Rice salad is a delicious dish with rice, fresh veggies, and a delightful dressing. It’s easy to prepare, excellent for meal prep, and one of the best recipes for picnics and potlucks.
This recipe is inspired by Italian rice salad; it’s a fulfilling meal that is nutritious, light, crunchy, colorful, and refreshing.
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Growing up in an Italian family, I had my share of rice salad recipes, especially during summer, as this dish is delicious when served cold, and it’s pleasantly refreshing during the hot summer months.
Think of rice salad as a pasta salad, except that you swap rice for pasta. You can have it as a main dish for lunch or dinner or serve it as a colorful side dish. You can bring it to the beach, to potlucks, and to picnics.
This blog post will first show you how to make the easiest, tastiest brown rice salad with fresh crunchy vegetables and a delicious maple (or honey) mustard dressing.
There’s no need for cooking, just chopping and mixing. Oh, and remember that the ingredients list below is just a suggestion for what you need.
Then in the variations chapter, we’ll give you some ideas on how to make it with roasted vegetables.
In any case, change the vegetables based on the season and your availability when reading. As a rule of thumb, try to cover as many colors of the rainbow as possible.
Whole-grain brown rice
We adore whole-grain brown rice (long grain) because it has a beautiful texture and richer flavor than white rice.
Also, being a whole grain, brown rice is healthier and more fulfilling than white rice.
However, it does take longer to cook, so if you prefer, you can substitute white long-grain rice or basmati rice for brown or get pre-cooked brown rice at the store.
You can use canned chickpeas or dry chickpeas that you previously soaked overnight and then cook for two hours or until tender.
To make it quick, we generally use canned chickpeas that we rinse well under running water.
From a nutritional perspective, rice and chickpeas are excellent together, providing plenty of high-quality protein and fiber.
Substitute lentils, green peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, or edamame beans for chickpeas.
Small tomatoes add color and sweetness. You can use cherry, plum, date, and Roma tomatoes.
Substitute small tomatoes with diced red bell pepper.
Bell pepper adds crunch and sweetness. We like to use yellow bell pepper, but red and green bell peppers work well too.
Substitute them with thinly sliced red cabbage for a bright purple color and a nice crunch.
Cucumber adds crunch and freshness to the rice salad. You can use American cucumber, English cucumber, or Kirby cucumber.
Substitute diced zucchini or radish for cucumber.
Olives add umami, which packs the salad with flavor. We use pitted black olives and slice them into small discs.
Substitute green olives, kalamata olives, taggiasche olives, sun-dried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts for olives.
Canned corn kernels add a pleasantly sweet taste and a vibrant yellow color.
Substitute them with more yellow bell peppers.
Pickled cucumbers add a tangy, refreshing taste that makes your taste buds dance. We love adding some of them to our rice salad because they make the other flavors pop.
Substitute other pickled vegetables such as small onions, capers, carrots, and jalapeños for cucumbers.
A finely chopped shallot adds just the right amount of tang and spiciness to make the other ingredients pop.
You can substitute scallions or red onion for shallot; however, we find the red onion too sharp and harder to digest.
We use a mix of fresh parsley and fresh chives, finely chopped.
Substitute fresh basil, dill, and cilantro for parsley and chives.
If you don’t have fresh herbs, add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano or thyme to the dressing below.
Crumbled feta cheese is optional. It adds creaminess, saltiness, umami, and a wonderful cheesy flavor that most people will love.
Substitute non-dairy feta cheese, diced avocado, pine nuts, or pistachios for the feta. We can recommend Violife and Simply V.
We season our rice salad with our well-tested and beloved maple mustard dressing.
You can make it with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup (or honey), American or Dijon mustard, ground cumin, salt, and black pepper. It’s simple and delicious!
1. Boil the rice
Boil the rice in a large pot with plenty of lightly salted water. The rice should be al dente, with a slight bite. Cook it per package instructions, then taste it to check for doneness.
Drain then spread out the cooked rice on a clean baking sheet to help cool it and squeeze the juice of half a lemon on it.
Tip: don’t rinse the rice under running water to cool it down.
2. Make the dressing
Add extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, honey or maple syrup, ground cumin, salt, and black pepper to a small bowl.
