Vegetable-Stuffed Quinoa Salad with Pesto Dressing

April 13, 2010(updated on July 1, 2022)

quinoa salad

Last September, I spent a frantic Friday evening processing two gallons of freshly picked basil into pesto. I was leaving early the next morning for a long weekend, and couldn’t bear the idea of allowing it to wilt into sludge. During the making, covering my kitchen from one end to another with smudges of green, I questioned my sanity. However, with many such acts of culinary will, having that pesto has proven to be a gift throughout the year.

quinoa in a jar

Packed in four and eight ounce jars, the pesto has kept perfectly in the freezer. A day or two before I plan on using some, I move a jar from freezer to fridge and let it slowly defrost (to be perfectly honest, you can defrost a jar up to a week before you plan on using it, as long as you keep it unopened).

Yesterday, knowing I had a jar of this gorgeous pesto ready to be used, I started imagining a giant quinoa and vegetable salad. Now that the weather has warmed up and the daylight lasts into the dinner hour, it feels delightfully right to eat cool, grain-y*, crunchy meals again. Once home, I simmered two cups of quinoa (treat it just like brown rice, with a 2 to 1 water to grain ratio) and roasted off my first bundle of spring asparagus. While those things cooked, I chopped cucumber, red pepper, celery, red onion, flat-leaf parsley and drained a can of garbanzo beans.

basil in the food processor

I whisked the four ounce jar of pesto with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and drizzled some olive oil in until it was pourable. Once all the ingredients were combined (quickly cool the quinoa on a cookie sheet, so that it doesn’t heat up your veg too much), I crumbled six ounces of feta on top, poured on the dressing and stirred until everyone was well-combined.

cooling quinoa

The great thing about salads such as this is that you can adapt them to ensure that they taste good to you. I happened to be married to a guy who is hugely skeptical of my “hippie salads.” Because I know I need to win him over, I don’t put things in that would give him pause. This means skipping tomatoes, capers, toasted nuts or something sweet like cranberries or currants. However, these would all make excellent additions (and sometimes, I top my own serving with some nuts or a few raisins).

Happily, it only took one bite for this meal to be Scott-approved (he ended up having two big platefuls). I’m so looking forward to more meals like this one, as the weather continues to warm and vegetable season moves into full swing.

*Yes, I know that quinoa isn’t actually a grain, but it does an excellent job imitating one in situations such as these.

Organized recipe is after the jump…

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Vegetable-Stuffed Quinoa Salad with Pesto Dressing


  • 2 cups quinoa cooked in 4 cups water
  • 1 bundle asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 1/2 red onion roughly chopped
  • 1/2 english cucumber cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
  • 6 ounces feta crumbled
  • 4 ounces of pesto
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • olive oil some for roasting asparagus and some for the dressing
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Toasted almonds optional


  • Cook the two cups of quinoa by combining it with four cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce temperature. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it is tender. When it is finished cooking, spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool.
  • Spread the asparagus out on a small cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
  • Combine chopped red pepper, onion, cucumber, parsley and drained garbanzo beans in a large bowl.
  • Whisk the pesto, vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil together until runny. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add quinoa to the chopped vegetables. Gently stir to combine. Add the crumbled feta and dressing and fold in. Top with toasted almonds and serve. Can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

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21 thoughts on "Vegetable-Stuffed Quinoa Salad with Pesto Dressing"

  • basil freezes well, interestingly enough. I learnt that from a Siscilian. It may lose some of its potency, but I jus made pesto from basil I froze in ’08 and it was wonderful. I don’t blanch it or anything, just put it in a freezer bag and pop it in the freezer.

  • Great recipe idea. I’ve been craving lighter salads too and though our lettuce isn’t quite ready, a rice or grain version might just hit the spot.

  • I love, love, LOVE quinoa! Quick question about the basil pesto: When you said you processed the basil, did you can it? Or were you just making the basil pesto in bulk, putting it in jars, and freezing it?

    Also, do you add cheese to your pesto before you freeze, after, or not at all?


  • salad looks great and is perfect for this weather! i froze some pesto too a while back, but definitely not 2 gallons worth! you must have a HUGE freezer 🙂

  • I simply adore your blog! this looks delicious…I’ve never cooked quinoa but I think I will give it a try.

