Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

5 from 7 votes
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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad gets its flavor from a zesty vinaigrette with lemon and olive oil, and it is packed with plant-based protein including quinoa, beans, and lentils. This cold quinoa salad is great for make-ahead meal prep, as a main dish, or side dish!

Quinoa Protein Salad in a Deruta serving dish

The “it factors” about this salad are flavor and texture, but also: you get the kind of satisfied feeling that carries you for a good many hours after eating. My recipe is inspired by a version of the salad that I tasted in the Detroit Metro Airport (why do we always get so hungry the moment we leave on travel?!). I’ve looked so closely at the salad that my seatmates have probably thought either that eater is very picky, or looking for something that shouldn’t be there. But no, it’s the ingredients I’m studying: quinoa, red lentils, kidney beans, red onion, cilantro, edamame, brown rice. The vinaigrette is citrusy.

Need a lunch that’ll get you through the whole afternoon and curb overeating at dinner? You’ve found it! Want to protein-up a pizza dinner that shouts carb-carb-carb at every corner of the plate and cup? Bang: Quinoa Salad.

The ingredients can vary to your every whim, even the basis of the quinoa, which can be traded out for farro or barley. Be sure everything is cooked al dente—the salad is meant to have a lot of texture and chew, not a soft mush of a deal. My frozen shelled edamame goes straight from the freezer under a splash of running water and into the salad.

This colorful Quinoa Salad, all herbed-up and dressed right, is going to get you where you’re going, no airport required!


Quinoa salad with all of the ingredients in a Deruta dish

Quinoa Salad Ingredients

This easy quinoa salad is flexible in all its components. Need to empty the fridge? Toss whatever you have left in there! The base can also be modified – farro, barley, or couscous instead of quinoa would be great, too!

White quinoa. Quinoa is a great base for this salad because it’s light, but it can easily be subbed for any grain you have on hand.

Red Lentils. A delicious source of healthy protein and dietary fiber. Plus: color!

Kidney Beans. These can be cooked in advance and chilled, or from canned, rinsed.

Edamame. Buy these shelled, to make it one less step. If they’re frozen, rinse under cold water and drain. 

Bell Pepper. Any color will do! Red bell pepper is a particularly great way to add some sweetness to this delicious salad.

Red Onion. Finely diced, to enhance all the fresh flavor and texture of the crunchy veggies. 

Garlic. For best results, it’s a good idea to use fresh cloves instead of garlic powder. 

Fresh Herbs and spices. Mint and cilantro are my favorite fresh herbs to brighten the rest of the salad, along with dried mint. You can also add red pepper flakes for a kick!


Parcooked red lentils in a saucepan

How to Make Quinoa Salad

Step 1. Rinse the quinoa.

Step 2. Cook the quinoa much like the way you cook white rice, in a pot of salted water. Cool the quinoa; this can be done quickly by spreading the warm quinoa out on a sheet pan.

Step 3. Cook the lentils. In another (or the same saucepan, rinsed), cook the lentils until al dente, making sure they have not split. 

Step 4. If the shelled edamame is frozen, rinse with cold water and drain.

Step 5. Mix the salad ingredients. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, lentils, kidney beans, edamame, red bell pepper, and red onion.

Step 6. Make the vinaigrette. Simply whisk olive oil,lemon juice, red wine vinegar (or rice vinegar), garlic, dried mint, salt and pepper to make the dressing. 

Step 7. Dress and finish the salad. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well to coat everything. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in half of the chopped herbs, then garnish the top of the salad with more chopped herbs. 

White qunia in a measuring cup with strainer and green towel

How to Cook Quinoa

The first step in cooking quinoa is always to rinse it. While some quinoa is pre-rinsed, just to be certain a quick rinse is a good idea. This removes a natural coating on the quinoa that tastes bitter. 

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa with water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then a gentle simmer, covered, until the quinoa is cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Take care not to overcook to avoid soft and mushy quinoa. Drain the excess water and cool completely before using in a salad. This can be done more quickly by spreading the quinoa out on a sheet pan. 

Important Tips for making Quinoa

Can’t say it enough: be sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking to avoid bitterness!

Cook the quinoa in advance so it has time to cool completely for a salad. Combining the quinoa with the other ingredients while it’s still warm might wilt the vegetables and fresh herbs. 


Quinoa Protein Salad with all of the ingredients in a Deruta serving dish

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best quinoa to use?

White quinoa is the best for this recipe because it results in a fluffy quinoa salad, whereas black or red quinoa are much denser and grainier. 

What can I sub the lemon juice with?