Whisk until well until combined. Alternatively, you can add the ingredients to a small jar and shake it.
3. Build the rice salad
To a large bowl, add cooled boiled rice, rinsed chickpeas, quartered cherry tomatoes, diced bell pepper, diced cucumber, sliced olives, drained corn kernels, sliced or chopped pickled cucumbers, finely chopped shallot, finely chopped parsley, and chives.
Drizzle the dressing over the rice salad, then toss until well combined.
You can serve the salad immediately or store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Take it out from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.
Rice Salad with Feta
Feta cheese is creamy and tasty; most people will love this variation. We recommend crumbling the feta over the rice salad rather than mixing it.
It’ll look beautiful and taste delicious!
Rice Salad with Roasted Vegetables
Rice salad is also delicious with roasted vegetables. Granted, this recipe will take you longer to make, but the result is worth it.
This might as well be the best rice salad we’ve ever had. The veggies get flavorful, charred, and caramelized, and they taste incredible when mixed with the rice.
To make it, you’ll need to roast the veggies in the oven first.
We roast 2 zucchini, 1 eggplant, 1 large white onion, 2 carrots, 7 ounces (200 grams) of mushrooms, and 2 roasted bell peppers (you can use jarred ones or see our roasted bell peppers recipe).
Preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C. Add sliced zucchini and eggplant to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Add sliced onion, chopped carrot, and quartered mushrooms to another baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Season all veggies with olive oil, salt, and pepper; then bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes or until soft and slightly charred.
If you prefer, you can grill the veggies instead of roasting them.
Chop the veggies into dice and add them to a large bowl with the rice.
Season with extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon, then mix well, taste, and adjust for salt.
Asian-style wild rice salad
Use our carrot ginger dressing or make a delicious tamari dressing to season the rice salad.
For the tamari dressing, mix 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons of miso paste, 2 tablespoons of soy or tamari sauce, 1.5 tablespoons of grated ginger, 2 minced or grated cloves of garlic, 1.5 tablespoons of maple or agave syrup and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.
For the rice salad, mix 2 cups cooked wild rice, 3 tablespoons sliced green onions, 1 cup shredded carrot, 1.5 cups shredded purple cabbage, 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro, 3 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds, and serve with some lime wedges.
- Serve it with an additional dressing to make it even more delicious. Try to stir in a couple of tablespoons of vegan mayo, tahini sauce, or chipotle dressing; it’d be a great way to add even more flavor! Even some lemon zest would be delicious.
- Use the salad leftovers in Italian flatbread and make a lunch-friendly wrap. Add sour cream, guacamole, hummus, and confit tomatoes on top for a fulfilling lunch.
Which rice should I use?
We recommend using whole-grain rice (brown, red, purple, and black). It’s richer in flavor and texture than standard white rice, and it’s easier to keep “al dente.”
Also, it is more nutritious as it contains more protein, fiber, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
You can pick long grain or medium grain for this rice salad. If you are short on time, opt for parboiled rice, a partially cooked type of rice.
Cook the rice “al dente”
We want the rice with some bite (al dente), so look at the cooking time on the package and taste the rice 2 minutes before it’s done.
Also, we want the grains of the rice to stay separate from each other. To do this, cook the rice in a large pot with plenty of water.
Add some salt to the water to infuse flavor into the rice.
Cool the rice
After cooking, we want to cool the rice as quickly as possible, so it does not keep cooking, becoming mushy and glued together.
Important: do not rinse the rice under cold water! You will lose a lot of flavor and texture this way.
Instead, get a clean baking sheet, place the hot rice you just cooked on it, drizzle it with cold lemon juice, and spread the rice flat over the tray.
Play with textures and colors
Pick vegetables that are different in color. This will make your salad more appealing but also more nutritious!
Colors come from antioxidants, so the more colorful the salad, the more varieties of antioxidants you’ll eat.
Also, think about textures: crunchy (bell pepper), mushy (avocado), chewy (chickpeas), and soft (olives). Try to have different textures to make the salad more delicious.
Yes. Your salad will taste even better if you make it one day ahead, as the flavors will have the time to meld together.
