This zucchini corn quinoa salad is a no fuss, super easy side dish that showcases the season’s best produce. Learn how to make this and always have a killer summer salad recipe in your back pocket.
Confession: I’m not a huge fan of picnics. I think this has something to do with the ideal image of a picnic that TV (cartoons mostly) laid out for me growing up. Where a beautifully packed picnic basket full of goodies is laid out on a red and white checkered blanket, the blue sky is dotted with fluffy little clouds, and everyone has a grand old time. As a kid I painstakingly tried again and again to recreate this image of the idyllic summer picnic, but to no avail.
Because guess what? Gusts of wind send napkins flying, ants in your pants can be a very real, very painful thing, beautifully curated picnic baskets are kind of hard to procure and/or make as a nine year old, and none of the adults in my life were all that interested in helping me find the perfect red and white checkered tablecloth to complete the scene of lonely child, sitting in the backyard alone, eating bologna sandwiches and Doritos that she had lovingly packed in the plastic jack-o-lantern bucket from last Halloween.
This all sounds much sadder than it was, honestly. But what I’ve learned from all those afternoons spent squirming on an ill-placed blanket in the hot sun is that the ideal image of a picnic is maybe not for me, and that’s OK. So what then is the best way to picnic? In my world it involves refreshing beverages, good company, music, and a god damn chair. No sitting on the floor for this grown ass lady, nuh uh.
But what hasn’t changed in my ideal scene? Well the beautifully packed picnic basket full delicious treats of course. You can’t call it a picnic without the goods after all. So what’s in my perfect pic-AH-nic basket then?
- Well-chilled bubbly beverages – prosecco, champers, or fun flavored seltzer are all welcome to the party.
- Cold fried chicken – a main dish is important, and while sandwiches are great, the idea of kicking back (in a chair), with a cold beverage in one hand and a drumstick of fried chicken in the other is pretty much nirvana for me.
- Chips, like a lot of them. Your friends should not be opposed to chips. If they are, there’s a good chance they are robot spies from the future – just saying.
- Something sweet – brownies, cookies, NOT ice cream or anything else that will melt and attract your friendly neighborhood ant colony.
- A salad. I know, I know, why wreck all the brownie, chip, chicken love with a rinky dink old salad? Hear me out. People actually need something light, especially when they’re laying around in the sun, eating greasy things like fried chicken and all the chips. It’s a good way to balance things out, complete the meal, and keep people from falling into a deep food coma. It’s the right thing to do. And if you do it well, it’s also delicious.
What kind of salad should you bring to a picnic?
Excellent question my friend, and the answer can be tricky. Tradition points to potato salad, and while I LOVE the stuff, it’s not really my top choice for picnic fodder. One, it can just be soooooo heavy, and as we discussed before, we all need a little lightness in our lives. And two, mayonnaise based salad plus zero refrigeration equals food safety nightmares. No thank you.
Ok, so we’ll table potato salad for today. How about pasta salad? Well I’d say yes, except can you think of a non-mayo based pasta salad you’ve had anytime in the recent past that was actually all that good? Yeah, me neither. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I just think that the probability of picking a good one and making it well are lower than you might think. Also, from personal experience – a really excellent pasta salad is not super easy to make, and I’d really like to keep my efforts to a ripping open bags of chips and reapplying sunscreen sort of level.
What’s left? lettuce? I mean, you could, but it will inevitably get soggy and limp in the hot sun, and do you toss it in the dressing on site and then annoyingly prod people to eat it before it wilts into a droopy mess? That sounds like a thing I don’t want to do.
But wait, there’s one more option (well really two, if you count fruit salad, but for the sake of me ever getting to the point…)!
It’s the belle of the millenial ball, super easy to throw together ahead of time, gets better as it sits, and is endlessly riffable. Basically your perfect, picnic side dish. Today I’m sharing a one pan wonder that showcases those great summer veggies that just won’t stop showing up in your weekly CSA box. That’s right, zucchini and corn. And for heft, health, and heartiness, we’ll throw a little quinoa into the mix as well. While you could totally use another grain here, I like quinoa for this because it cooks in about ten minutes, absorbs other flavors like a dream, and doesn’t sog out over time.
