This fall-inspired quinoa butternut squash salad features leek and thyme-seasoned quinoa and sweet, tender butternut squash alongside a few other flavorful fall ingredients. This salad is perfect as a Thanksgiving side or for meal prep!
If you're looking for a fall-flavored side salad that also works as a main, this quinoa butternut squash salad is it!
I love using quinoa as the base of salads because it has a slightly nutty and earthy flavor and it cooks in just about 15 minutes (check out my quinoa edamame salad or quinoa taco salad for more ideas!).
This is a warm grain salad (no greens here!) that features sweet and tender roasted butternut squash, a simple red wine vinegar dressing tossed with leek-seasoned quinoa, and a few other simple ingredients.
- Flavors: Feta adds a salty kick that contrasts the sweet dried cranberries and roasted butternut squash, while the quinoa adds an earthy note alongside sauteed leeks and garlic.
- Simple ingredients: Made with straightforward ingredients like quinoa, dried cranberries, and chickpeas.
- Versatile: This salad is vegetarian as-is but can easily be made vegan, so it's a great meatless side option at Thanksgiving.
- Butternut squash: Prep and dice one small butternut squash. To save time, use pre-diced butternut squash or choose frozen squash (see below for tips).
- Quinoa: I prefer white quinoa for this salad, but really any color works.
- Red wine vinegar, olive oil, and honey make up the simple dressing. If you don't have red wine vinegar, use an equal amount of balsamic (it will be a slightly stronger flavor but still delicious). An equal amount of maple syrup works in place of honey.
- Leeks: This is one of my favorite fall ingredients because it adds an instant Thanksgiving flavor. Trim away the green leaves and dice up only the white section. Make sure to carefully clean the leeks as they hold on to a lot of dirt.
- Feta: The saltiness of feta is a must as it contrasts the sweet notes in the salad. Use vegan feta (I like Follow Your Heart brand) to make this dairy-free.
- Dried cranberries: I use 50% less sugar cranberries as regular sweetened cranberries can be pretty strongly flavored.
- Chickpeas add a touch of protein to make the salad more well-rounded. Small white beans also work if you don't have chickpeas on hand.
How to make
Cook the squash
Start by peeling, slicing, and dicing the butternut squash. Check out my roasted butternut squash post for more tips on how to prep squash.
Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I do this directly on a baking sheet. Feel free to line with parchment paper for easy clean up.
Roast at 425F for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The butternut squash is ready when fork-tender and golden.
Cook the quinoa
To make the quinoa portion of the salad, start by sauteing leeks in a medium pot until tender. They are ready when bright green and softened. Add in the garlic and chopped thyme and saute a minute more, until golden and aromatic.
Add in the rinsed quinoa. Toast it for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Pour in the vegetable broth and chickpeas. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce to a low simmer over medium-low, then cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed. This will take about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and honey.
The next part is easy: add the vinaigrette and the remaining ingredients, including the roasted squash, to the quinoa. Toss to combine, and there you have it: quinoa butternut squash salad.
Tips for success and variations
- Rinse quinoa: Always rinse quinoa thoroughly before cooking it. This removes some of the outer coating that has a bitter flavor. I also like to toast the quinoa in the pot before adding liquid as this enhances its flavor.
- Serve warm or cold: I prefer warm or hot quinoa butternut squash salad served immediately after cooking. That being said, it's great as a cold salad! To serve it cold, simply combine all ingredients except for the feta and let chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Stir in the feta before serving.
- How to use frozen squash: Frozen squash cooks in about half the time as regular squash, so start checking it at the 15-20 minute mark. Note that frozen squash tends to be softer after roasting than regular squash.
- Vegan option: To make dairy-free, replace feta with vegan feta crumbles. Use maple syrup in place of honey.
- Other variations: Roasted pumpkin seeds or toasted pecans are great additions. If you're tired of butternut squash, try using roasted delicata squash or acorn squash instead.
- If roasting a large squash, use leftovers in pasta, with tortellini, or in soup.
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for up to 4-5 days.
- Reheating: It's easiest to reheat quinoa salad in the microwave in single servings.
- Meal prep: This is a great meal prep option. Just store in individual containers. I would pair it with garlic herb tofu or panko-breaded tofu for additional protein.
- Freezing: I have not tried freezing this recipe but I will update the post if I do.
Looking for more side salads?
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Roasted Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad
Roasted Butternut Squash
- 1 small butternut squash see note #1
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil or other neutral oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup leeks roughly chopped; see note #2
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup dry quinoa rinsed thoroughly; I use white quinoa
- 2 and ½ cups vegetable broth
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1 cup feta crumbles
- ½ cup dried cranberries see note #3
- 1 lemon sliced into wedges
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons honey maple syrup also works
- pinch of salt
Roasted Butternut Squash
- Preheat the oven to 425F. Peel the butternut squash and slice in half. Remove seeds and stringy bits. Dice into ½ inch cubes.
- Add the diced squash to a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Use clean hands to combine (this can also be done in a bowl).
- Roast at 425F for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The squash is ready when tender and golden throughout.
- Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Drizzle with a thin layer of olive oil. Once hot, add the roughly chopped leeks.
- Saute until vivid green, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the minced garlic and chopped thyme. Saute until aromatic and golden, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the rinsed quinoa. Toast for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the vegetable broth and chickpeas. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low simmer over medium-low heat. Cover with a lid and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients (red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt) in a small bowl.
- When the quinoa is cooked through, transfer it to a large bowl. Stir in the feta, cranberries, and roasted butternut squash. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
- Serve each portion with a lemon wedge. Enjoy!
- Butternut squash: Aim for about 12 ounces of butternut squash. An equal amount of frozen squash can be cooked using the same method in half the time.
- Leeks: Only use the white part of the leeks. Two leeks yields about 1 cup of chopped leek.
- Cranberries: Dried cranberries can be quite sweet so I recommend using 50% less sugar dried cranberries if they are available.
- Leftovers: Best within 4-5 days. Serve warm or cold.