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This healthy Mediterranean cucumber salad is filled with fresh vegetables, protein-rich quinoa, cannellini beans, and pine nuts, all topped with a flavorful smooth lemony dressing. You’ll make this tasty, colorful, protein-filled Mediterranean salad again and again!
I first got addicted to healthy main course salads with my Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas recipe and fell in love with the flavors and textures of Mediterranean salads! What an awesome concept to combine healthy proteins, a few fats, fiber-filled vegetables, and over-the-top flavorful dressing into the cacophony of flavors and textures these filling salads provide!
You will especially like this filling Mediterranean cucumber tomato salad because of the contrast of textures and flavors. Plus, it’s super easy to make and requires no special funky “vegan” ingredients, yet is 100% plant-based.
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Ingredients (with some substitutions) needed to make this incredibly tasty salad with Mediterranean flavors
You will be amazed by the variety of fresh ingredients, vegetables, and flavors that make up this healthy main-course salad.
For the body of the salad you will need:
- quinoa– I usually use dry quinoa and make it fresh for the salad. However, I also keep some prepared quinoa on hand for when I’m in a hurry. The recipe calls for one-half cup dry quinoa. Keep in mind that one-half cup dry makes one and a half cups prepared quinoa (according to One Handed Cooks). Also, note that I enjoy using the tri-colored quinoa for a beautiful presentation – but use any quinoa you’d like.
- pine nuts – I dry roast the pine nuts in a pan to bring out their nutty flavor before adding them to the salad. This step is not entirely necessary and should only be done if you can attend the roasting pine nuts 100%. They go from white to burned very quickly.
- baby spinach – I buy it prepared and washed. You will also be chopping it into smaller pieces. Don’t use frozen spinach for this recipe, the texture won’t be right.
- fresh cucumbers – I do not deseed or peel my cucumber for this recipe. Some people are bothered by the seeds and the peeling. Feel free to do this if it bothers you.
- cherry tomatoes – You will cut them in half. You can also sub in other tomatoes if that is your preference. I like to use the Constellation cherry tomatoes because of the variety of colors they come in.
- red onion – You can sub in shallots if you’d prefer. I do not recommend white onions for this recipe.
- kalamata olives – Remove the pits and chop. I don’t mind if a little bit of the olive brine “accidentally” gets into the salad. It just adds to the depth of flavor.
- chopped fresh parsley
- 15-ounce can cannellini beans drained
- 1 avocado, diced – I add the avocado right before serving. I don’t care for oldish avocado flavor or texture.
For the lemony dressing you will need:
- olive oil – I use extra virgin olive oil robust flavor. If you eat oil-free you can replace the olive oil with some of the aquafaba (or bean juice) from the canned cannellini beans you are using for the salad.
- fresh lemon juice – You will need the juice from two lemons. I’m usually all about saving time and taking shortcuts and will always tell you it using things like bottled lemon juice will work. In this case, please use real lemons if you can. It’s a “lemony” dressing after all!
- 2 cloves garlic – Mince finely. And I’m okay with using bottled minced garlic in this dressing recipe.
- agave syrup – If you are not vegan you can sub in honey. If you are eating more whole food plant-based then you can sub in real maple syrup or blend in two well-soaked pitted Medjool dates with the lemon juice in a high-speed blender.
- a little salt and pepper – Plus more to taste.
- za’atar – ZA’ATAR! Oh wow, I did promise no hard-to-source or unusual ingredients in this recipe! I only recently started using za’atar in this dressing. Is it a must? No. Will it be more delicious if you use it? Of course! Za’atar is becoming more mainstream and you can even find it at some upscale grocery stores (I even heard a rumor that Walmart carries it?) Za’atar is a lovely Mid-Eastern seasoning that is delicious on vegetables, added to salads and soup, and even on avocado toast. I think if you try it, you’ll really like it. Here is a recipe for homemade Za’atar from Feasting at Home if you’d like to try making your own. Or you can find Za’atar on Amazon if you’d like.
How to make Cucumber Mediterranean Salad
The exact ingredients with measurements can be found in the recipe card below along with more concise abbreviated instructions. Read on for more details, tips, and tricks so that you will feel confident making this recipe.
Step 1: Cook the quinoa
If you are using prepared quinoa, you can obviously skip this step. It’s super easy to cook quinoa from dry though, but I get it – sometimes it’s just one step too many…
It’s very important that you rinse the quinoa before cooking. I tend to get a bit lazy about things like rinsing rice and lentils and such, but learned the hard way – there really is a good reason to rinse quinoa.
There is some debate about whether or not rinsing quinoa is really necessary. Quinoa has a coating called saponin which acts as a natural insect repellent and is reported to have a bitter taste when not rinsed. But I’ve read through numerous test-kitchen type of blog posts that have tried it both ways and didn’t find the taste bitter when cooking the unrinsed quinoa.
Here is my experience though. I used to hate quinoa because every time I cooked it, it did a number on my stomach. Lots of uncomfortable pain. No more words…
I learned that some people (me obviously) are sensitive to the saponins and unrinsed quinoa can cause stomach upset. So for me, I rinse my quinoa. It’s such a quick and easy step, and you don’t need to dry the rinsed quinoa before cooking. Just put it in the pot with water! Read more about rinsing quinoa in this informative article by Healthline.
It’s super easy to rinse quinoa. Just make sure to use a fine-mesh strainer. The little pieces are so small that they will run through a regular strainer and you will lose your quinoa down the drain.
Add the rinsed quinoa and water to a small saucepan. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Keep the lid on and let stand for about five minutes till the water has all been absorbed. Drain any excess water. The cooked quinoa will have the classic little stingy tails. That’s how you know it is done cooking.