Red wine vinegar or lime juice are acidic alternatives to a lemon dressing. 

How do I store quinoa salad?

Storing the salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator keeps it for 3-4 days. If you are saving some for later, consider only dressing part of the salad. 

Can I use any fresh veggies I have on hand?

Yes! This versatile salad can be tossed together in so many different ways. Sweet corn, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and garbanzo beans are ideas for other delicious additions to make this part of a healthy meal. Creamy avocado adds healthy fats, too!

Is this salad healthy?

This “complete protein” salad packed with essential amino acids is one of my favorite ways to get all my daily nutrients. 

Can I change up the dressing?

The salad will take all kinds of dressings well. Either dijon mustard, green onion, or balsamic vinegar would also give this a 5-star rating on the flavor front. 

Can I freeze the quinoa salad after making it?

Quinoa and fresh vegetables would become mushy after freezing, so avoid this and stick to the refrigerator. 

More Healthy Salad Recipes

Quinoa Tabbouleh Recipe

Lebanese Salad (Salata)

Easy Cabbage Salad

Chickpea and Feta Salad


Quinoa Protein Salad in a Deruta serving dish
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5 from 7 votes

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Recipe

By Maureen Abood
Consider this salad a great idea you can play with. In the summer, cut fresh sweet corn straight from the cob, no cooking required. I like to use Rancho Gordo Domingo Rojo kidney beans, cooked in advance and chilled, but a can of cooked beans of any kind is swift. The original salad calls for a bit of brown rice; I don’t include that, but you can. Fresh herbs are key to the bright flavor here. I always use cilantro and mint, sometimes basil too. Be absolutely sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking, to avoid bitterness.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 17 minutes
Servings: 10

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups white quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, sorted and rinsed
  • Kosher salt, for seasoning throughout
  • 1 cup kidney beans, rinsed, canned or cooked from dry
  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 teaspoons mint salt or crushed dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Big handful fresh mint, cilantro, and/or basil, finely chopped

Instructions 

  • In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa with 2 1/2 cups water and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the quinoa is cooked, but not too soft and mushy, about 10 minutes (keep checking, tasting as you go). Pour off any excess water. Cool the quinoa completely; this can be done quickly by spreading the warm quinoa out on a sheet pan.
  • In another (or the same saucepan, rinsed), combine the lentils with 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are al dente, and have not split, about 7 minutes. Rinse the lentils with cold water and drain.
  • If the shelled edamame is frozen, rinse with cool water and drain.
  • In a large serving dish, combine the quinoa, lentils, kidney beans, edamame, yellow pepper, and red onion.
  • Make the vinaigrette in a small bowl by slowly whisking the olive oil into the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and garlic. Season with dried mint, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper.
  • Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well to coat everything. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in half of the chopped herbs, then garnish the top of the salad with more chopped herbs. Serve immediately, or chill in the refrigerator for up to four days before serving.

Notes

Can’t say it enough: be sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking to avoid bitterness!
Cook the quinoa in advance so it has time to cool completely for a salad. Combining the quinoa with the other ingredients while it’s still warm might wilt the vegetables and fresh herbs. 

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 17 minutes
Servings: 10
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13 Comments

  1. hi maureen.. you are such a lifesaver! I’ve been looking for GOOD vegan recipes and yours hit the spot!!
    thank you thank you!!!
    xoxoxojill

  2. I am sorry. This did not taste good to us. My adult daughter, who happens to have DS, is a great cook and made tabbouleh for many years. Wonderful! She now has celiac – so no wheat allowed. Tried this recipe with all fresh ingredients – bust. Should the kidney beans have been cooked or chopped? Just not much flavor and the rinsed non cooked kidney beans were not the addition I hoped to replace bulgar. I welcome your thoughts. (She truly made the best tabbouleh taught to her 10 yrs ago by hs teacher)

  3. Maureen, it seems that every time you post a new recipe I find myself wanting to make it right away. This time was no exception. I made the Quinoa Protein Salad for dinner and my husband and I absolutely loved it. After dinner, he said, “this is a keeper”. Thank you!

  4. This looks and sounds wonderful!! I’ve been trying to get more protein AND this is a salad I can make a big batch of on a Sunday, and have it for an already-ready healthy, nutritious, and filling lunch for work pretty much all week long! Loving the fact that it’s flavorful without requiring anything that wilts quickly mushes quickly like most basic salad ingredients. Thanks so much!

  5. This sounds absolutely delicious. What would you think about using orange juice instead of lemon juice in the dressing for a twist.