This healthy, protein-rich vegan dish can be a main or a side
In much of the world, September brings in-between weather. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re anticipating cooler temps, but we’re still seeing many warm (as in hot!) days. In the Southern Hemisphere, people are looking forward to warm weather, though the cold may still linger a while.
So planning meals can be a bit of a challenge, wherever you are. Warm temperatures call for something light. But that hint of chill makes you crave something with a bit of substance.
For weather like this, my go-to is a main course salad—particularly one with dried pulses or legumes. Vegetables keep it light, but pulses/legumes add a bit of oomph (not to mention protein). Mix in some quinoa, and you have a nutritional powerhouse.
Best of all, main-course salads can make a perfect “Meatless Monday” option for those who want to eat vegan or vegetarian at least one night a week. Add some bread and maybe a nice glass of wine, and you’re set—no matter what the weather gods throw at you.
Recipe: Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini Salad
This recipe features zucchini and tomatoes, which are abundant and locally-sourced in many US markets right now. But like he Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad we discussed back in July, this is a dish you can change to accommodate whatever ingredients you have on hand. Rice or pasta could replace quinoa, for example. And you can substitute almost any vegetable that looks good in your market.
I’d keep the lentils, though. They have such great flavor—and work so well in this salad—that I wouldn’t substitute for them. Besides, it’s always great to find a new use for lentils. (Many of us eat them only in soups, which is a shame, given their great taste and nutritional value).
The combination of fresh mint and parsley is wonderful, too—so I’d definitely give that a try.
It takes about 45 minutes to make this dish, although if you cook the lentils ahead, you can cut that time in half.
This recipe makes about a quart, which is enough for 4 hearty main-course servings, or about 8 sides. Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 cup dried lentils (brown lentils are what you’re most likely to find, though French green lentils keep their shape better when cooked; see Notes)
- ½ cup dried quinoa
- ~1 pound zucchini
- ½ red onion (about ½ cup when diced)
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (optional)
- handful or two of cherry or grape tomatoes (about 1½ cups; or substitute large tomatoes, chunked)
- ½ cup fresh parsley, cleaned and chopped
- ¼ cup fresh mint, cleaned and chopped
- 6 - 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (approximate; to your own taste)
- 2 - 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- The lentils take the longest to cook (usually 30 to 40 minutes for brown lentils), so start with them. Pick through the lentils and remove any tiny stones or clumps of dirt that might be in the package. Rinse the lentils, then pour them into a 2-quart pot. Add about 3 cups of water, bring the lentils to a boil on top of the stove, then turn the heat down so the water is just simmering. Set the timer for 20 minutes—the lentils won’t be done at that time, but you want to check on whether they need more water. Cook until the lentils are soft and edible, but still hold their shape (after 30 minutes I check frequently—they complete their cooking in a hurry).
- While the lentils are simmering, cook the quinoa according to package instructions (this usually takes 10 to 15 minutes). Generally, you should use twice as much water as quinoa (so use about 1 cup of water in this case) and cook until all the water is absorbed. You can salt the cooking water or not, as you prefer. Once the quinoa is cooked, let it stand to cool off a bit.
- Next, wash the zucchini, cut off the ends, and slice lengthwise. Then slice lengthwise again (forming quarters), and cut these slices into quarter-rounds measuring about a third of an inch. Place the cut-up zucchini in a microwave-safe dish with a lid, and add a tablespoon or two of water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check the zucchini to see if it’s done—I like mine to have just a bit of crunch; continue cooking if it’s not. My microwave usually takes about 4 minutes; yours may differ. Once the zucchini is cooked, let it stand to cool off a bit.
- Meanwhile, cut a red onion in half and peel one of the halves (reserve the rest for another use). Cut the peeled half into dice of about ¼ inch. Place in a medium mixing bowl.
- Wash jalapeño peppers and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). You may want to reserve a slice or two of pepper for garnish. Chop the remaining pepper slices into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Add the chopped peppers to the mixing bowl, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Wash the tomatoes. If using grape or cherry tomatoes, I usually cut in them half (although you can keep them whole if you prefer). If using larger tomatoes, I always cut into chunks (and try to lose some of the seeds and watery pulp along the way—these don’t add anything to the salad). Add the tomatoes to the mixing bowl.
