Lemon-Scented Mexican Quinoa Salad

This Mexican inspired quinoa salad is slightly spicy from jalapeño, sour from the green olives, lemony from the dressing and packed with crunch from radishes, bell peppers and red onions. The salad tastes great warm, cold and at room temperature!

I love a good grain salad. They pack great as a main for lunch and play well with proteins as a side. Farro, wheat berry and quinoa are among my favorites to use. The first two have a great chew to them giving anything they're added to some texture and heft while lighter, though no less satisfying, quinoa is the perfect canvas to absorb the flavors it's cooked with. Today's grain salad recipe is built around quinoa but your favorite grain could easily swap in for it.

The salad has raw red onions but I tame them by getting them into lemon juice as the first step. Hanging out in the acid bath will take much of the bite out of the onion while allowing it to still maintain it's crunch.

The base of today's quinoa salad starts with how the quinoa is cooked. After rinsing it well, I cook it the way I like to start a lot of my Mexican style rice dishes: with garlic, jalapeño and Knorr chicken bouillon. Notice the jalapeño is left whole. We don't want to overpower the quinoa with heat. Instead, an "X" is slit into the tip of the pepper, going about an inch deep, then the pepper is added to the water. The slit allows the water to enter the pepper, coming into contact with the interior but keeps the seeds in place, so there's no chance of them becoming the dominant flavor profile.

As for the bouillon, why use it instead of chicken broth? When it comes to cooking grains, I prefer the concentrated flavor of bouillon. Though, I admit, sometimes, I'll double up, using a low sodium broth and adding bouillon in place of salt. I'd also venture to say that consommé de pollo en polvo – powdered chicken bouillon – is probably one of the most frequently used ingredients in many a Mexican home cook's pantry. And as a side note, not all powdered bouillon's are created equal. I prefer Knorr for it's depth of flavor, balanced saltiness and mouthfeel. Maggi is another popular brand though I find the neon-like color a little unnatural and find the mouthfeel a tad greasy. That said, I know a lot of people who prefer it over Knorr because of the added spices. The best way to discover for yourself is to pick up the smaller containers of each and use them to decide for yourself. Of course, if you have a fantastic-tasting homemade broth sitting in your fridge or freezer, by all means, use it!

Once the quinoa is cooked, it gets fluffed with a fork. Pull out the garlic and jalapeño, they'll become part of the dressing. At this point, you could stop and simply enjoy one of the best bites of basic quinoa as a side dish. It is so good that while I was chopping vegetables for the salad, I couldn't stop stealing forkfuls of it straight out of the cazuela.

Mash the garlic with a knife against the cutting board and stir it into the onion and lemon juice mixture. Next comes some cumin, salt, the jalapeño from the quinoa minced and added to taste along with some good quality extra virgin olive oil (I love California grown and bottled olive oil best for it's freshness and taste). Let that hang out while the quinoa cools and you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Besides the jalapeño-scented quinoa, the other star of this dish is the green olives. Today, I'm using these wonderful tasting pitted green olives from Mina. I've tried and written about Mina products before from their Moroccan style harissa to their tagines so I was excited when I got home from work a few weeks ago to find a care package from the company filled with jars of various olives and preserved lemons. I couldn't wait to try them out. Part of why I am drawn to their products and to Moroccan food in general is that they use many of the flavor profiles I grew up with in my family's Mexican dishes, olives making frequent appearances. So they were a natural fit in this recipe.

The rest of the ingredients add earthiness, sweetness, crunch and a different kind of heat: cilantro, orange bell pepper (red would do well here, too), and radish. I think many people are surprised to learn just how much radish is a part of the Mexican pantry. It adds a slightly pungent flavor that translates into just a bit of heat on the palate as well as crunch to so many dishes. Radish leaves are often added to guisados (stews), or added to salads and even blended into green moles.

Until next time, friends … ¡Buen Provecho!
xo, ani

Lemon-Scented Mexican Quinoa Salad 

(with Jalapeño, Green Olives, Radish, Red Onion & Bell Pepper)

Though there is a bit of chopping to do, this salad still comes together pretty quickly. Due to the acidity in both the lemon dressing and the olives, it keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. 

Serves 6 as a main for lunch or 8 as a side


½ medium red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of sea salt, or to taste
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
2 cups water
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, with an "X" cut into the tip, about 1-inch deep
1 fat clove garlic
2 teaspoons Knorr chicken bouillon
1 cup whole pitted green olives, sliced
½ cup diced orange or red bell pepper
3 radishes, cut into matchsticks
½ cup packed chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup roasted, lightly salted pepitas


Place the diced onions in a large mixing bowl and stir in the lemon juice and pinch of salt. Set aside

Add the rinsed quinoa to a medium sauce pan with 2 cups of water, the jalapeño, garlic and bouillon. Bring to a boil over high heat then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 10-15 minutes. Once all the water is absorbed, remove the jalapeño and garlic and set them aside for later use. Using a fork, fluff the couscous, then set aside.

In the meantime, while the quinoa is cooking, slice, dice and chop the vegetables and cilantro. Set aside.

Once the quinoa is cooked, the garlic and jalapeño will be incorporated into the dressing. Mash the now softened clove of garlic against the chopping board with the side of a chef's knife; add it to the bowl with the onions and lemons. Mince the jalapeño (without the seeds for less heat or with the seeds for more heat). Add as much jalapeño as your palate can tolerate (I usually only use ½ the jalapeño sans seeds). Add the cumin, black pepper, salt and olive oil, stirring well. Mix in the vegetables and cilantro. Add the cooked quinoa, stirring until incorporated. Fold in the pepitas. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Serve immediately or allow quinoa to cool completely before serving. Refrigerate leftovers for up to one week.

Note: Casablanca Foods sent me olives to try. I was not asked to post a review or was I otherwise compensated. I only recommend brands and products I use and love and feel would benefit my readers. All opinions and recipes are my own.