Southwest Quinoa Salad (GF) (Vegetarian)

Today is the first day of a 5 day series and it’s all about DINNER! Covering a variety of flavors and foods, I hope to offer you some new recipes to make in your kitchen! I love trying new recipes, but sometimes there’s nothing like pulling out a go-to staple. Today’s recipe comes from cooking classes I taught during college. My favorite part about this recipe is that it’s loaded with vegetables and one of my favorite herbs, cilantro! It’s also vegetarian but can easily be modified to include chicken or steak!

Plant-Based Proteins 101

Two misconceptions about vegetarian meals is that they aren’t high in protein or the protein isn’t as good as that from animals. When thinking about sources of protein there are two main kinds – animal and plant-based sources. Both can provide adequate protein and support a healthy diet; at the end of the day, how you eat is a total preference and I’m not going to try and convince you one way is better than the other. Some of the things to consider though when choosing plant-based proteins concerns iron and amino acids.

Non-Heme Iron vs. Heme Iron

When it comes to iron, plant-based proteins contain what we call non-heme iron. Non-heme iron isn’t as bioavailable as the heme iron found in animal proteins. This just means you can’t absorb as much iron from these foods. However, you can make it more bioavailable by including a source of vitamin C in your meal. By adding vitamin C, which can be as simple as a squeeze of citrus, spinach, or other fruits and vegetables, the iron found in plant-based proteins is converted to a more absorbable form and available to be used by your body.

Essential Amino Acids and Complete Proteins

The other thing to consider when consuming vegetarian meals is amino acids, which are just the building blocks of proteins. Different protein sources have different amino acid profiles. Our bodies are able to make certain amino acids but there are others we can only get from foods. These amino acids are called essential amino acids.

Plant based proteins are sometimes considered incomplete because they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. This doesn’t mean you can’t create complete proteins with a plant-based diet, it just means you have to pair complementary proteins together. Pairing complementary proteins? Don’t worry, this is a lot easier than it sounds.

  • A perfect example is beans and rice. Rice protein contains the amino acid methionine, the one beans are lacking. Beans are missing methionine but high in lysine (another amino acid missing in rice). Pairing these two foods together makes a complete protein profile. Just remember, grains and beans go together like two peas in a pod!

Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Quinoa is unique and a great addition to this recipe because it’s a complete protein (meaning it has all the essential amino acids)! In case you’re curious, other benefits of a plant-based diet include a lower environmental impact (as it takes a lot of resources to raise cattle), lower cost to you (meat is expensive), being naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, all of which support heart health! In the end, you can choose to be entirely vegetarian, vegan or just eat these meals once in a while. Even choosing one Meatless Meal a week could be something to consider! At the end of the day I just want to demonstrate that vegetarian meals are not only a great way to add more fiber to your diet, but are an affordable option that can taste great too!

Southwestern Quinoa Salad


  • 1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1- 16 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen, canned or fresh corn kernels
  • 1 large red bell pepper, rinsed, seeded and diced in ¼” pieces
  • ½ bunch (3-4 stalks) green onions, both green and white parts cut ¼”
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups kale, roughly chopped

Jalapeno Lime Dressing

  • 1 large jalapeno, minced finely
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice (juice from 2 limes)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ cup olive oil


  1. Bring 1½ cups of water to boil in medium saucepan. Add rinsed* quinoa and stir. Bring back to boil then lower temperature to ‘low’ setting. Cover with lid and set timer for 15 minutes.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking, rinse beans in fine mesh strainer and cut bell pepper, green onions, and cilantro.  Add to large mixing bowl and stir with mixing spoon.
  3. Mince jalapeno and garlic. Add to small mixing bowl, along with lime juice, salt, honey and cumin. Pour olive oil in a steady stream to bowl while whisking.
  4. Once quinoa is translucent it is done cooking. Turn off the heat and let stand off heat for 5 minutes with lid off. Once quinoa is cooled, fluff with fork and add to mixture in large bowl.
  5. Mix quinoa and vegetables together with large spoon, then pour dressing over the top. Mix together and chill.
  6. When ready to serve, add kale and mix together.

*Make sure to rinse your quinoa. You never know when you’ll get a batch that wasn’t rinsed and all of sudden you’re tasting soap in your mouth (Yes I know this from experience lol)