- Wash and dry the parsley and mint, and chop finely. Add to the mixing bowl (you may want to reserve a bit for garnish).
- By now, the lentils should be done. Drain the lentils, rinse them briefly with cold water to cool, then add them to the mixing bowl. Add the cooked quinoa and zucchini to the bowl.
- Toss all the ingredients together to mix, then start adding the extra virgin olive oil. Don’t add it all at once—you really don’t know how much you’ll need. I usually start with about 3 tablespoons, toss with the ingredients, then taste. Only then do I add more if necessary. How to tell if you have enough? You want a thin—THIN—coat of olive oil on everything in the bowl. But when you take a bite, you should taste ingredients first, olive oil second.
- Once you’ve added sufficient olive oil, add the lemon juice. Again, start with about half of what you think you’ll need. Taste, then add more if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss to incorporate. (Alternatively, you can add these after you’ve added the oil and before you add the lemon juice.)
- Taste again, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve. A garnish of mint, parsley, or jalapeño slices adds a nice touch.
- I like the color of red onion in this dish, but you can substitute yellow or white if you prefer. Or use scallions.
- And of course you can substitute yellow squash for zucchini. Or use another veggie entirely.
- The cooking time for lentils increases as they age (and dry out more). They do tend to lose their shape a bit when overcooked, although their flavor is still good. In this salad, I don’t find the shape issue to be a problem. But if you’re concerned, you may want to substitute French Le Puy green lentils. They hold their shape much better when cooked.
- Cooking time can also vary depending on the type of lentils you’re using. Brown lentils usually take 30 to 40 minutes (for me, closer to 30 is normal). But some other lentils (red ones come to mind) take about half that time. So if you’re not using brown lentils, watch the pot carefully to avoid overcooking.
- We’ve talked about quinoa before, but I’ll repeat myself for those who may be new to the blog: Quinoa has become deservedly popular over the past decade because it’s highly nutritional and gluten free (it isn’t a true cereal grain because it isn’t part of the grass family; rather, it belongs to the chenopod family, a pseudocereal). Quinoa has more fat than most cereals, including small amounts of omega-3 fatty acid.
- Because of its popularity, demand for quinoa has exploded—as has its price. Alas, the price probably won’t drop anytime soon. In a recent Washington Post article, Lydia DePillis explains that quinoa will likely remain in short supply because although the world’s major producers (Peru and Bolivia) are increasing output, demand is growing even faster. And though quinoa can be grown in North America, the market isn’t yet large enough to tempt farmers to plant it here—especially since it can be a difficult crop to cultivate.
“It’s interesting how often we eat meatless,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, snarfing down her Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini salad.
“Usually at least twice a week, and frequently more often,” I said, applying my own fork. “I’m not making a conscious effort to cook vegan or vegetarian, either. It just happens that way. There are so many great-tasting dishes that don’t rely on meat for flavor.”
“Especially ones with lentils,” said Mrs K R. “I love them in dals. Like that terrific Dal with Swiss Chard that uses pink lentils.”
“Or soups,” I agreed. “Way back when we started the blog, one of our earliest posts was on Easy Lentil Soup. And with chilly weather coming, we’re getting into soup season.”
“I can’t wait!” said Mrs K R. “But we still have lots of zucchini and tomatoes. I hope you have plans for them.”
“Absolutely!” I said. “In fact, our next post will feature zucchini pancakes. They make a great light dinner entrée. They do contain eggs and dairy, though, so they’re vegetarian, not vegan.”
“Vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, whatever,” said Mrs K R. “I don’t discriminate. My main interest is flavor!”
Amen to that.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad
Dal with Swiss Chard
Easy Lentil Soup
Edamame and Bean Salad
White Bean and Tuna Salad
Summer Pasta Salad
Or check out the index for more recipes
Love the combination of quinoa and lentil, especially with the courgette! Who doesn't love red onions? They are so good in creamy salads and of course your salad! And thanks for the awesome cooking notes about lentils!!
