Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad

Is anyone else as completely obsessed with quinoa as I am? I mean how can you not love this stuff?! It’s basically the easiest thing to make in the world next to pasta, and it’s light, clean and healthy! And my tummy feels flat even after I eat a big bowl of this stuff!

I’ve been making quinoa for years now, but something kind of miraculous happened a few weeks ago. Adam, one of my favorite people in the world, and food styling extraordinare, taught me a new way to cook it. Okay so how many of you guys just throw some quinoa into a pot with water? It’s usually a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water. Boil it off until there is no liquid left and then serve it up. Okay so that’s how I’ve done it for years. And there’s nothing wrong with that… but, are you guys ready, I’m about to change your life….

Here’s the secret. You boil it and then steam it. Say whaaaaat? Genius. After a little bit of research I decided that maybe I’m way late to the game and this has been done before… but it was a totally eye opening experience for me. I was baffled. And in awe. And it was seriously the best quinoa I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

And want to know what makes it even better? Fresh mozzarella. Farmers Market cherry tomatoes that taste so sweet it’s basically like eating candy. And a 1/2 cup of basil vinaigrette. Bingo. Best thing ever.

Throw in a glass of dry white wine and you’ve basically got the perfect meal in my book. You could totally add some grilled chicken too if you’ve got a meat lover that you’re feeding. But I made this for myself last week, when Thomas was out of town, and it was just perfect the way I made it 🙂

So here’s the deal with the quinoa….

I don’t rinse it. Nope. Too lazy. Just throw it into a big pot of salted water and bring it to a boil.

Once it’s boiling, let it do it’s thing for 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it though since you don’t want it to boil over.

Next, turn the burner off and go grab a big strainer.

Drain the quinoa from the water in a large strainer and rinse it under cold water. Then place the strainer over the pot with about 1 inch of water and bring the water to a boil. The quinoa should not be touching the water.

Cover the grains with a kitchen towel and the lid and let it steam for about 10-15 minutes. Check periodically to make sure there is still plenty of water to steam and add more water if needed

Then about 10-15 minutes later, dump the fully cooked quinoa into a big bowl and voila….

Isn’t that the most gorgeous bowl of quinoa you’ve ever seen? It’s so light and fluffy and it doesn’t clump one bit!

Here’s the recipe for the whole Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad!

Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad

Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp basil vinegar (you can use red wine vinegar if basil vinegar isn't available)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls, halved
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Put the dried quinoa in a medium pot filled with plenty of water. Bring the water to a boil and boil the quinoa for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the quinoa from the water through a strainer. Rinse the par-cooked quinoa under cold water.
  3. Add about 1 inch of water back into the pot and bring it to a boil. Place the quinoa, still in the strainer, over the boiling water. Cover with a kitchen towel and a lid and let the quinoa steam for 10-15 minutes until light and super fluffy. {Be sure to not let the kitchen towel hang over the pot - we don't want to start any kitchen fires here people :)}
  4. Once the quinoa has steamed, transfer it to a bowl and set aside.
  5. Combine the shallot, basli leaves, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and vinegar in a food processor and process for 1-2 minutes until smooth.
  6. Drizzle the basil vinaigrette over the quinoa and toss to combine. Add the cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella to the quinoa and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve at a later time.

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  1. Why did you cook your quinoa this way? I bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, then simmer it for 10-15 minutes some times adding more water when needed. It comes out fluffy and not clumpy.

  2. I bought some quinoa a few months ago… and still it sits in my cupboard. I looked at it last night knowing I had to try it soon. I think this is the perfect recipe to get me started! Thanks!

  3. This salad looks really delicious – I have never made quinoa, will try this recipe for sure! Thanks!

  4. Leave it to Matt to turn quinoa up to 11. Awesome technique! I gotta try that. Also, you can cook the grain in chicken stock to make it super flavorful. #justsayin

  5. I second Brooke – a little stock in the water really goes a long way – that or making it sweet for a breakfast porridge – I love the stuff!

  6. I use the boil & steam method for brown rice and it works wonders. I used to HATE making brown rice. I’ll definitely have to give it a try with the quinoa. Love this flavor combo, too.

  7. Is it easy to find basil vinegar? Do you know if Whole Foods has it? I didn’t have any, so just used champagne vinegar … the salad tastes great and light!

    1. Hey Kristen! I got my basil vin at whole foods but some whole foods have different things so it’s not always there! Red wine or champagne vinegar are both great substitutions!! Glad you loved it! Thanks 🙂

  8. I love quinoa too! Not only is it a nutritional powerhouse, but it’s also GF! Your salad sounds amazinggggg. I could eat pesto with just about anything — yum!! i’ll have to give this a go! thanks for sharing! i love your blog!

  9. I just made this for dinner tonight! It was amazing!!! This will be my summer go-to meal! Thank you!!

  10. Hi Gaby,
    I only recently started cooking for myself. I made this recipe the other night and it was very spicy hot (very oniony). I have a few questions. What do you mean by one shallot? I took it to mean the whole thing even though it was really 3 cloves together. Maybe I was only supposed to use one clove? And the shallots at my supermarket ranged in size as well. Is there maybe a way to tell me how much you used in say tablespoons or cups? Also, I don’t have a food processor so I skipped that step. Is that a crucial step that I shouldn’t have skipped? Overall, I really liked the recipe and would love to make it again if it wasn’t so oniony. Any suggestions you could give me would be appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Hi Krista!

      Thanks for your questions! Yes, 1 shallot is just one of the cloves. I tend to buy the smaller shallots as I think they have more flavor and then you don’t need as much.

      Also – you can substitute a blender for the food processor!


  11. This sounds delicious!! I’ve also tried toasting my quinoa before cooking it. You just put the quinoa in a frying pan and toast on low heat (stirring occasionally) for 10-15 minutes or until fragrant. The outcome is delish! The quinoa tastes nuttier for some reason.

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  13. This salad is fantastic!! I love quinoa.. Can you list the nutritional information? I just found your site and am looking forward to using more of your recipes. I can’t eat wheat/or gluten. Do you have any recipes dedicated to that?

    1. Hi Theresa!

      I have a whole section on my recipe index that is dedicated to gluten free recipes!

      And I don’t provide nutritional info on my recipes, although I’m working with a company on potentially being able to provide info like that in the near future!
      Thanks 🙂

  14. I also love the varieties of recipes you can do with quinoa. I have the light and the red but haven’t been able to find the black as of yet. I love the idea of steaming the quinoa. Recently I found a recipe called Perfect Brown Rice by Saveur (you can do a search) and it has a cooking period in lots of water and then at the end it is steamed It was the perfect brown rice. Thanks Gaby for all your time and recipes.

  15. I made your Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad for dinner last night to go with Moroccan Turkey Burgers by Cooking Light Magazine July/August 1999 which I have made many times through the years. I loved your
    Pesto Caprese Quinoa Salad. It was so light and the basil vinaigrette was so tasty. I will be making this again and also for family outings. I tried your new way of cooking the quinoa and it was very light and fluffy. I posted earlier how I steam brown rice now and it is a great way of cooking both the brown rice and quinoa. Keep the delicious recipes coming.

  16. I love discovering new recipes for quinoa. I will try your recipe with the keanwah as I have had no luck being creative with it nor can I get my husband to eat it. This recipe is a keeper. Thanks Gaby!!

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