Fall Quinoa Salad is a delightful mix of texture and flavors of the fall harvest. Made with roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, protein-rich quinoa, and a pumpkin vinaigrette, this gluten-free, plant-based recipe is a show-stopper!
Years ago I attended a huge Thanksgiving Pot-Luck that featured dozens of delicious dishes. But the recipe that stood out to me was a wild rice salad made with roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, and a pumpkin vinaigrette.
Pumpkin Vinaigrette?! I know that sounds crazy, but oh my goodness does it work! The pumpkin puree adds an earthy, creaminess to the dressing, making it feel rich and luxurious using vegetables! Balanced out with maple syrup and apple cider vinegar, the dressing is sweet, tangy, and the perfect complement to the butternut squash and cranberries in the salad.
My version of this recipe is made with caramelized roasted squash, tart dried cranberries, and a tangy pumpkin dressing. But instead of using wild rice as the base, I opted for quinoa. Quinoa adds a hefty dose of plant-based protein, making this salad worthy of being the main entree!
Notes On Ingredients
You only need a few pantry staple ingredients, along with fresh butternut squash to prepare this salad. It is affordable, hearty, and yet incredibly flavorful.
- Quinoa: Use any variety/color of dried quinoa you like.
- Butternut Squash: You will need a couple of cups of cubed, peeled butternut squash for this salad, which is less than a whole squash. I often opt to make a large batch of roasted butternut squash earlier in the week. Serve the squash as a side dish for dinner one night and then use the leftovers to whip up this salad with ease.
- Seasoned Salt: Instead of simply using kosher salt, I opt to use homemade seasoned salt, which adds a nice savory note to the salad.
- Pumpkin Puree: Be sure to use 100% pure pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling. Canned or homemade pumpkin puree will work in this dressing.
- Maple Syrup: Use pure maple syrup for the best flavor in the dressing.
- Vinegar: Apple Cider Vinegar is the best choice for this salad. I don't recommend a substitution.
- Nuts: To add crunch to the quinoa salad, use chopped walnut, pecan, almonds, or pepitas, for a nut-free salad.
How to Make Harvest Quinoa Salad
Step One: Roast Butternut Squash
- Peel, seed, and cube butternut squash into 1-½ to 2-inch cubes.
- Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then spread it out on a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan.
- Roast the squash until caramelized and tender.
Step Two: Prepare Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, use this time to prepare the quinoa. You can opt to prepare the quinoa by using my recipe for Instant Pot Quinoa or preparing it on the stovetop.
- Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse well. This is a CRITICAL step to help get rid of the bitter-tasting compound, called saponin, that coats the quinoa.
- Add vegetable broth and quinoa to a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the quinoa is tender.
Step Three: Prepare Dressing
- Whisk together the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, seasoned salt, vinegar, and oil together until well combined.
Step Four: Assemble Quinoa Salad
After the components of the salad are prepared, it is as easy as tossing everything together.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, cranberries, and dressing together and toss to coat.
- Gently fold the roasted butternut squash into the salad.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavors marry.
- Right before serving, toss again, and then add the chopped nuts. That will keep the nuts from becoming soggy and add a nice texture and contrast to the salad.
- Speed-it Up: Use leftover Roasted Butternut Squash and Instant Pot Quinoa to throw this quinoa salad together in minutes.
- Add cheese: If you are not dairy-free or vegan, crumbled feta or goat cheese makes a delicious addition to this salad.
- Nut-Free: Use roasted pumpkin seeds/pepitas to add crunch to the quinoa salad while keeping this recipe nut-free.
More Plant-Based Fall Recipes
- Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole
- Butternut Squash Chili
- Cranberry Orange Sauce
- Vegetarian Curry with Butternut Squash
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
Need more inspiration for planning meals that your family will love? Sign up for my FREE Meal Plans and each week you will get a meal plan with a shopping list.
If you tried this Fall Quinoa Salad, I would love for you to leave a comment and review below!
Fall Quinoa Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette
Roasted Butternut Squash
- 2 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash cut into 1 ½ to 2-inch cubes
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
For the Salad
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ⅓ cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or pepitas
- Toss squash chunks with the oil and salt. Spread the squash out onto a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the squash is fork-tender and starting to caramelize around the edges. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F,
- Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Mix the rinsed quinoa, seasoned salt, and vegetable broth together in a medium stock pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a medium-low and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed.
- Cool the quinoa until just slightly warm to the touch. I find the quickest way to do this, is to spread the cooked quinoa out onto a sheet pan and leave it on the counter for 10-15 minutes at room temperature.
- Prepare the dressing by mixing the pumpkin puree, vinegar, maple syrup, oil, salt, pepper, and thyme together in a small bowl.
Assemble Quinoa Salad
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the cooked, cooled quinoa with the pumpkin dressing. Gently fold in the cranberries and roasted squash. Cover and refrigerate the salad for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
- Right before serving, toss again, and then add nuts or pepitas and serve.