This is a wonderful dish for the mix of temperatures we're having. It's hearty enough to be a meal and fresh and light to not weigh you down on a hot evening. It doesn't hurt that it's quite pleasing to the eye too. I didn't know we were in short suppy of quinoa. It doesn't surprise me and its always been expensive so I didn't notice the price. Good to know though.
This week Denver is seeing quite a cool wet front, we're barely in the 60's but it feels so good. I'm itching to get into the autumn season and baking!
Have a great week!
Hi veganmiam, this dish is definitely one for you! I love all of the flavors in this. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, it's been close to 100 F here the last few days, but this weekend we're finally supposed to see some cool weather. Good thing - I want to make soup! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Perfect late summer meal! We are expecting a September heat wave here today (over 90F) which is unusual for Seattle but I love the heat so I'll happily take it!
Looks like I gotta give this recipe a whir some time :)
Wow - no kidding about a perfect Meatless Monday - this sounds wonderful.
Hi Alyssa, this definitely is a meal for you with weather like that! We've been close to 100 F for the last few days - totally miserable. But this salad works so nicely in the heat! Thanks for the comment.
Hi cquek, you really do need to try this sometime - good stuff! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Adri, isn't this a nice meatless main dish? Great flavor and very satisfying. Thanks for the comment.
Great flavors and I'm with Mrs. KR, that's what counts. Just happy I don't have any dietary issues to deal with because I like most anything! Great salad. Will try feeding it to manservant but he would probably need a piece of chicken on top. Grrrr.
Hi Abbe, I'd tell the manservant to substitute rabbit. ;-) Although I think he'll find this pretty filling. Thanks for the comment.
Such a fresh and delicious side, I want to devour it :D
That's a lovely looking salad with great colour. I buy quinoa and yes, it's expensive - about $8.00 for a smallish bag. I keep hearing how the demand isn't matching the supply and that those in Bolivia and Peru are, as a result, having to pay more for it too. But it's so good for you and such a great source of protein that I'm sure there'll be demand for a long time to come xx
This looks like a beautiful combination !
Hi Uru, it's really a nice dish - loads of flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, I suspect quinoa production will increase over time. Hope so, anyway, because it's really good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sketched Chef, it really is a terrific combo - super flavor. Thanks for the comment.
What a beautiful salad , it's a balance meal for a side or main dish and so filling and healthy thanks sfor sharing :).
This still-summery weather definitely has me jonesing for a lot of quinoa salads lately. This one is no exception. I love how it's packed with so many nutrients and has such a wonderful texture.
I live in Los Angeles. Your opening thoughts could easily refer to this city if you stop to consider it. September is a mad slap in the face, between Santa Anna HOT and Madame Pacific COOL. These two ladies bicker in September. Making for a wild weather month. GREG
Hi Nee, it really is a nice, balanced dish. Tasty, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, I really like the texture on this, too. Lovely stuff, at least I think so. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Greg, our weather in St. Louis is bickering too. It's been hot this week - close to 100F - but this weekend it'll cool off and we'll see some lows in the 50s. Can't wait! Thanks for the comment.
I'm with Mrs. KR. Who needs meat when you have lentils? Lentil soup is a big favorite around here when the weather turns cold. Adding quinoa to them just pushes them over the mark to near perfection. I love all the colors and textures in this salad. Expensive or not, this is one grocery item that is worth the extra money at Whole Foods.
Hi Karen, I agree quinoa is worth the $$$. And I love lentil soup - looking forward to cooler weather soon so we can have some. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I do hope US farmers contemplate growing Quinoa, John. The price has gotten so high especially for those who need Quinoa as their main food supply. It's getting to the point they no longer can afford it.
LOVE this salad! All the healthy goodness of lentils and quinoa in one colorful bowl of garden delights. I think the jalapeño adds a nice kick too!
Thanks for sharing, John...
Hi Louise, jalapeño is always welcome, don't you think? ;-) This really is a nice salad, and healthy to boot! Thanks for the comment.
MMm... comforting salad with lovely ingredients. So fresh and colorful :)
Hi Kiran, other than the great flavor, I like the colors in this salad most of all. Thanks for the comment.
