Mint Julep Quinoa Salad

A Mint Julep salad??? Yes, totally, and it's going to rock your summer salad world. This salad is unique, unexpected, loaded with southern-inspired seasonal ingredients, wonderfully versatile, and just so darn fun.

Every year I start getting obsessed with mint in June. Sure, Mint Juleps are all the rage during the Kentucky Derby (in May), but our mint at home doesn't really get going until a month later. All summer long, there's an epic battle between the mint (which is trying to take over our yard) and us (who are trying to consume it in as many ways and as quickly as possible).

Because of our mint overload, we love making Mint Juleps all summer, and even into the early fall. They're a delightfully refreshing summer drink, and especially gratifying with homegrown mint.

But this year, something incredible happened: the Mint Julep Quinoa Salad was born. Dave's birthday is in June, and this year we had a really lovely picnic date on his birthday. I wanted to make a cocktail and a portable picnic dish inspired by the cocktail. Since Dave, being from the South, is a huge bourbon lover, I settled on the Mint Julep as my inspiration.

This is everything I've ever wanted in a quinoa salad: fluffy quinoa, ripe juicy peaches, sweet succulent corn, charred red onions, hearty sweet potato, cozy black-eyed peas, and even some crunchy pecans. It's a symphony of flavors, colors, and textures. It can work great as a side dish, or even as a main course thanks to the protein from the peas, quinoa, and nuts.

This salad is so darn good that we've made it again and again. You can easily change it up by using a different fruit (strawberries would be great earlier in the season!), adding your grilled protein of choice, or plating it on some greens.

Because quinoa is pretty sturdy and travels well, this is a perfect picnic salad, even if it has to hike for numerous miles to get there. But it's also a really beautiful salad, and could be nicely plated and served at a potluck or while entertaining. And clearly, it should be made every year on Derby Day! (Paired with Mint Juleps, of course). This will definitely become our new Derby tradition.

And speaking of Mint Juleps, you'll of course need some of those too! The photo above is from one of my favorite summer julep riffs, the Strawberry Mint Julep. You can find all sorts of creative, unique juleps in my Mint Julep Variations post- everything from fruity ones (strawberry! peach! cherry!) to ones using alternative sweeteners (maple! honey!).

As of Derby 2020, this recipe is now part of a Derby + Bourbon compilation assembled by Alyssa of the Wine a Little Cook a Lot Blog (@WineALittleCookALot on Instagram). Check out our Kentucky Derby Party Food post for a whole array of bourbon-themed recipes contributed by foodies around the country. It has everything from hearty proteins to fun side dishes and appetizers to cocktails and even desserts (all made with a healthy pour of bourbon!).

Let this salad be your new summer best friend! I love how unique and surprising it is, and also how versatile. Cheers, happy Julep season, and happy Derby Day!

Please share your creation so I can see how you've interpreted the concept! Tag "The Rogue Brussel Sprout" on Facebook or hashtag #theroguebrusselsprout on Instagram. 

Looking for other salads that can go from potluck to picnic seamlessly? This Roasted Corn, Avocado, and Strawberry Salad is just as summery and versatile.

Thoughts About Ingredients
(These are all just suggestions, since rogue is more fun than recipe)

For the Salad
  • 1 c uncooked quinoa 
  • 15-oz can of black-eyed peas
  • Medium sweet potato
  • Small red onion
  • 1-2 c corn kernels. In season, I love to grill corn outside and then cut the kernels off the cob. Out of season, I usually resort to grilling frozen corn indoors. Trader Joe's sells bags of frozen, grilled corn which are sinfully convenient.
  • A couple peaches
  • ~20 fresh mint leaves
  • Big handful of pecans. Roasted and salted!
For the Dressing
  • 0.25 c peach balsamic vinegar. A lot of artisan oil/vinegar places sell this. If you can't find it, any white balsamic will work. But if you go with straight white balsamic, I'd use a little less and also increase the maple syrup.
  • 2 tbsp bourbon. Yes yes, I know that we don't generally eat uncooked alcohol in food. But I do, and I love it!! Use your best judgement.
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Generous sea salt and freshly ground pepper 
Thoughts About Method
(These are all just suggestions, be creative and make it yours)
  1. Cook your quinoa. My approach is to use 2:1 water:quinoa (so in this case, 2 c of water for 1 c of quinoa). Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer and let it sit (with the lid on) until all the water has been absorbed, ~15 minutes. Important point: salt the water!
  2. Let the quinoa cool to at least room temperature; conversely, you can make it the night before and keep it in the fridge. This is actually really important for texture, since adding dressing to warm quinoa makes it gummy and sticky. Be patient, I promise it's worth it.
  3. Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas. 
  4. Cut the sweet potato into rounds and grill.
  5. Cut the red onion into rounds and grill.
  6. At the same time, prep the corn however you see fit (see options above).
  7. Put together your dressing by giving the ingredients a quick whisk in a measuring cup. 
  8. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, black-eyed peas, chopped grilled sweet potato, chopped grilled onion, and corn. Pour the dressing over the top and give it all a thorough mix. The salad could sit like this in the fridge overnight if needed.
  9. When you're ready to serve, mix in the peaches (diced into bite-sized pieces) and the mint (cut into very fine ribbons). The salad can sit like this for a few hours, but probably not overnight since you want the peaches and mint to stay fresh.
  10. Plate the salad however you like- maybe just in a container for a picnic, or on a bed of greens, or in a pretty bowl.
  11. Garnish with pecans at the end, so they keep their crunch, and a few additional mint leaves.


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