Light, flavorful pesto quinoa salad with avocado, walnuts, feta cheese, asparagus, and kale. This nutrient-packed dish is perfect for packing up and taking for lunches or to barbecues and picnics.
I’ve been on quite the quinoa kick lately (did you check out my Mango Edamame Quinoa Salad a couple of weeks ago?? It’s pretty magical!), and this pesto quinoa salad has been part of my weekly routine. I make a batch of it over the weekend so that I can eat on it throughout the week. The combination of pesto sauce, asparagus, kale, walnuts, avocado and feta cheese creates a texture and flavor-packed superfood medley that will make your taste buds swoon.
One of my favorite parts about quinoa is its nutrient profile – it is filled with plant-based protein and also complex carbohydrates. It’s an excellent food to add to my salads when I’m wanting a lighter meal but also wanting to hit all of my macros.
I originally developed this recipe for my cookbook, Let Them Eat Kale!, (which will be re-printed as The Quintessential Kale Cookbook in January 2019). Remembering how much I loved this dish back when I first made it 4 years ago for the book, I just had to re-make it, as it truly is a marvelous salad for summertime.
The pesto sauce I use in this pesto quinoa salad is my homemade kale pesto. I typically keep my pesto sauces dairy-free and vegan by replacing the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast and cider vinegar. I find the nutritional yeast and cider vinegar adds beautiful tangy, cheesy flavor. If you eat dairy, you can omit the nutritional yeast and cider vinegar and replace it with 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated parmesan. I love the nuttiness of the walnuts in the pesto, and the fact that the kale adds even more nutrients while still being super flavorful.
You can easily meal prep this recipe by cooking the quinoa up to 4 days in advance, and making the pesto sauce up to 4 days in advance. The dish comes together quickly, though, so no advance prep is necessary.
- Use your favorite pesto sauce in place of the kale pesto.
- Incorporate your favorite seasonal vegetables in place of asparagus.
- Omit the avocado if you’re meal prepping and add it in just before serving so that it stays fresh.
- Substitute any of your favorite nuts for the walnuts, or go for pine nuts or pumpkin seeds.
- Omit the feta to make vegan or replace with goat cheese.
- If you aren’t intolerant to garlic, you may add 1 clove garlic to the pesto sauce.
I keep this quinoa salad as a side dish, or I add it to a big green salad to turn it into an entree. You can absolutely eat it as is and call it dinner or get creative with your uses. This is a marvelous addition to any of your picnics, barbecues, and gatherings.
Pesto Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Avocado, and Kale
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small bunch asparagus trimmed and chopped
- 2 cups tightly packed kale leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup kale pesto sauce recipe above
- 1/3 cup raw walnuts roasted and chopped
- 1 avocado peeled, pitted and diced
- 1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
Add all ingredients except oil to a food processor and pulse until chopped. Once chopped, turn the food processor on and stream the oil through the opening in the top. Continue processing until desired texture is reached. Taste pesto for flavor and add more sea salt or nutritional yeast
Cook quinoa according to package instructions.
Add oil to a large non-stick skillet and heat to medium-high. Add chopped asparagus and saute, stirring occasionally, until asparagus turns bright green and begins to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Add chopped kale to the skillet and stir. Cover and cook until kale has wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the cooked quinoa, lemon zest, sea salt, and kale pesto and stir well until combined.
Fold in the avocado, walnuts, and feta and taste for flavor. Add more sea salt to taste. Note: you can chill the pesto quinoa in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve before adding the avocado, walnuts, and feta. Quinoa salad can be served both warm or cold.