This is really a beautiful salad John! All of the color scream how healthy it is before you even get to the quinoa and lentils. I'm not crazy about lentil soups but I do like the idea of using them in a salad. Lots of protein along side the quinoa, something else I don't cook much even though I have a quart jar of it in the pantry. Sounds like it's time to pull the quinoa out and give lentils another try. Love the flavors in this salad!
nourishing and scrumptious main course...fresh,protein rich and amazingly flavorful...lovely colors and a terrific recipe,thanks so much for sharing :-)
A delicious salad and fabulous combination! The kind of healthy, yet tasty dish I love to eat on weekdays.
A small package of organic quinoa is about $10 here so it's definitely not cheap. I love it though. This salad looks so good.
This is so colourful. I'd love to make this to take to work!
Yum! I adore lentils and quinoa but for some reason don't think I've ever put them together (lentils with other grains yes, but why not quinoa?!). Definitely adding this to my list to make!
I'm probably the last person on WP to have yet to try quinoa. I just on't think to buy it and, when I do, it sits on a shelf because I don't think to prepare it. I do like the sound of your salad though, John, and if I'm going to finally prepare some, this would be the way to go. Thanks for the recipe and nudge in the right direction. :)
Hi MJ, although I love lentil soups, I actually think lentils work better as a side dish. They're wonderful paired with lamb, but work well with poultry and fish, too. Or all by themselves! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kumar, aren't the colors nice? My favorite part of the salad! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosa, this is pretty typical weekday fare for us, too. On weekends we splurge! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, wow, that's more expensive than here! Fortunately a little quinoa goes a long way. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Caroline, leftovers of this do pack quite well for work! And this salad is as good at room temperature as it is chilled, IMO, so if it's out of the refrigerator for a few hours, no big deal. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Katherine, the two pair really well. And they play so well with other ingredients! You'll enjoy this, I think. Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, quinoa is pretty trendy, and I often resist trendy things. But the first time I tasted it I was smitten. I like it because it's so versatile and you can combine it with so many other things. Definitely worth trying at some point. Thanks for the comment.
its going to make for a great main dish - I love lentil salads and anything so light and healthy means I can eat a lot of it!
Hi Archana, this really is a satisfying main dish - so simple, but tasty! Thanks for the comment.
I'm such a fan of hearty salads, especially with lentils and quinoa like this lovely one! I enjoyed your chat with Mrs K R, too. :)
I've been wanting to find some le puy lentils here but haven't had much luck. I'll go with the ones you've suggested then. What a pretty salad.. just filled with great garden veggies! So healthy!
Quinoa and lentils is such a great combination! I love that you added mint and jalapeño! Great salad
Hi Hannah, those chats are fun! And pretty lifelike. This really is a nice salad - worth trying. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Smidge, it can be hard to find puy lentils sometimes. They're wonderful, but I really like the ordinary brown ones, and they work fine in this recipe. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Vicky and Ruth, don't those pair so well together? The mint really adds quite a bit to this dish - so tasty! Thanks for the comment.
Our weather has been all over the place lately in NY...some days are so hot and summer-like and then we'll get a cool fall day thrown in there. Such a great looking salad!
I've never combined lentils and quinoa, what a wonderful idea! This looks like something I could eat every day for lunch!
Hi Ashley, our weather has been nutty, too. Good thing this salad is so versatile! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, this is really good for lunch - loads of flavor and color, and keeps well if you need to transport it to work. Thanks for the comment.
What a beautiful, fresh looking meal - and it's just perfect for our upcoming summers. So healthy too! Thanks for sharing another lovely recipe John!
So many of the recipes I make are vegetarian - like you, not deliberately, but because they just taste so good! This salad is a perfect way to bridge the seasons.
Hi Christine, it's really a nice salad. And perfect timing for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere! Enjoy your upcoming warm weather, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Beth, it's funny the way we cook, isn't it? I certainly wouldn't want to give up meat, but I'll sometimes go a couple of weeks in a row without using it, or more typically using just a bit to season a dish. Anyway, I could eat dishes like this all the time! Thanks for the comment.
What a wonderful recipe, John! I love lentils, and, guess what.... my pressure cooker arrived this week! I can cook the lentils in that perhaps?! Great post, thank you for sharing.
