I developed this recipe a couple months ago and it was such a hit, I’ve made it several times since, tweaking it each time to achieve the perfect balance of fall flavors. I know we’re not in fall season anymore, but this dish is fantastic any time of year!
Quinoa is a versatile grain that pairs well with unlimited combinations of herbs, spices, nuts, proteins and other vegetables. It works as a starchy side or can bulked up to stand alone as a full meal. Inspired by the flavors of autumn, this Fall Quinoa Salad is sure to please the whole family.
Ingredients for Fall Quinoa Salad
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a gluten free whole grain that originates from South America. Some refer to quinoa as a “pseudo-grain” as it is technically a seed, but it is prepared and eaten like a grain. It comes in 3 colors, red, white and black. You could use any single color or a combination of all three for this recipe. Quinoa is much higher in protein than other grains, boasting 8 g per cup of cooked quinoa, making it a great source of plant based protein for vegans or vegetarians. Quinoa is also a wonderful source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and folate. I have not experimented using other grains for this recipe, but it would likely be delicious using brown rice, farro or any other whole grain.
This winter squash screams “Fall,” and I’m known to buy loads of them as soon as September hits! Butternut squash is a tender and mildly sweet starchy winter vegetable that is great on it’s own or combined with other foods in a soup or salad. The flavor falls somewhere between pumpkin and sweet potato. In the event you don’t have butternut squash, you could substitute cooked diced sweet potato. If you don’t have access to fresh butternut squash, you can purchase frozen, cubed butternut squash and roast it in the oven per package instructions. Butternut squash offers a good source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A in the body.
Olive oil is used to roast the squash as well as to make the dressing. You can substitute avocado oil or even coconut oil, however, using coconut oil will alter the flavors of the dish.
Dried Red Currants
Underappreciated, but packed with flavor, dried currants add a delicate sweetness to this Fall inspired quinoa salad. If you are unable to find currants, feel free to substitute with raisins or dried cranberries. I specify in the recipe to use 2-3 tablespoons. I prefer 2 as I feel like the 3rd tablespoon pushes it over the edge on the sweetness (there’s also maple syrup in the recipe).
Toasted pecans add crunch and nuttiness to help check the boxes on texture. You can purchase chopped pecans that have already been toasted or roasted, alternatively you can lightly toast raw pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350. Pecans not only add crunch, but a dose of healthy fats to boost satisfaction and heart health. Feel free to sub with any other nut or seed such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or walnuts.
Maple syrup is the sweetener source for the tart dressing. Maple syrup adds a unique caramel-like flavor, that feels & tastes like Fall. Other alternatives to use include honey or date syrup.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Every salad dressing needs a tarte element (in my opinion) and apple cider vinegar does the job here perfectly. You can sub with red wine vinegar, white balsamic or another fruit based vinegar if available (I’ve seen pomegranate vinegar at Trader Joe’s, which would work nicely).
Whole Grain Mustard
Mustard acts as an emulsifying agent in the salad dressing, helping to combine oil and vinegar into a smooth dressing that doesn’t separate. I am a big fan of whole grain mustard for the flavor it adds. I use this ingredient in so many of my salad dressing recipes as well as marinades, rubs and dips.
How to Make Fall Quinoa Salad
You’ll start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.
While the oven is preheating, prepare the quinoa. I love to use a rice cooker because you simply set it and forget it! The ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water. You can also use leftover quinoa for this recipe (you’ll need about 3 cups cooked quinoa).
While the quinoa is cooking, you can begin prepping the squash. For this recipe, I used a fresh butternut squash. I recommend using a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off first. Next, I slice off the bottom/round end of the squash and slice it in half, scooping out the seeds. I then slice the squash into cubes about 3/4 inch in size. Here is a great tutorial if needed. I recommend a high quality knife, it will make the process easier as well as reduce the risk of hurting yourself. My Wusthof chef’s knife is my favorite. While it’s an investment, I’ve had it for years and get it professionally sharpened every so often to keep it like new.
Once the squash is cubed, place it on a parchment lined baking sheet and season with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Next measure out the currants, nuts and set aside.
Finally, make the salad dressing by whisking the remaining olive oil, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, whole grain mustard and salt and pepper together in a small bowl. You’ll set the dressing aside until ready to finish assembly of the salad.
Once the quinoa and butternut squash are ready and somewhat cooled, add them to a large serving bowl. Next, add the nuts and currants to the bowl. Finally pour the dressing over top and use a spatula to gently fold all the ingredients until combined.
Now the salad is ready to eat!
How to Serve Fall Quinoa Salad
This dish could be served as a side dish for any meal. I think it would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving or other holiday menu. This salad can also be served as a main dish, however, I’d recommend bulking it up a bit with either some rotisserie chicken (leftover makes a convenient meal!) or adding a can of beans such as chickpeas or any other bean you have on hand. The dish can be eaten hot or cold. As it sits in the refrigerator, the flavors meld together and it tastes even better on subsequent days. Hello, leftovers!
You can keep the Fall Quinoa Salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Equipment Needed to Make Fall Quinoa Salad
Rice Cooker: this is an optional tool, however, I feel it makes cooking the quinoa a bit easier. Set and forget it.
Parchment Paper – Parchment prevents sticking and makes cleanup easier. I am obsessed with these pre-cut sheets.
Fall Quinoa Salad
- rice cooker (optional)
- parchment paper (optional)
- 3 cups butternut squash, cubed into roughly ¾ inch pieces
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 cup dry quinoa
- 2-3 tbsp red currants may use raisins or dried cranberries in place of currants.
- ½ cup pecans, chopped and toasted toasting is optional, but adds more flavor. You can purchase pre-toasted/roasted pecans
For The Salad Dressing
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tbsp whole grain mustard
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Preheat to 400 degrees
- Cook quinoa per package instructions (or use a rice cooker – ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water and it takes roughly 25-30 minutes)
- Place the squash on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown. You may need to turn the squash about half way through cooking time.
- While the squash and quinoa are cooking assemble the dressing. In a small bowl add all the ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
- Once the quinoa is cooked, add it to a large bowl.
- Once the squash is finished baking add to the bowl along with currants and pecans.
- Pour the dressing over the ingredients and gently fold until dressing and ingredients are incorporated.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
- Add a protein source such as beans or leftover grilled chicken to make this a complete meal
- Add a cup of leftover cold quinoa salad to a bed of mixed greens and top with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette