Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Mar 21, 2019, Updated Jun 12, 2023
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Red wine vinegar or lime juice are acidic alternatives to a lemon dressing.
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.
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!
This “complete protein” salad packed with essential amino acids is one of my favorite ways to get all my daily nutrients.
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.
Quinoa and fresh vegetables would become mushy after freezing, so avoid this and stick to the refrigerator.
More Healthy Salad Recipes
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Recipe
- 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
- 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.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.