Quinoa Salad with Barberries & Nuts

This is quite an unusual quinoa salad recipe but both delicious and pretty. It’s a shot at recreating the flavours of the Persian zereshk polo (Persian rice with barberries) with a different grain. The resulting dish can be called a salad or a side dish. Whatever you call it it will still be damn delicious!

Zereshk polo ba morgh (barberry jewelled rice with chicken) must be among the top ten favourite dishes of every Iranian I know. It’s something you often make at home but also elegant enough to be on the menu of every wedding dinner. And it’s one of the simplest Persian rice dishes to make, i.e., if you know how to make rice the Persian way.

Barrberries: The star of the show in Barberry Rice with Chicken.
Barberries: The star of the show in Barberry Rice with Chicken and in my quinoa salad too.

The tiny ruby barberries have so much flavour and goodness in them and are so pretty I can never do without a bag in my freezer. They are dried but I keep them in the freezer to preserve their gorgeous colour for longer and they don’t even really freeze so I use them in my dishes after a quick rinse under the tap.

The dried berries are very light so a packet of 200g will really see you through a few dishes.Nowadays most Middle Eastern and Persian groceries in the UK and online suppliers stock them.

My quinoa salad with barberries was meant as a cold salad at first. It went down really well when I served it with my saffron-flavoured chicken skewers a couple of weeks ago. My home-resident food critics (the father and son) gave a very good review.

I took the leftovers to work the next day. It was a very miserable rainy day and at lunch time I just couldn’t face a cold salad so I popped it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Lo and behold! It was even tastier than the day before. So I made it again, this time steaming it like I would steam rice, the Persian way. It lent itself to steaming so well.

Toasted almond slivers, pistachio slivers and coriander add lots of crunch and flavour to quinoa salad with barberries.

Adding slivered nuts to this dish is really optional. They do add crunch and flavour but one can always do without them, or substitute pine nuts for the almonds, if you don’t have them in your cupboard. But I won’t make the dish without the herbs, especially if I’m going to serve it cold as a salad.

Slivered pistachios and almonds add crunch and flavour to many dishes. Great as garnish.

The Persian dish that inspired this quinoa salad doesn’t include herbs but we love to eat fresh herbs with whatever it is that we are eating. A basket of fresh herbs, radishes and spring onions (sabzi khordan) is usually on the table at every meal.

We eat herbs much like condiments, to add more flavour to the morsels of food, or to refresh the palate between the morsels. So I decided to add chopped herbs to the salad too. It worked very well, as could be expected. Or maybe I’m saying that because I’m Persian? Right?

sabzī khordan is a a kind of “naked” herb salad served with most meals.

Serve this quinoa salad, room temperature or warm, on its own or with grilled chicken or even perk up rotisserie chicken from the supermarket with it. You’ll enjoy it, I promise!

Give this tasty salad (or side) a try, you won’t regret it in the least!

To serve 4 as a main or 6-8 as a side or salad you will need:

  • 300g quinoa
  • 1 1/2 litres boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (not extra-virgin, it will overpower other flavours)
  • 50g barberries
  • 4 tbsp slivered almonds (or pine nuts) (optional)
  • 2 tbsp slivered pistachios (optional)
  • 30g chopped coriander, chopped
  • A few sprigs of mint, chopped


  1. Put the quinoa in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain. Pour the boiling water over quinoa in a medium saucepan. Add salt, stir well and cook over medium-low heat until it’s cooked through but still has a bite in the centre. Drain in a sieve.
  2. Pick over the barberries, rinse in a sieve and dry on kitchen paper.
  3. While the quinoa is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over medium heat and lightly toast the almond slivers. Add the pistachios, then the rest of the oil and the rinsed barberries. Cook briefly until the barberries are shiny and a little puffed.
  4. Save a tablespoon of the barberry and nut mix and a tablespoon of the chopped herbs for garnishing the finished dish. Mix all of the remaining nut and barberry mix, herbs and quinoa. Return to the pot and place on low heat. Cover with a lid and cook for ten minutes or until completely heated through and steam is rising. Turn into a serving dish and fluff with a fork. Add a little extra olive oil and a twist of black pepper if you wish.
  5. Sprinkle the quinoa with the rest of the berry-nut mix and chopped herbs and serve on its own or as a side for chicken.

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