Colorful and refreshing, this light quinoa salad is packed with nutritious phytonutrients. Fresh basil and chopped veggies are combined with quinoa and white cannellini beans and then tossed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
What are phytonutrients?
Credit for all of the lovely colors in our fruits and vegetables is due to a group of chemicals called phytonutrients, naturally occurring compounds found only in plants that give off pigments and have some pretty impressive health benefits. Phytonutrients (aka phytochemicals) act as antioxidants, lower inflammation markers, and support a strong immune system.
Where can you find phytonutrients?
Along with fruits and veggies, phytonutrients can also be found in nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and beverages like tea and wine. (Basically, all plants have them.)
Here are some common phytonutrients and where you can find them:
Allyl Sulfides + Organosulfurs: garlic, onions, leeks
Anthocyanins: berries, eggplant, cherries, beets, red potatoes, red grapes
Capsaicin: chili peppers
Beta-Carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots
Lutein: dark leafy greens
Lycopene: tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon
Catechins: matcha/green tea
Flavonoids/Quercitin: citrus fruits, grapes, wine, onions, apples, tea
Indoles: broccoli, cabbage, kale
Isoflavones/Genestein: legumes (especially soy)
Lignans: flax, berries, whole grains
Limonene: citrus peel
Phytosterols: nuts, seeds, legumes (especially soy)
Resveratrol: grapes, red wine
With bright colors and plenty of phytonutrients, I was drawn to a combination of fresh tomatoes, onion, carrots, spinach, pepper, and basil in this Rainbow Quinoa salad. It's delicious warm or cold and a great one for packed lunches or picnics.
Here's a closer look at the phytonutrients you'l be getting:
Organosulfurs, found in garlic and onions, may improve circulation and protect against oxidative damage. A preliminary study also indicates that organosulfurs have potential anticancer activity.
Bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and spinach can all thank the carotenoids for their bright hues. Phytonutrients like beta-carotene, lycopene, and zeaxanthin all belong to this group. Beta-carotene gives off a yellow or orange color and can be converted into vitamin A, an essential micronutrient that supports eye health and a strong immune system.
Whole grains are a good source of a group of phytonutrients known as phytosterols. Studies suggest that these phytonutrients decrease cholesterol absorption and help to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
I've found that the combination of whole grains and fresh vegetables tossed in a homemade vinaigrette is just about the tastiest way to enjoy all of the advantages that these phytonutrients have to offer.
To prepare, simply combine chopped veggies, beans, and cooked quinoa in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients in a separate bowl first, and then toss with the salad.
Feel free to play around with the types of vegetables or whole grain you use in this recipe. Check out my seasonal produce guides for some ideas and inspiration.
Rainbow Quinoa Salad
- 1 cup dry quinoa or 3 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 cup grape tomatoes quartered
- 1 yellow bell pepper diced
- ½ red onion diced
- 2 carrots peeled and diced
- 3 cups spinach roughly chopped
- ¾ cup fresh basil roughly chopped
- 1 15 oz can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
- 4 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare quinoa: combine with 2 cups water or vegetable broth and cook until water absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fluff with fork and allow to cool.
- Add tomatoes, pepper, onion, carrots, spinach, basil, and beans to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients to prepare dressing.
- Add cooled quinoa and dressing to salad and toss until well-combined. Serve at room temperature or cold. Store in fridge for up to one week.
What's your favorite colorful vegetable combination?
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Try these other colorful and phytonutrient-rich recipes:
Raspberry Fig Smoothie Bowl
Mint Berry Smoothie Bowl