Step 2: prep the other ingredients
While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, you can easily prep the other ingredients. I toast the pine nuts, drain the canned beans, and chop the vegetables.
Toast the pine nuts
Pine nuts are perfect for Mediterannean cucumber salad. The flavor is unique and just goes well with the other ingredients. I dry toast the pine nuts without oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. It is very important that you attend to the pine nuts the entire time while toasting. They very quickly go from white to burned.
Add the pine nuts to a medium heavy-bottomed skillet. You won’t add oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook them, stirring constantly until they’re lightly browned. As soon as they have turned light golden brown, immediately dump the pine nuts out of the hot skillet to stop the cooking process. Set aside while you are prepping the other ingredients.
If you don’t think you can attend to the pine nuts carefully, then don’t toast them. Toasted pine nuts taste better than non-toasted. BUT but burned pine nuts are horrid! And will be a nasty expensive experience.
I sometimes use other nuts in my Mediterranean cucumber salads that don’t need toasting. Salted pistachio nuts are a perfect substitution. Sliced almonds work as well. I’ve even used cashews before. But for this particular salad, the toasty nutty flavor of the pine nuts really works with the lemony dressing.
Drain the beans
If you are eating oil-free then you can use some of the aquafaba or bean water in place of the oil. (Will it be as tasty? No. Will it be oil-free? Yes.) So make sure to save that valuable bean juice if you want to do that!
Rinse the beans and then pat them as dry as possible. It’s best to not get extra water in the bottom of your salad bowl or it will make for a soggy salad.
Chop those fresh vegetables!
Place each vegetable into a large mixing bowl as you have completed chopping. You will be adding the cooked quinoa, drained beans, and toasted pine nuts before assembling so do use a large bowl. You’ll need it!
Wash, dry, and chop the baby spinach leaves. I buy my spinach prewashed to avoid the washing step. Again, you want to dry thoroughly if washing to avoid soggy salad.
Chop the parsley and cut the cherry tomatoes in half – or dice the tomatoes if you are using larger tomatoes. I don’t worry about deseeding the tomatoes.
Dice the red onion, and fresh cucumbers. Cucumber peels and seeds do not bother me. I know that some people don’t like the texture, so peel and deseed if desired.
One trick I use for easy cucumber dicing is to first cut the washed cucumber into smaller pieces – about three inches each. Then I cut through one way, turn and cut the other way to make strips. Finally, I line up the strips and slice through each to make small diced pieces.
I buy pitted kalamata olives and then slice through each one. I don’t really care if some of the olive brine gets into the salad. It just adds to the depth of flavor in my opinion.
I save the opening and dicing of the avocado till just before serving. I personally don’t like the flavor of old avocado. It gets a particular off-taste to me. I’ve been told that’s a personal problem that no one else is bothered though!
So whenever you choose to dice the avocado, this is a trick I use. I cut it in half and open the avocado. Then I slice through one way and then the other, and then simply scoop out the insides into perfect small pieces.
This recipe works great for meal prep. BUT I do avoid adding the avocado till right before serving each day.
Step 3: Make the lemony dressing
I do use fresh lemon in this dressing. Maybe it tastes better? Maybe it’s just my imagination? I have a handy citrus juicer and it’s really not that hard to juice the fresh lemons.
You will need one-fourth cup of fresh lemon juice for the dressing. Using this citrus juicer, I can easily get that out of two large lemons. If you are juicing by hand, or if your lemons aren’t large and juicy enough, you might need to use more. Buy three or four to be safe.
Now whisk together the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, agave, salt and pepper, and za’atar. I measure and mix right into a small measuring cup for easy mixing.
Time to assemble your Mediterranean Cucumber Salad
Add all of the ingredients and just toss them together with the lemony salad dressing! Now you’ve got a healthy plant-based main course salad!
For more healthy salad recipes from Veggie Fun Kitchen, try:
- Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas
- Strawberry Walnut Salad with Mint and Vegan Feta
- Autumn Spinach Salad with Roasted Pumpkin
- Veggie Salad with Smooth Tahini Dressing
- Mango Rice and Black Bean Salad
The printable recipe card for Mediterranean Cucumber Salad
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Veggie-Filled Mediterranean Cucumber Salad with Quinoa and Pine Nuts
- ½ cup quinoa dry
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 cups baby spinach washed and chopped
- 2 cups cucumber diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
- ⅔ cup red onion diced
- ½ cup kalamata olives chopped
- ¼ cup parsley chopped
- 15 ounces cannellini beans drained
- 1 avocado diced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice from two lemons
- 2 cloves garlic minced finely
- 1 Tablespoon agave
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon za'atar
- optional more salt and pepper to taste.
- Rinse the quinoa before cooking. This is a step you should not skip. (See blog post above.) In a small saucepan, add the rinsed quinoa and water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Keep the lid on and let stand for 5 minutes till the water has all absorbed. Drain any excess water.
- While the quinoa is cooking, you can toast the pine nuts. This is an optional step but really brings out the flavor. You must attend to the pine nuts while they are toasting or they will burn. If you can't do this then skip the toasting! Add the pine nuts to a medium skillet. You won't add oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook them, stirring constantly until they’re lightly browned. As soon as they have turned light golden brown, immediately dump the pine nuts out of the hot skillet to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
- While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, drain the beans, wash and chop the baby spinach leaves, and dice the tomatoes, red onion, and cucumber. Save dicing the avocado till just before serving.
- Place the cooked quinoa in a large salad bowl and allow to cool somewhat.
- While the quinoa is cooling, make the lemon dressing. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, agave, salt and pepper, and za'atar. See notes.
- Place all the ingredients except for the diced avocado into the salad bowl along with the cooked quinoa. Toss together with the vinaigrette.
- Dice and add the avocado right before serving. See notes.