If you make the rice salad beforehand, you can keep it in a bowl, cover it with a lid and store it in the refrigerator.
Before eating it, let it warm up at room temperature for about 30 minutes so that all the flavors return.
Rice salad should be eaten cool or at room temperature, NOT cold.
Nothing stops you from freezing your rice salad, but we don’t recommend it because freezing will ruin the texture of the vegetables.
Yes, all rice and fresh vegetables are gluten-free, so this salad is naturally gluten-free.
If you are allergic to gluten, check that the ingredients you use for the dressing are also gluten-free.
Absolutely yes! Have you ever heard of the blue zones?
This dish perfectly balances complex carbs, protein, fats, and fiber from whole and plant-based foods.
Make Ahead & Storage
Make Ahead: rice salad is an excellent recipe to make ahead and use for meal prep, potlucks, and picnics. It’s best to make it one day ahead to allow the flavors to meld.
Refrigerator: keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days. Take it out 15 – 30 minutes before serving to improve flavor.
Freezer: we don’t recommend freezing this recipe.
More Salad Recipes
If you liked this Italian rice salad, you might also enjoy these wholesome salad ideas:
- Farro salad (eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, cumin, etc.)
- Couscous with vegetables (zucchini, red onion, peas, carrot, eggplant, cumin, parsley, etc.)
- Chickpea salad (canned chickpeas, corn, avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, etc.)
- Pasta salad with lemon vinaigrette (bowtie pasta, olives, white beans, corn, red onion, etc.)
- Potato salad (vegan mayonnaise, pickled cucumber, parsley, lemon, etc.)
- Panzanella salad (bread, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, basil, balsamic vinegar, etc.)
- Italian barley salad (zucchini, eggplant, onion, carrot, lemon, parsley, basil, etc.)
More Rice Recipes
Rice is a versatile and healthy ingredient for grain-based dinners and lunches:
- Zucchini risotto (arborio rice, grated zucchini, lemon, parmesan, or vegan cheese, etc.)
- Lentil mujaddara (brown lentils, caramelized onions, cinnamon, paprika, cinnamon, etc.)
- Easy asparagus risotto (risotto rice, asparagus, lemon, garlic, parmesan or vegan cheese, etc.)
- Saffron risotto (onion, saffron threads, vegetable broth, butter, white wine, etc.)
- Rice balls (leftover risotto, breadcrumbs, oregano, plant milk, frying oil, etc.)
- Creamy tomato risotto (tomato passata, onion, garlic, oregano, basil, butter, etc.)
For many more dinner ideas, check out our mains category page.
FOR THE RICE SALAD
- 2 cups whole grain rice measured raw
- 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas or 1½ cups of cooked chickpeas (drained)
- 1½ cups cherry tomatoes
- 1½ cups cucumber
- 1½ cups yellow bell pepper
- ½ cup black olives
- ½ cup canned corn
- 1 small shallot
- ¼ cup pickled cucumber
- 1 cup fresh herbs parsley + chives
- ½ cup crumbled feta optional
FOR THE DRESSING
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice + ½ lemon to squeeze on rice
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Boil 2 cups whole grain rice in a large pot with 1 gallon (4 liters) of water and 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of salt. The rice should be al dente, with a slight bite. Cook it per package instructions and taste it to check for doneness.Drain the rice, then spread it out on a clean baking sheet to help cool it and squeeze the juice of half a lemon on it.
- Dressing: add ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper to a small bowl.Whisk well until combined. Alternatively, you can add the ingredients to a small jar and shake it.
- To a large bowl, add boiled rice, 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas (drained and rinsed), 1½ cups cherry tomatoes (quartered), 1½ cups cucumber (diced), 1½ cups yellow bell pepper (diced), ½ cup black olives (sliced), ½ cup canned corn (drained), ¼ cup pickled cucumber (diced), 1 small shallot (finely chopped), 1 cup fresh herbs (finely chopped).
- Drizzle the dressing over the rice salad, then toss until well combined.You can serve the salad immediately or store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Take it out from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.
- To make the variation with ½ cup crumbled feta, we recommend crumbling the feta on the rice salad rather than mixing it in.
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