Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
This Mediterranean Quinoa Salad is a healthy and tasty side dish for summer parties. It is popping with flavor and loaded with cucumbers, feta and olives with the addition of parsley and mint. It’s like a cross between Greek salad and quinoa tabbouleh all brought together with a garlic lemon dressing!
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I’ve had a note to myself to develop a quinoa salad for Healthy Seasonal Recipes since this winter. I knew that come May (also known as Salad Month around here) that I wanted to come up with a dazzling quinoa salad recipe for you to make all summer long.
Yeah, Dazzling. I set the bar high. No pressure!
The only problem was deciding what kind of quinoa salad to make!
I was torn with A) making a tabbouleh sort of salad, made with quinoa instead of bulgar and B) doing a Greek salad inspired quinoa salad with feta, black olives and cucumbers. I even put it out to folks over on Instagram.
Ultimately I just decided I would add it ALL! I ended up with a Mediterranean mash-up of sorts. It’s like a cross between Lebanese-style tabbouleh and a Greek Cucumber Salad with tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. And friends, the results are DAZZLING indeed!
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is the seed of a plant native to the Andes mountains in South America where it has been grown for thousands of years. The plant is botanically related to amaranth.
Quinoa is healthy because it is naturally higher in protein than most whole grains (7 grams per 1/4 cup of dry quinoa versus 3 grams for brown rice.) It is also a source of iron, folate and magnesium and also a source of Zinc.
Is it a Whole Grain?
No quinoa is not a whole grain if you look at the botanical definition of what a grain is. Whole grains are seeds of grasses. Quinoa is also a seed but comes from another type of plant in the Amaranth family, not from a grass at all.
To make matters confusing, quinoa is often referred to as an Ancient Grain. Which means it has not been genetically modified over the years.
For practical purposes, when a health expert says to eat mostly whole grains, know that quinoa can be lumped in with actual whole grains because it serves a similar purpose of “starch” or “cereal grain” in our diet.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
For those of you who follow a gluten-free diet, you’ll be happy to know that quinoa is naturally gluten-free!
Why Does Quinoa Have To Be Rinsed?
Quinoa has to be rinsed because the plant it comes from produces a naturally occuring substance called saponin that helps to protect it from birds and pests. It is bitter to the taste and has a soap like flavor. It can easily be rinsed off.
As I explained when I shared my Quinoa Stuffing, quinoa is sold pre-rinsed or not. You will have to look at the packaging to see if yours is pre-rinsed or not. If you bought it in the bulk department, err on the safe side and give it a rinse!
How To Rinse it:
- Set the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and run under cold running water for a few moments.
- You’ll notice that the water foams up a bit, and then gradually diminishes.
- Once it no longer is foamy, you’re good to move forward with cooking the quinoa.
Ingredients For This Recipe
Get the full list and measurements below in the recipe card.
- dry uncooked quinoa
- coarse kosher salt
- extra-virgin olive oil
- lemon juice
- cherry tomatoes
- feta cheese
- Kalamata olives, cut in half
- pine nuts
How To Make This Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Since the quinoa has to cook and then cool, make sure that the first thing you do is to rinse and cook the quinoa. You can prep the dressing and cut up the veggies while the quinoa cooks.
- To cook the quinoa, add it to simmering water (2 parts water to 1 part quinoa.)
- Then cover it, and turn the heat down to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Cook the quinoa until the water is absorbed and the germs of the quinoa just burst open.
Make the Lemon Dressing
This lemon dressing is very simple. It’s made with only four ingredients!
The key is making a paste with the garlic and salt. This is a technique I commonly use for salad dressings, such as in my spinach salad or Caesar salad dressing because I like to use a small amount of raw garlic and allow it to dissolve into the dressing. This gives each bite of the salad an overall garlic flavor without big chunks of raw garlic.
Then you’ll need to juice of a juicy lemon (1/4 cup) plus 3/4 cup of olive oil.
How To Make Garlic Salt Paste
- First remove the garlic skin and then chop the garlic up into a fairly fine mince.
- Sprinkle the salt over the garlic. Note this works best with kosher salt. But if you have regular salt you can substitute that instead. Make sure you read this post about subbing kosher salt for table salt first though! It’s not a 1:1 swap!
- Then use the side of your Chef’s knife. This is the knife I use. And mash it back and forth for about a full minute until it forms a paste.
Add the hot quinoa to dressing for the best flavor
- Listen Up Folks: This step is the KEY to making this salad dazzling and what sets it apart from all other quinoa salads.
- If you add the quinoa to the dressing while it is still hot it will absorb all that garlicky lemony goodness and will be imbued through and through with all that flavor! The salad won’t be greasy at all!