I love the colors in this salad. I love the combination of ingredients. Sounds healthy and delicious.
Hi Lizzy, lentils should take no time in a pressure cooker! Well, some time, but you know what I mean. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, it's really a nice combo. Great way to use all the zucchini many of us have, too! Thanks for the comment.
I just recently discovered lentils. And I love them. I've been searching around for different ways to prepare them so I'm so glad you posted this. Now I have more ideas for the bag sitting in my pantry!
Hi Kim, lentils are great! Loads of flavor and quite nutritious. Have fun finding new recipes! And thanks for the comment.
Hi John, very colourful salad. Look so refreshing and health, great combo!
Thanks for sharing your recipe.
Have a nice week ahead.
Light, healthy and oh so simple. Love the whole mix of ingredients. Definitely my kind of dish.
Hi Amelia, I really like the colors in this, too. ;-) I hope you also have a nice weekend, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Asha, I really like light and simple dishes like this too. Plus it has great flavor! Thanks for the comment.
This is such a beautiful, summery salad, John!
Hi Georgia, isn't this nice? And so tasty! Thanks for the comment.
I love hearty salads and this one looks especially tasty and has gorgeous colors.
Light, healthy and tasty- great recipe, thank you John!
Ah yes bring on the flavor! I have so many lentils here that are waiting to be eaten! :-) I may have to give this a try. I love meatless options, especially ones with a good amount of protein. Thank you for sharing this!
Lovely presentation John. I read on Wikipedia that quinoa comes from a species of goosefoot. Wouldn't that be fun to therefore call your dish 'goosefoot salad'! (Maybe I'll try that).
I love salads with lentils and grains. Your salad looks lovely with those beautiful colors and oh so healthy too! A complete winner :)
Hi Daniela, this one really is a winner, IMO. And I really like the colors, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dionne, now you know one use for your lentils! I always have a ton on hand, too. They're so quick to cook, they're a meal just begging to be made! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Fran, it would indeed be fun to call this goosefoot salad! ;-) I think you should go for it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi easyfoodsmith, don't lentils and grains combine so nicely in salads? And I do love the colors in this, I must admit. Thanks for the comment.
I'm totally agree with you, i like red onion more for it's color and stronger taste..]make some kicking to your salad....
nice photographed too!
Our weather has already turn to autumn, sadly. Even so I could eat a salad like yours and be very satisfied. I would love to eat it as a meatless meal with the bread and wine you suggested. Thanks John!
Hi dentistvschef, red onion has wonderful color, not to mention flavor, doesn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nancy, we're finally getting come cooler weather, although it's still plenty warm during the days. This really is a nice dinner, particularity with a glass of wine. Thanks for the comment.
This looks so fluffy and perfectly summerish! This makes me want to eat some pearl couscous salad, too. I could definitely use a salad right now so I can enjoy the last of the summer light--duly noted.
You pretty much took all of my favorite things and added them together! Well, almost all - no chocolate, but that just wouldn't go ;) Love this dish!
Hi Ala, take a break from your books and make a salad! ;-) After all, aren't these your salad days? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, one of these days I'm going to figure out how to include chocolate in a salad! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
A great healthy salad with such clean flavours.
Hi Suzanne, this really is a nice combo. I love lentils! Thanks for the comment.
The weather is kind of odd here too, it hasn't rained properly in the last 10 days as if the monsoon is already finished and we are experiencing October heat now. Because of that we choose many lighter dishes and of course I always need something different or otherwise it's boring to always eat the same. no? Thank you John!
Hi Helene, we like to change things up all the time with our diet, too. You're right - it's boring if you don't! Thanks for the comment.
It sounds very refreshing. It starts to be cold in Berlin, but light meal can be good even when it's cold outside :)
Hi Marta, lentils always seem so nice to me in the fall. Salads early, then when it really gets cold, soup. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm still working on lentils and quinoa for my kids. This salad sounds really light and delicious, and the best of all very healthy!
Hi Nami, one of the nice things about this salad is it doesn't scream "lentils!" or "quinoa!" to scare off people resistant to either. Plus it has really nice flavor. Thanks for the comment.
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