Quinoa Taco Salad

One of my goals for this year was to eat better lunches instead of snacking on low nutrient foods all afternoon. This made over taco salad is packed with vegetables, grains, and protein. It’s the perfect lunch to help me get through that afternoon energy decline.

“Taco” Salad has all the flavor and protein of a regular taco salad, but is so much healthier. It tastes clean and rich with flavor instead of laden with greasy, over-salted chips and low nutrient lettuce. This version uses a mixture of baby spinach and cilantro as a substitute for iceberg lettuce, a common taco salad ingredient. Instead of corn tortilla chips, you have the nutty flavor and slightly crunchy texture of quinoa. That doesn’t mean you can’t crumble a couple chips for garnish and texture on top of your plate, but you probably won’t even miss the chips.

I highly recommend trying quinoa if you haven’t already. It is one of the most nutritious grains available. Quinoa has a similar texture to couscous, but a little more crunch and a slightly nutty flavor. It is a complete protein and contains slow-releasing carbs to help maintain blood sugar levels. Quinoa is a great grain substitute for rice if you are aiming for healthier meals. For more about quinoa, see What is Quinoa? at Recipezaar.

The quinoa mixture is best made ahead of time so it can chill, but it tastes great warm as well.

Quinoa “Taco” Salad

serves 4

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • half a red bell pepper, chopped
  • half a green bell pepper, chopped
  • half a yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili powder, depending heat preferences
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 -15 ounce can black beans, drained
  • 3/4 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 2 limes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6-8 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1/3 cup cheddar or feta cheese
  • 1 avocado, diced

Cook the quinoa according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, swirl a bit of olive oil in a saute pan. Heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, until translucent and tender. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, cayenne and peppers and saute an additional 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in the black beans, tomatoes, and the juice of 1 lime. Stir in quinoa. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill.

Roughly cut baby spinach into strips like you would shred iceberg lettuce for tacos. Remove about 1 cup of cilantro leaves from the bunch, rinse and pat dry, and toss with the spinach. Divide spinach and cilantro mixture evenly among 4 salad plates. Top each plate with a scoop of the quinoa salad. Top each salad with your choice of cheese and diced avocado. Cut the remaining lime into slices to garnish the plates.