30 Minute Loaded Quinoa Taco Salad with Baja Dressing is a total flavor fiesta. A hearty and healthy vegetarian taco salad that won't leave you missing the meat! (Recipe updated 3/21/2022)
If you're looking for a hearty salad that you can stretch out for several days of lunches, this recipe covers all bases.
Protein- and fiber-rich quinoa, black beans, and bright, colorful toppers make this recipe a wholesome upgrade. Compared to the Tex-Mex favorite, this vegetarian version is both fresher and more nutritious.
Chipotle-flavored quinoa and black beans make it plenty hearty, while pico de gallo and avocado lend bright pops of color and freshness.
A creamy Baja-style dressing ties it all together and makes this salad downright crave-worthy.
How to Make a Quinoa Taco Salad
You can use either kale or romaine for the base of the salad. The benefit of using kale is that it won't go soggy or limp when prepped in advance.
If you use romaine, just wait to dress the salad until right before serving.
- Quinoa: This pseudo-seed is one of the only plant-based sources of all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Quinoa is also naturally gluten free with a lower glycemic index than most grains.
- Spices: Chili powder and cumin give the quinoa a bold flavor profile. You can also toss in some cayenne pepper for extra spice.
- Adobo Sauce: This is the sauce you'll find in a can of chipotle chile peppers. Look for it in the international aisle of any well-stocked grocery store.
- Aromatics: Onion and garlic create the aromatic foundation of the quinoa. You can use red, yellow, or sweet onion here.
- Broth: I like to cook the quinoa in either vegetable or chicken broth for extra flavor, however you can also use water.
- Black Beans: For a one-two punch of protein and fiber, black beans add extra heft to this vegetarian taco salad.
- Greens: You can use either kale or romaine for the base of the salad. The benefit of using kale is that it won't go soggy or limp when prepped in advance.
- Toppings: I love using a mix of pico de gallo, avocado, and tortilla mix for a mix of fresh, creamy, and crunchy. You can also toss in some pepitas, fresh cilantro, and/or queso fresco.
- Dressing: The Baja-style dressing is a simple mix of Greek yogurt, olive oil, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, cilantro, and spices. It's bright, creamy, and really ties the salad together.
Step 1: Prepare Taco-Spiced Quinoa
Heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in adobo sauce, chili powder, and ½ tsp. cumin; cook 1 minute, stirring often. Add quinoa, vegetable broth, and ½ tsp. salt; increase heat and bring mixture to a simmer.
Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until quinoa is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, stir in black beans, and refrigerate while you assemble remaining salad ingredients.
Step 2: Prepare Baja Dressing
In a blender or Nutribullet, combine Greek yogurt, olive oil, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, cilantro, cumin, salt, and pepper; blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.
Step 3: Assemble Quinoa Taco Salad
Add lettuce to a large bowl or serving platter. Top with quinoa and black bean mixture, pico de gallo, and sliced avocado. Drizzle dressing overtop and gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.
FAQs and Expert Tips
Does Quinoa Have Protein?
Quinoa is a nutrient-packed pseudo-grain that makes for a fantastic swap for taco meat.
Additionally, quinoa is one of the few plant sources of all nine essential amino acids required to build and repair protein tissues in the body, which makes it a complete protein.
In terms of flavor, quinoa has a a signature nuttiness that takes well to bold spices, such as chili powder and cumin. In addition, it also holds up great for leftovers, so feel free to double the batch and enjoy on repeat for weekday lunches.
Where to Buy Quinoa
Look for dry quinoa in the bulk bin section of health food stores, such as Sprouts Market or Whole Foods, for cost savings. You can also purchase it in bags near the rice and other grains.
You can use white, red, or multi-colored quinoa for this recipe, however white has the mildest flavor.
Is Taco Salad Healthy?
Taco salads are a great opportunity to slip in extra veggies and fiber. This vegetarian taco salad offers a decent punch of protein and fiber from plant-based sources.
More Healthy Mexican Recipes:
If you give this vegetarian taco salad a try, snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth on Instagram so I can see your beautiful creations. Also, follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest recipe updates!
30 Minute Loaded Quinoa Taco Salad
- Medium Saucepan with Lid
- Blender or Nutribullet
- 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup chopped red onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp. adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle chiles)
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- ½ cup dry (uncooked) quinoa
- 1 cup vegetable broth (sub water)
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
- 6 to 8 cups chopped romaine (or lettuce of choice)
- ½ cup prepared pico de gallo
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- Tortillas chips for serving (optional)
- ¼ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
- 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. honey
- ¼ tsp. ground cumin
- ¼ tsp. each kosher salt and black pepper
- Prepare Quinoa Mixture:Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in adobo sauce, chili powder, and cumin; cook 1 minute. Add quinoa, vegetable broth, and salt; increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until quinoa is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.Stir in black beans and let mixture sit (uncovered) to slightly cool while you prepare the rest of salad.
- Prepare Baja Dressing:In a blender or Nutribullet, combine Greek yogurt, olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper; blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.
- Assemble Salad:Add lettuce to a large bowl or serving platter and season with a pinch of salt. Top with quinoa and black bean mixture, pico de gallo, and sliced avocado. Drizzle dressing overtop and gently toss to combine. Garnish with tortilla chips, if desired. Serve immediately.