- Note: this will seem like a ton of dressing at first, but as it sits, toss it a couple times and you’ll see it seep into the quinoa. Magic!
- Tip: If you’re feeling rushed, after you stir the dressing and quinoa together, spread it out in a non-reactive 9X13 brownie pan and let it cool. Having more surface area in contact with the air will allow it to cool faster. I tried it and it worked like a charm in about half the time!
Add the Vegetables, Feta Cheese, Olives and Pine Nuts
Next add in the “mix ins.” As I said, I kinda went berserk here and added in everything! I started with a lot of parsley (1 1/2 cups or about a medium bunch.)
If you’re not familiar, this is the way traditional Lebanese tabbouleh (and not so traditional blueberry quinoa tabbouleh) is made. With the bulk of the salad consisting of chopped parsley.
Many tabbouleh recipes also include mint. Mint and it’s relatives grows well in the hot temperatures of the Mediterranean so you’ll find it in a number of traditional dishes from the countries all along the sea.
I love the flavor it adds to the dish! Since it is strongly flavored, you don’t need as much as the parsely, which has a neutral flavor. A half cup is plenty.
This helps to bulk up the serving size of the salad for very few calories, and it also adds a nice juicy crunch. I buy European cucumbers and then remove the seeds with a spoon before cutting it into dice. This helps keep the leftover salad from becoming too wet.
The cherry tomatoes are nice here in this salad because they add lots of sweet flavor, without adding too much moisture.
In a recipe like Panzanella, that moisture is great, but here, we want a nice fluffy texture. I cut them in half so they don’t explode when they’re eaten.
Feta Cheese and Kalamata Olives
A little goes a long way here with both of these ingredients! I use only two ounces crumbled up feta and a third of a cup of the olives. Because both of these ingredients are high in sodium and calories- I used a little less of them to keep this salad healthier and lower in calories.
Don’t skip them though, the briny salty flavor really tastes great with the sweet tomatoes and garlicky dressing!
While they’re not traditional in either tabbouleh or Greek salad, Pine nuts are commonly used in Mediterranean cooking because (like mint) they grow great in the area.
I’m so glad I added them because the taste of the rich toasted pine nuts is wonderful paired with the parsley and mint, and the light crunch is really a great contrast with the salad.
Steps To Make This Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Is Quinoa Salad Healthy?
Yes! This recipe is bursting with healthy ingredients. Parsley is high in Vitamin C and tomatoes are high in lycopene.
Thanks to the pine nuts and olive oil this salad is a good source of healthy unsaturated fats. Saturated fat should only take up 10% of your total calories.
This recipe follows the guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet, which is widely considered one of the healthiest diets in the world.
Can Quinoa Salad Be Made Ahead?
This recipe can be made up to four days in advance.
For a Party
If you are making it for a special occasion, I would recommend making it only 6 hours ahead, so that the vegetables don’t weep and the olive oil doesn’t start to harden up the texture of the salad.
Meal Prep Tips
If you are hoping to prep it ahead, and don’t want to worry about wilting. Follow through step two (let the quinoa cool in the dressing.) And then keep the mix ins cut but separate. Stir it together just before serving.
Menu Ideas For This Recipe
If you’re wondering what to serve this salad with, here are some ideas:
These Za’atar Chicken Burgers with Tzatziki would be lovely with this salad.
This Italian Balsamic Chicken is super easy and would make a nice protein choice.
Or you could use my Favorite Garlic marinade to marinate tofu steaks.
Thanks so much for reading! Let me know if you make it by leaving a star rating and review below! I appreciate it so much!
This Mediterranean Quinoa Salad is a healthy and tasty side dish for summer parties. It is popping with flavor and loaded with cucumbers, feta and olives with the addition of parsley and mint. It’s like a cross between Greek salad and quinoa tabbouleh!
1 ¼ cup quinoa, rinsed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
½ European cucumber, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 ½ cup chopped parsley
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- Combine 2 ½ cups water and quinoa and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer and cook until the quinoa is tender and absorbs all of the liquid, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Mash garlic with 1 teaspoon of the salt on a cutting board with the side of a chef’s knife. Scrape into a large bowl. Whisk in oil, lemon juice and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Add hot quinoa to the dressing and let cool, about 30 minutes.
- Stir in cucumber, parsley, tomatoes, mint, feta, olives and pine nuts. Chill or serve immediately.
To Make this salad ahead of time, and don’t want to worry about wilting. Follow through step two (let the quinoa cool in the dressing.) And then keep the mix ins cut but separate. Stir it together just before serving.
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 385 cal
- Sugar: 3 g
- Sodium: 206 mg
- Fat: 28 g
- Saturated Fat: 5 g
- Carbohydrates: 25 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 6 g