Great eats await when you serve this healthy vegan cranberry quinoa salad with kale and almonds and a kicking 4-ingredient tomato-balsamic dressing.
This post contains helpful tips and tricks to ensure success on your first attempt. Below, you'll find a handy table of contents with links. But if you're in a rush, please use the link at the top to jump to the recipe card at the end!
Table of Contents
Why You'll Love This Recipe
High protein quinoa salad recipes start with a winner of a hearty salad. Quinoa is far more nutritious than rice, and because it is a seed, not a grain, it has the benefit of being gluten-free. For such a tiny, unassuming seed, it harbors a powerful punch in nutrition and satiety.
One thing that sets this easy recipe apart from other cranberry quinoa salads is the dressing. It's a silly-easy, 4-ingredient tomato dressing that doesn't even need olive oil to be delicious. And because we are using hearty kale, you can dress this salad and have it ready to go for fresh lunches over several days.
📋 Key Ingredients & notes
Quinoa: This salad is made with red quinoa, but you can use white (regular), black, or a combination (rainbow quinoa). White quinoa is the most common color quinoa, but more colors constantly appear in grocery stores.
Vegetable broth: Broth or vegetable stock is used for cooking quinoa. You can also use water with a pinch of salt, but the broth adds more depth of flavor. Check your broth or veggie stock cubes to ensure they are vegan and gluten-free if required. The stand measure for cooking is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid.
Kale: If you are not a kale fan, this is a great salad to take another look at because it can be chopped small, so the texture is not as abrasive. Fresh kale also holds up well after dressing, so leftover salad stays crisp and fresh. Spinach or other salad greens, including arugula, work equally well but may not be as sturdy as kale. You might consider adding the dressing right before eating if you use different salad greens.
Red bell pepper: The sweetness of red pepper goes nicely with the other ingredients. Yellow or orange peppers are also on the sweeter scale as a substitute. Green pepper might be a little bitter and intense for this salad recipe. A good substitute for red peppers is grated or small diced carrots.
Cucumber: Remove the seeds of the cucumber before dicing or slicing it. This keeps the cucumber crisper. The seeds can also be a source of indigestion, so get them gone.
Red onion: Mellow red onion is our preferred salad onion. You could use a few shallots in a pinch or consider scallions (green onions). Avoid yellow onions as they can be overpowering when eaten raw. If you want to mellow any onion, soak onion slices in cold water for a few minutes. Dry them before adding them to the salad.
Dried cranberries: It's a cranberry quinoa salad, after all, so yes, dried sweet cranberries. As a side note, you might double-check cranberries before buying them, as I've noticed some are preserved with oil. You are probably close to a qualified label-reading professional if oil-free is your jam. Still, it's something to be aware of.
Almonds: Choose almonds that are raw or roasted without oil and salt. Blanched or slivered almonds can be used. You can leave the almonds whole or give them a rough chop, so there is a little more crunch per bite. If you are nut-free, try s pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or sunflower seeds.
Tomatoes: Roughly 2 cups of diced fresh tomatoes, say 2 large tomatoes is a good measure for the dressing. Aim for flavorful, red, ripe tomatoes. Since you are blending them, if they are a little soft, it's no problem and an excellent way to use them.
Garlic: Slice the garlic if your blender isn't powerful. Otherwise, just add it to blend with the tomatoes.
Dijon mustard: Mustard can add a salty flavor, which is why we don't recommend adding extra salt.
Balsamic vinegar: Traditional red balsamic or balsamic reduction adds sweetness with a slight vinegar tang if you happen to have it. The best substitute if you need one is white balsamic. If you land in a pinch, try red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar with ½ a teaspoon of maple syrup or date paste. If you don't use vinegar, use lemon juice or try unsweetened orange juice.
- Rinsing quinoa before cooking it is an important step. Packaged quinoa has been hulled, removing the hard outer shell which contains saponins. Saponins are bitter-tasting and can cause stomach upset. Rinsing quinoa before cooking ensures that any saponins residue is removed. Who knew it might be this simple to make quinoa even better?
- Our favorite way of cooking quinoa is to use the absorption method. This means that you simmer over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. There is a bit of a debate about cooking quinoa with the lid on or off. My preference is to cook it with the lid on. Check it after 12 minutes and add more broth or water if it isn't quite tender.
- You don't need to soak quinoa, but older quinoa may take longer to cook. This may require adding more liquid.
- To keep the veggies crisp, let the quinoa cool before adding it. The quickest way is to promptly remove quinoa from the cooking pot and fluff it up to release the heat. It will only take a few minutes. That's enough time to finish the dressing and anything else.
Frequently Asked Questions
Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook on the stovetop. This is less time-consuming than heating the Instant Pot, pressure-cooking the quinoa for 3 minutes, and naturally releasing it for another 10 minutes. You can also more closely monitor the quinoa if it's cooking on the stove. For these reasons, we recommend that you use the stovetop method for cooking quinoa by itself.
Red, black, and white quinoa, or purple, orange, and rainbow colors, can be used interchangeably with slight variations in flavor and cooking times. White quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor and the shortest cooking time, with red being stronger. Black quinoa has the most robust flavor, is coarser, with a crunchy texture, and takes a few minutes longer to cook. The first time you cook a new color or brand of quinoa, consult the package directions for the quinoa to water ratio.
For maximum nutrition and fiber, leave cucumbers with the peel on. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the cucumber and deseed it. To accomplish this, cut the cucumber in half and then cut the halves lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds. Slice or dice the cucumber pieces as desired.
🍽 Serving & Storage
This healthy quinoa salad can be served as a one-bowl healthy meal with a simple side of bread or a light soup. Because kale stays crisp after the dressing is added, it makes a deliciously satisfying take-along lunch. It makes a nice change from green salads as a healthy side dish and, with cranberries and almonds, is a show-off for holiday dinners. The simple ingredients and quick meal prep make it the t's a perfect salad to introduce at your next potluck or barbeque contribution with rave reviews.
In all honesty, we love quinoa cranberry salad just as it is. Still, we understand that you might have some fresh parsley or other herbs hanging around. Chop them up and add them if you have a mind to. I've never tried it, but vegan feta cheese would also have an appropriate flavor.
Store quinoa salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It stays fresh and crisp for 2 days. Stir it before serving to redistribute the dressing.