You can serve it as a warm quinoa salad or a room temp side dish. Oh, and the BEST part? The dressing is so simple it’s not even its own separate thing. Seriously, you just throw everything into a skillet with some good extra virgin olive oil and a hefty pinch of salt. When it’s done cooking you dress it simply with apple cider vinegar and a showering of fresh herbs. Then pack it for lunches all week, or break it out at your next weekend picnic!
How to make zucchini corn quinoa salad…like a boss!
As this is a dead simple recipe, there aren’t a ton of tricks per se. But if you want some insider deets, please read on.
- Use great ingredients – good quality olive oil, fresh herbs, and beautiful summer vegetables all shine here, so make sure you use good ones.
- Grab a BIG skillet – the more room all those veggies have to spread out the better, especially when cooking with zucchini which has the tendency to weep when it gets crowded (much like me).
- Don’t be shy with the flavorings – there aren’t many, so go to town. And taste as you go. Maybe you like your food a little more salty or a little less spicy than I do. Don’t let me make your decisions for you, taste and see for yourself!
- Chop your herbs, or don’t. This is not the time to painstakingly mince those things into lawn clippings. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly lazy I just rip them up and sprinkle them in – feel free to do the same. When I say this is an easy salad I mean it.
- And if making quinoa perplexes you, check this post out where I go over three incredibly simple ways to make perfectly fluffy quinoa.
- Oh and the like a boss part? No tips necessary – you already ARE a badass boss, so just enjoy all that swagger!
So now that you know what my ideal picnic situation looks like (and what it doesn’t), please invite me to your next one, k? Or at least make this, snap a photo, and tag me in it so that I may live vicariously through your fun-in-the-sun exploits!
And for more healthy summer recipes (because it’ll be here before you know it) check these out:
- Charred Corn Slaw with Avocado Dressing
- Endlessly Snackable Pickled Shrimp
- Strawberry Farro Salad
- BLT Wedge Salad
Zucchini Corn Quinoa Salad
This super simple zucchini corn and quinoa salad is packed full of summer flavor, perfect to make ahead for a picnic, and is vegan and gluten free! Learn how to make this summer salad for a crowd and always have this easy side dish recipe in your back pocket!
- Prep Time: 10 Minutes
- Cook Time: 15 Minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 6 Servings 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Cuisine: American
3 T olive oil
1 large zucchini, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp kosher salt
1 garlic clove, sliced thin
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1 cup corn kernels (from about 2 ears)
2 C cooked quinoa
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 C chopped mint
1/2 C chopped basil
Arugula for serving, optional
In a large skillet heat your oil over medium high heat. Add the zucchini and red bell pepper and cook, stirring only occasionally for 7-10 minutes, or until the zucchini softens and takes on a little brown color.
Add the sliced garlic, salt, chili flakes, and corn kernels. Toss to combine and cook for three minutes.
Stir in the quinoa, cider vinegar, and chopped herbs. Season to taste.
Serve over arugula or fresh green of your choice.
You can use frozen corn in place of fresh, just defrost it before cooking.
Any kind of quinoa will work fine in this dish, but my personal favorite is the red for it’s slightly chewier texture.
Feel free to substitute something else in place of the apple cider vinegar if you don’t have it. I’d avoid anything too sweet like balsamic though.
Keywords: picnic friendly salad, quinoa salad, summer ratatouille, zucchini quinoa salad, what to do with leftover quinoa, zucchini corn recipes
Such a flavour packed salad that would be PERFECT for lunch today! Too bad I couldn’t grab that bowl right through my screen 😉
Thanks Dawn! It makes an excellent weekday lunch.
I wholeheartedly agree with your ideals of a great picnic- right down to the chair and definitely this flavourful and light salad to counteract the chicken, booze and ungodly amounts of chips. Looking forward to making it when the fresh corn and zucchini are ready in my area!
A chair is key. I hope you enjoy it when summer rolls around!
What a gorgeous salad Jo! Love all these flavors so can’t wait to give this one a try.
Thanks Jim! It’ll go great with all of your delicious grilled stuff this summer I bet.
This salad looks SO packed full of freshness. Love the fresh herbs, the crunchy corn (which is such an underrated vegetable imho) and the quinoa! YUM! Def my choice to bring on a picnic. Along with some wine, of course. #balance
Thanks Haylie! I totally agree on the corn being underrated thing. Fresh picked corn is one of my favorite things about summer!