It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of quinoa. Even more so, I love making cold salads. They’re perfect for a healthy, lazy lunch or just a quick dinner in the summertime. This cranberry quinoa “pasta” salad is not made with pasta at all. It’s made with quinoa, which is much more nutrient dense than pasta, and this salad has a ton of flavor.
You can use this recipe as a base for a Buddha bowl, or serve it alongside something else as a side dish. I’ve even been known to prepare this for cookouts if I’m not sure whether there will be food I can eat. It’s incredibly satisfying and leaves me feeling full for a long time. And, I don’t feel guilty about eating it.
The creamy tahini dressing pairs really well with the flavors of the cranberries and apples. There’s something about sweet and sour that really comes together in a salad. The lemon juice adds a nice brightness to this recipe that makes it perfect for summertime.
To me, the perfect salad has a good amount of crunch. That’s where the chopped nuts come in. Slivered almonds are an easy way to add flavor, nutrients, and crunch. But, any nut will work well. You can try chopped walnuts or pecans to mix up the flavor. Or, throw in some pumpkin or sunflower seeds instead. I
Recipe tips and variations
One great thing about this salad recipe is how customizable it is. You can add many different things and it will still taste great. Here are some variations I’ve made myself over the years.
- Use different nuts – I like using almonds in this recipe, but I have also experimented with pecans and walnuts and both work really well.
- Add some sweetness – You can add maple syrup into the dressing to make it a bit sweeter.
- Use different dried fruit – Cranberries are always my go-to, but this recipe works well with any dried fruit. Experiment with raisins, currants, or goji berries.
- Use different apples – While red apples add nice sweetness, green apples work well with the zesty lemon flavor. You can also make this recipe with pears if you have them on hand.
- Add seeds – Instead of nuts (or in addition to), try adding pumpkin or sunflower seeds for extra crunch and protein.
- Add fresh herbs – Fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley and basil can add quite a bit of natural flavor to a cold salad. Try topping this salad with herbs for a fresh flavor that’s in-season.
- Mix up the dressing – If you have a favorite salad dressing you like, simply swap out the dressing in the recipe for your favorite. You really can’t go wrong with the texture of quinoa and how well it compliments both fresh and dried fruit.
I like recipes that feel good to eat, and this one of those recipes. It’s so bright, while still feeling like a full meal. If you make any variations of this salad, let me know in the comments how it turned out. I love hearing about what you may be experimenting with in the kitchen!
Cranberry Quinoa Pasta Salad Recipe
- 1 cup dry quinoa cooked
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 apple diced
- ½ cup chopped nuts of choice almonds, walnuts or pecans work well.
- ¼ cup green onion
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. tahini
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- black pepper to taste
- Rinse and cook quinoa according to package directions. After cooking, drain and set aside.
- Prepare the dressing by mixing the lemon juice, garlic, and tahini together. Slowly whisk in olive oil 1 tbsp. at a time until well blended. Add salt and pepper. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired.
- Toss cooled quinoa with dried cranberries, diced apple, and dressing. Top with chopped nuts and serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 3 days.