A delicious Mediterranean rice salad with fresh veggies, Pecorino cheese and lemony dressing. This is my idea of the perfect summer side dish recipe. It complements almost any main dish and is especially great with anything grilled. Plus it’s vegetarian and gluten-free.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that more and more of my friends and family are embracing the Mediterranean way of eating – less meat, more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats. Many are also leaning away from gluten. So I love developing recipes like this one, that are super delicious and also make everyone feel good.
It’s risky to try out a new recipe for a dinner party but I had a vision of a beautiful healthy rice salad and no time to spare. Sometimes you just have to live dangerously. We were expecting a crowd. Eddie smoked a few chickens and grilled Korean BBQ burgers. I was in charge of salads. The stars were aligned and my Mediterranean rice salad turned out even better than I had hoped. Many of my guests asked for the recipe. So here it is!
It’s hard to miss with such great ingredients: arborio rice, fresh spring asparagus and peas, sautéed leeks and radicchio, a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, pecorino Romano cheese and fresh basil.
Most of us associate Arborio rice with risotto but it’s also a great choice for rice salad. Arborio can be cooked just like regular rice – boiled and drained. The texture of Arborio rice depends on how fast you cook it. When cooked slowly, stirring constantly, as for risotto, it absorbs lots of liquid and releases a good amount of starch, resulting in a thick creamy dish with chewy grains. When cooked fast, without stirring, as in this recipe, the grains are plump and have a nice al dente bite to them. Any excess starch is rinsed away when the rice is drained, resulting in rice that is the ideal texture for salad. And they maintain their nice firm texture, even when mixed with dressing.
The recipe takes a few pots – one for blanching the veggies, one for sautéing the leeks and radicchio, one for cooking the rice – but it’s not difficult, and much of it can be made ahead.
Here’s how to make Mediterranean Rice Salad:
Cook the rice and let it cool (this can be done ahead). While the rice cools, make the dressing (can also be done ahead), and sauté the leeks and radicchio. While the leeks and radicchio are cooking, blanch the asparagus and peas. Mix the rice, veggies, cheese, basil and lemon zest together in a big bowl. Just before serving, toss with dressing.
This rice salad is the perfect dish for a crowd and the recipe can easily be doubled. Just heap it into a big bowl and serve it at room temperature. It looks temptingly delicious and it doesn’t disappoint – plump grains of rice, crisp-tender veggies, bright lemony dressing, fresh basil and nutty cheese…. an irresistible combination of textures and flavors.
Here’s the recipe for Mediterranean rice salad. If you make this, please come back to leave a comment and let me know what you think!
- 1 cup arborio rice
- Kosher salt
- For the Dressing:
- ½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for sautéing
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For The Veggies:
- 1 bunch thick asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut into ¾-inch pieces.
- 5-6 ounces of peas, fresh (shelled) or frozen
- 1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into ¼-inch rounds, washed well and drained
- 1 small head of radicchio, halved, cored and roughly chopped
- Remaining Ingredients:
- ½ cup of loosely packed basil leaves, sliced thinly
- ⅓ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or substitute Parmigiana Reggiano)
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Cook The Rice: Bring a pot of water (at least 3 cups) with 1 teaspoon of salt, to a boil. Add rice, give it a stir, and set the timer for 15 minutes. The rice should be tender but not mushy. Drain the rice well and spread it out on a large baking pan or tray, to cool. (Can be done up to a day ahead. Store cooled rice in an airtight bag or container in the fridge. Bring to room temp before using)
- Make The Dressing: Combine lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly add olive oil, while whisking, to emulsify. Set aside. (Can be made up to a day ahead. Store, covered, in the fridge. Bring to room temp before using)
- Blanch the Asparagus and Peas: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a medium pot of water, with 1 teaspoon of salt, to a boil. Add asparagus and peas. Cook for 2 minutes or so, until the vegetables are bright green and crisp-tender. Immediately drain and plunge veggies into the ice water. When cool, drain well.
- Sauté the Leeks and Radicchio: Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté leeks and asparagus, stirring frequently, until tender, 5-7 minutes (lower the heat if they start to brown) Remove from heat, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and cool for 10 minutes or so.
- Assemble the Salad: In a large bowl combine rice, cooled asparagus and peas, cooled leeks and radicchio, basil, cheese, and lemon zest. Just before serving, toss with dressing (you may not need all of it) Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
This recipe was inspired by Michael Chiarello’s Insalata di Riso