Mint Julep Quinoa Salad


(Note: this post was originally published on July 18, 2019 and the photos were updated on August 30, 2020. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)

A Cocktail Turns Into a 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.

Make it Work for YOU

This salad is incredibly versatile, so I'm confident it will work for all your summer get-togethers and picnics. For that reason, it's one I turn to again and again.

Are you grilling and chilling on a summer weekend? If so, this salad can work great as a side dish. Going on a picnic? Bring it along! It travels great since all of the ingredients are quite hearty. Having a party? Plate it on a platter with some fancy peach garnishes and let it shine. This salad can even as a main course thanks to the protein from the peas, quinoa, and nuts.

Make-Ahead Tips

Thankfully, this salad is make-ahead friendly, and you have a few different options for how to do that. At the least, make the quinoa in advance and store it in the fridge overnight or for a couple days; that's one less thing to worry about, and the texture is actually better if you cool the quinoa completely before adding the dressing.

Alternatively, you can do all the grilling in advance too! Your grilled sweet potatoes, onion, and corn can happily sit in the fridge overnight in their own sealed containers. That means all you have to do on the day of is assemble. You can easily make the dressing a day or a few days ahead too.

When you're ready to serve, just add the chopped peaches, pecans, and mint. I don't suggest adding those items more than a couple hours in advance since they'll get soggy and wilty. If you're bringing this salad to a picnic or potluck and will need to pull it together more than a couple hours ahead, at least keep the pecans and mint separate and toss them in at the last minute.

Don't Forget the Mint Juleps!

At the risk of stating the obvious, this salad is designed to accompany some mint juleps (I've shown some strawberry mint juleps below to inspire you). It would of course excel on Derby Day, alongside other southern-inspired fare.

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's Talk Ingredients

Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

  • Quinoa. It would be great with farro too! Just make sure to adjust the cooking method accordingly.
  • Black-eyed peas. I love the southern flair these lend, but if you can't find them, chick peas would be a fine substitute.
  • Sweet potato
  • Red onion
  • Corn. 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.
  • Peaches
  • Fresh mint
  • Pecans
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Maple syrup
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Closing Thoughts

Let this salad be your new summer best friend! I love how unique and surprising it is, and also how versatile. Salads like this are really such a salvation for summer get-togethers; I especially love options that are make-ahead friendly, colorful, and can serve as a main course for herbivores who might end up with limited options at a BBQ.

Cheers, happy Julep season, and happy Derby Day!

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

Suggested Pairings

Watermelon Mint Gimlet

Watermelon Nachos with Avocado Sauce

Mojito Corn Salad

Fig, Bourbon, and Cinnamon Nicecream Cake

Boozy Nicecream Guide (see the Kentucky Mule flavor in particular!)

Mint Julep Quinoa Salad

A mint julep goes salad-style with hearty quinoa, colorful grilled veggies, crunchy pecans, and fresh mint. Serve it as a side dish or main course all summer long! This surprising summer salad is loaded with southern flair.



For the Salad

  • 1 c uncooked quinoa
  • 15-oz can of black-eyed peas
  • Medium sweet potato
  • Small red onion
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 peaches
  • ~20 fresh mint leaves
  • Big handful of roasted salted pecans

For the Dressing

  • 0.25 c peach balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Generous sea salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Cook your quinoa as directed. 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.
  3. Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas.
  4. Cut the sweet potato into rounds and grill over medium heat until tender and lightly charred.
  5. Cut the red onion into rounds and grill over medium heat until tender and lightly charred.
  6. Grill the corn until completely cooked.
  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.
  9. When you're ready to serve, mix in the peaches (diced into bite-sized pieces) and the mint (cut into very fine ribbons).
  10. Transfer the salad to a serving platter.
  11. Garnish with pecans at the end, so they keep their crunch, and a few additional mint leaves.

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Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you make this recipe? Did you make substitutions? How did you serve it? Any helpful tips? Please share your thoughts, since these insights are really useful to both me and to other readers.

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