer for about 20 minutes.

Not bad – maybe not perfectly fluffy, but at least not mushy in the least.

Late to dinner at my friend’s place, I was lazy and dumped all my vinaigrette ingredients in at once. Usually I add the oil in two or three batches.

And it wasn’t perfectly emulsified. But it was plenty good.

Quick photo before putting the salad together.

I had so much arugula I had to add it in gradually. Like most leafy greens, it wilts and takes up much less room when dressed.

Feta last, so it doesn’t get discolored by the balsamic.

All mixed and ready to go.

An hour or so later, the arugula is wilted but still great for eating. I love my friend Venus’s plate and the light in her kitchen. She and her husband got started on wheat-free eating when I saw them during my elimination diet, and they feel so good they’re sticking with it. So they had my salad for dinner, along with a fresh green salad from their own garden. Life in the Golden State is good.

Quinoa Arugula Salad
I had a version of this colorful salad at my friend Kim’s house recently. The recipe she used had chickpeas, red pepper and artichoke hearts; when I made it I used sweet grape tomatoes and feta. I think if you have quinoa, arugula and a good dressing, any extras are icing on the cake.


  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 7 ounces arugula (rocket)
  • 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta, or more to taste
  • Balsamic vinaigrette (2/3-3/4 cup, or to taste)
  • Dash of cayenne pepper or few drops sriracha
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. If you have time, soak quinoa in cold water for 15 minutes to 2-4 hours. Rinse quinoa in a mesh colander for a two or three minutes under running water.
  2. Place drained quinoa in medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil and turn to a very low simmer. Cook 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for five minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add a shake of salt and pepper to taste, stir and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Wash and dry arugula. Cut tomatoes in half.
  4. Add cayenne pepper or sriracha to vinaigrette, to taste. Even a wee bit of kick is nice here.
  5. Toss quinoa with tomatoes. Add arugula and vinaigrette; toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with crumbled feta and mix in if desired.

Makes four large or eight small servings.


  • Excellent additions: onions, shallots, scallions, red pepper, cucumber, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, capers, olives, avocado.
  • Fresh lemon (1-2, depending on size) and extra-virgin olive oil would also make a great dressing for this salad.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lu 18 July 2011 at 7:48 pm

Aunt Teri told me about your blog. (i’m Lu, Shu-Hsiang’s wife, by the way)
The salad looks great! I’ll try that next time.
Once I bought a box of quinoa from Cost plus-the World Market. It was pre-washed and tastes good. All I had to do was cook them in the water, pretty easy.
Thank you for all these wonderful recipes.
Noe I know where to go when I’m out off cooking ideas.:]


cg 19 July 2011 at 3:34 pm

hi lu, fun that you came by! hope you and family are all well. =)


Stephanie 19 January 2012 at 3:20 pm

I make quinoa frequently for me and my husband. I often use low sodium chicken stock instead of water for added flavor. If you have time and want even more added flavor, dry toast the quinoa in a skillet. The toasted flavor adds another dimension. This post is a new way for me to incorporate quinoa, thanks!


cg 20 January 2012 at 5:53 pm

hi stephanie – thanks for the ideas!


Anne 9 February 2012 at 11:37 am

I made this today for lunch and it was really good. The only change I made was that I added some fresh cilantro to it. I know I will be making this again and will serve it to guests. Thanks for the recipe.


cg 13 February 2012 at 10:42 pm

hi anne – that sounds delicious!


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