This Mediterranean quinoa salad is full of colorful vegetables, chopped parsley, and a tangy lemon tahini dressing. It can be served warm or cold, and makes a great lunch the next day.
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The flavors of Mediterranean cuisine are some of my favorites: bright lemon, briny olives, colorful vegetables, and the concentrated flavors of sun dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. The cuisine is rich and satisfying from the fresh ingredients and well-seasoned dishes while still being incredibly healthy.
While quinoa is originally from an entirely different part of the world, South America, it’s the perfect “grain” (actually a seed) to carry these flavors. In this Mediterranean quinoa salad, the quinoa plays a role similar to bulgur in tabouli, enveloped in chopped fresh parsley and mixed with fresh veggies and olives. This dish is heartier than tabouli with a higher ratio of grain to green, and tahini dressing, so it can be served as a main or a side. I enjoy eating it warm for dinner, then having it as a cold salad for lunch the next day.
While this dish is ridiculously simple to make, there are a few techniques you could use to add a little extra something to the dish.
How to toast quinoa before cooking
If you’re on the fence about quinoa because you find it to be bitter, making toasted quinoa is a great way to give it another chance! Quinoa seeds have a bitter coating called saponin, which discourages birds and animals from eating the plant while it’s growing. One way to tone down this bitterness is rinsing your quinoa in a strainer before cooking.
If you’d like to give the quinoa a nuttier, deeper flavor, try toasting it before boiling. This step is totally optional, but try it if you have a few extra minutes. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add your dry or rinsed quinoa to the pan. Stir occasionally until the quinoa is fragrant and golden. It will take a little longer if you rinsed your quinoa, but it should be done within 5-10 minutes. Once you reach this point, remove from heat and cook as directed in this quinoa salad or any other quinoa recipe.
Lemon Tahini Dressing
This dressing is creamy, tangy, and a bit savory from the soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free) and touch of toasted sesame oil. All you need to do is stir all of the ingredients together in a bowl—no blender needed! The oregano is the only herb used in the dressing, so if you’d like it to really stand out, you could use fresh oregano. Dried is perfectly fine though. If you have access to fresh tahini (for example, at a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern market), or want to make your own, the flavor will be even better.
Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds. It’s basically sesame seed peanut butter. It’s a main ingredient in hummus, it’s often used in sauces and dressings (like the tahini sauce that comes with falafel), and also is used in the Middle Eastern confection halvah. Some brands of tahini can be pretty bitter, so you might have to try a few to find your favorite. Mixing tahini with an acid and a sweetener can help cut the bitterness, so this dressing is a great way to use bitter tahini.
If you have extra dressing, you can use it for salads as well. If you’re just looking for a salad dressing recipe, you could skip the quinoa salad altogether and just make the dressing. It would be fantastic on this roasted squash and pear salad.
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
- 1 1/2 cups quinoa dry
- 4 cups water
- 1 medium tomato diced
- 1/2 red onion diced
- 3/4 cup red bell pepper chopped
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil chopped
- 1/2 kalamata olives or green olives de-pitted and chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup olive oil extra virgin
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- Juice of 2 large lemons
- 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari for gluten free
- If you find quinoa to be bitter, rinse your quinoa in a strainer prior to cooking.
- Combine the quinoa and water in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until all of the water has absorbed and the quinoa is tender.
- Mix the quinoa and the remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl.
- Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl, then pour over the salad, stirring to coat the quinoa.
- Serve immediately if you'd like to eat it warm, or let chill for at least an hour if you wish to serve the salad cold.
- Variation: Toast your quinoa prior to cooking for a nuttier flavor. Heat a large cast iron skillet or other pan over medium heat, and add your dry or rinsed quinoa to the pan. Stir frequently until the quinoa begins to turn golden and become fragrant. Remove from heat and continue to the boiling step.
- Feel free to use any veggies you like in this salad.
- The salad can be served warm or cold.
Looking for more vegan Mediterranean dishes?
This vegan kale pesto is made with kale instead of basil, and gets its savory flavor from cashew and pine nuts. It’s a great alternative to traditional pesto when basil is not in season, or if you’re looking to add more veggies to your diet.
This vegan lasagna is filled with pesto, roasted red peppers, and artichokes, but you can add any kind of vegetables you like.