  • I don’t have any quinoa salads in my repertoire – thanks for a great recipe.

    I freeze pesto like a maniac too! I do put mine in ice cube trays to freeze and then pop the cubes into bags or containers (my trays are left from making baby food cubes – not my regular ice trays). This way, I have an instant meal: put a cube or two on your plate, dump hot pasta over it and YAY!! supper. The oil ensures that it’s not frozen as hard as a cube of ice, for example, so you can break up the cube with your fork as the hot pasta defrosts it.

    I’m also glad to know you can just freeze basil in a bag, because I had some frantic midnight pesto makings too. Now I wonder if I can do that to other herbs too. . .fresh herbs are so perishable, but so irreplaceable in a recipe.

  • Mel, when I said that I processed the pesto, I meant that I made large batches in the food processor, filled up the jars and put them in the freezer. Sadly, you can’t process pesto to be shelf stable. And I did add cheese to the pesto prior to freezing, but didn’t include nuts (mostly because that’s what I happened to have on hand the day I was making the pesto). I know that some people think that the cheese can get gummy in the freezer, but I haven’t had any problems with it.

    Heather, I started with 2 gallons on basil leaves, which gave me about four pints of finished pesto. My freezer is actually fairly tiny, but it just the job for the two of us.

    Jana, I’m a huge fan of quinoa. I find that if you add a pinch of salt during cooking, it helps the flavor a whole lot.

    Margo, we’ll just have to try freezing herbs this summer and see how they turn out!

  • Great! I have the basic ingredients on hand (quinoa, check. pesto, check, leftover chickpeas, check. parsley, check. half a lemon, check) will add some bell pepper and zucchini, possibly some baby bok choy to the mix. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Nice. What a great idea for using up pesto. I’ve been sitting on some for a while now, and now I’ve got inspiration to get cookin’.

  • Made it last night and it was lovely! My husband couldn’t get enough, ate 5 bowls of it last night and took more for lunch today. Thanks so much for the idea! This will be going into our family recipe book for sure.

  • I have never had quinoa before and am afraid to buy it becuase I have a very picky husband. Maybe I’ll buy it next time when I grocery shop.
    Thank you for the recipe.

  • YUM!! I’m definitely adding this to next week’s menu. I still have some pesto of my own in the freezer, and it’s one of my most favorite treats to pull out all winter long!

    I’ve also started switching over to cool, crunchy, yummy main course salads these last couple weeks. My husband is also a little skeptical of my “hippie salads” (as you so aptly call them), but I’m winning him over bite by bite 🙂 This one should be easy, because he loves pesto!

  • Mmmm…. Looks good. I’ve got a lot of quinoa in my pantry. I’ll give this a try. I have a young nephew who was recently diagnosed as being severely allergic to most grains (wheat, corn, oats, rye, barley, anything that’s not a “seed” or rice). It’s been a problem to figure out what the poor little guy can eat. If this is tasty, I’ll forward this to his mom.

  • I’m making this right now, with parsley pesto I made last summer and froze. Perfect use for it: thanks for the recipe!

  • Looks fantastic! I just bought some quinoa and still have some asparagus and pesto that I froze last summer. Can’t wait to try this! I love “hippie salads” and would LOVE to see some of your other hippie salad recipes featured here.

  • This looks tasty! I’m gluten free, so I can rarely try the recipes that my friends rave about. I have some red quinoa in the cupboard that hubby brought home…it’s now calling my name! 😀
    My dilemma: I don’t care how many times I am asked – I will NOT cook something that I myself can’t eat. I’ve tried it, and it’s just torture. I do love experimenting with interesting flours and grains, though – hubby just brought a bag of coconut flour home last week. I can’t wait to experiment!

  • Hi Marisa! I’ve had this filed away for several months now, and all summer it was in the back of my mind to try it. Today in Minnesota we have a rare October treat of a sunny, 80-degree day and this was just the thing. Turned out great – thanks for the recipe!

  • When I make pesto, I put it into plastic ice cube trays (do this with tomato paste too). When the cubes are frozen solid, put them into a zipper freezer bag. That way I can pull out a cube to defrost to toss with pasta or 4 cubes to try your yummy recipe. Quinoa is my go to this year and your recipe is a great addition to my repitois. Thanks.