This Quinoa Caprese is a crowd-pleasing salad bursting with garlicky roasted cherry tomatoes and sweet fresh basil. As with most of my grain salads, I sauté a sweet onion in lots of olive oil and add that to the cooked grains* – it makes for a flavorful blank canvas to compliment any combo of mix-ins. Finally, I finish it off with freshly cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar and, if you please, fresh mozzarella bites (conventional or vegan). Couldn’t be simpler or more satisfying.
In terms of a more traditional way of eating, this quinoa salad is a tasty side dish that elevates any simply prepared protein (crispy tofu cutlets, grilled chicken, roasted fish). Because I don’t eat meat, cheese or eggs, I tend to eat in a more modern way, piling plant-based elements into a bowl and mixing it all up while I eat. In this case, this quinoa salad is more of a main dish. Need ideas? Off the top of my head, maybe pair with baby spinach drizzled in vegan caesar dressing (a staple in my fridge), oregano-roasted cauliflower and toasted pine nuts.
*Now for a some quick food facts fun. While I refer to quinoa as a grain, we’re actually using the seed of the quinoa crop, a seed that cooks in the same way as your typical grain (rice, farro, millet, etc). I eat quinoa often because it’s versatile, rich in B vitamins, super fiber-ful and a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs but can’t create on its own.
Caprese Quinoa Salad with Garlicky Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1 cup quinoa
2 pints cherry tomatoes
4-5 cloves garlic, roughly minced
4 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 cup quinoa + 1/2 tsp salt
1 small yellow onion
1 cup fresh basil leaves (1 oz), shredded or chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, bite-size pieces (optional)
Cook 1 cup dry quinoa according to package instructions, seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Allow to steam for 15-20 minutes after cooking, covered. With a fork, gently fluff quinoa and transfer to a mixing bowl to fully cool.
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, toss tomatoes with chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Keep tomatoes and garlic close together and avoid stray garlic pieces, they’ll burn. Roast at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Toss and rearrange, then roast for another 10 minutes, give or take.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until golden-brown and caramelized, stirring frequently, 8-12 minutes.
Mix cooked/cooled quinoa with garlicky cherry tomatoes, sautéed onion, shredded/chopped basil, 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, 3 tablespoons vinegar and more salt to taste. Use a spatula to scrap out all oil and flavor bits when adding tomatoes and onions to the quinoa. Mix in 6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, if using.