This Italian-style vegan salad makes a healthy starter or main course
Spring has arrived here in St Louis. Well, sort of. Daffodils are popping up, but we’re still having some raw days.
Which makes this the perfect time for hearty salads—the kind that use beans or other legumes. They’re protein-rich, so a generous serving makes a meatless main course. But they’re not so heavy that you couldn’t use a smaller serving as a starter, or even as a side dish.
Today’s hearty salad features chickpeas. But it’s also loaded with healthy produce: Fresh spinach, red bell pepper, and red onions. So it tastes like spring.
Recipe: Chickpea, Rice, and Spinach Salad
This salad is easy to adapt to your whims—and to the contents of your pantry. Don’t have chickpeas on hand? Then try substituting white beans. Don’t feel like rice? A small pasta shape like orzo would be a good stand-in. Or you could use another grain—barley, for example, would be interesting. Out of red bell pepper? You could use tomatoes instead (if you can find decent ones).
Maybe you’d like a salad that’s heavier on greens? Just double (or even triple) the spinach quantity. Prefer just a hint of greens? Then halve the amount of spinach, or replace it with half a cup or so of chopped parsley.
Active prep time for this dish is only about 20 minutes. But the taste benefits when you marinate some of the ingredients in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours (see Step 6). So plan on beginning this salad 3 to 4 hours before you want to serve it.
This recipe yields about 4 main-course servings or 8 starter servings. Leftovers keep for a day or two in the refrigerator if stored in an airtight container (although the flavor diminishes somewhat).
- ¾ to 1 cup cooked rice
- 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas
- ½ medium red onion (you could substitute yellow or white, but we prefer the mild taste of red; or you could use a bunch of scallions)
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 1 red bell pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar or lemon juice (to taste)
- salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon Kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 8 grinds for us)
- 3 or 4 handfuls of fresh spinach (see Notes)
- garnish of red onion slices, cherry tomatoes, or sliced Campari tomatoes (optional; see Notes)
- If you need to cook rice for this dish, start it now. See Notes.
- Open the cans of chickpeas, and pour them into a strainer or colander. Rinse off the gunk they’re packed in, then allow the chickpeas to drain.
- Peel a red onion and cut it in half through the equator. Then cut one half of the onion into dice of ½ inch or smaller. (Reserve the other onion half for another use. We sometimes cut a few extra rings to serve as garnish.) Set aside.
- Peel the garlic, then mince it finely. Set aside.
- Wash the red bell pepper and dry it. Stem the pepper, then remove the seeds and the white inner ribs. Cut the bell pepper into dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice (it should be cool, not warm; see Notes), chickpeas, onion, garlic, and red bell pepper. Add the olive oil, then toss (we generally toss by hand, using disposable gloves). When the oil is thoroughly distributed, add vinegar or lemon juice to taste (usually 2 tablespoons for us, but you might want more). Toss again, taste, and adjust the vinegar if necessary. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours (or even overnight, if you wish) so the flavors mingle together.
- While the chickpea mixture is marinating, prep the spinach: Wash and dry the spinach. Remove any stems that are large and woody. Cut the spinach into chiffonade (thin strips). The easiest way to do this is to stack several leaves on top of one another, roll them into a cigar-shaped cylinder, then slice the cylinder across its width into strips about ¼ inch wide. Place the spinach strips in a plastic bag and refrigerate them until you're ready to assemble the salad.
- After the chickpea mixture has marinated for at least 3 hours, you can assemble the salad: Add the spinach strips to the chickpea mixture and toss together. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Plate the salad, adding a garnish of red onion slices and/or cherry tomatoes or tomato slices, if desired. Serve and enjoy.
- If you don’t have cooked rice on hand and need to make some for this recipe, we suggest cooking the rice first. Any type of rice (including brown rice) will work in this dish. The rice does need to be cooled to at least room temperature, however. If you’re cooking rice for this dish, just drain the cooked rice and then rinse it with cold tap water to cool it. Drain the rice again before adding it to the mixing bowl in Step 6.
- BTW, if you want a much heartier salad, you could increase the amount of rice. We haven’t tried it, but we think anything up to 2 cups of cooked rice should work fine.
- Chickpeas go by many names, including garbanzo beans, ceci beans, and chana. Seems fitting for a legume that packs so many nutrients and so much flavor. It’s also a food that most (although not all) people with dietary restrictions can eat.
- We use canned chickpeas for this dish because they’re inexpensive and generally high quality. But you can use dried chickpeas if you prefer. Just soak them overnight and then cook them until done—maybe an hour or two. Cool them to room temperature before adding them to the salad.
- As noted above, if you don’t want to use chickpeas, white beans (such as great Northerns) would be a good substitute in this salad. Or use any other bean that sounds good to you.
- The amount of spinach you use in this dish is quite flexible. We specify a quantity that complements the chickpeas without overwhelming them. But if you want to emphasize the spinach, just increase the amount.
- If you don’t want to use spinach for this salad, you could substitute another green. Arugula would be particularly tasty, in our opinion. As would young, tender Swiss chard. Or you could use kale—just shave (i.e., mince) it.
- We use red wine vinegar in this dish, but lemon juice works equally well. You could also substitute white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar. We haven’t tried balsamic vinegar, but it sounds interesting—and worth a try.
- If you want to use tomatoes as a garnish, or substitute them for the red bell pepper, it can be hard to find tasty ones at this time of year. In the past we’ve had good luck with grape or cherry tomatoes. Lately, however, we've found those to be pretty tasteless. Campari tomatoes (the ones often sold as “tomato-on-the-vine”) are pretty flavorful, though, and worth checking out. Not as good as local summer tomatoes, but quite serviceable.
- How much salt and pepper to use in this salad? Whatever tastes good to you. We’ve specified the amount we like, but you really should season to taste.
Humans of Unusual Silliness
“Springtime at last,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Nice to get the vegetable garden going again.”
“Yep, we can put in some cold-tolerant veggies soon, like spinach, Swiss chard, kale, lettuce,” I said. “Though we’ll have to wait a bit on the cucumbers and tomatoes.”
“Speaking of which,” said Mrs K R, “do you think the squirrels will be harvesting most of our tomato crop again this year, before we get the opportunity?”
“Those squirrels!” I said clenching my fist. “Every year they get 80% of the tomatoes. They sneak in right before we’re ready to pick them.”
“And often take just a bite or two out of each tomato,” sighed Mrs K R. “Leaving the rest to rot on the garden bed.”
“They’re fiendishly clever,” I said. “They chewed right through that heavy netting we used last year. I think we’re dealing with a mutant strain of squirrels here. Maybe ROUSs.”
“Rodents of Unusual Size?” asked Mrs K R. “Like in The Princess Bride?”
“No, I mean Rodents of Unusual Skill,” I said. “These squirrels are diabolical!”
“Hate to break it to you,” said Mrs K R. “But I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about our squirrels. They’re just doing what squirrels do—which is chew things.”
“Wait,” I said, “if these squirrels aren’t unusually clever, what does that make me?”
“Let’s not go there,” said Mrs K R, patting my hand.
“Well anyway, I’ve got a new plan to thwart them,” I said. “It’s foolproof!”
“I’m sure it is,” said Mrs K R. “Much better than the plan you had last year.”
She cleared her throat. “And the year before that.”
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John...come spring, I am so ready to start eating more salad again. And this one looks fabulous! Not only is it colorful...but I love the different textures in it. And it's really versatile. Going to scoop up the ingredients for this on my way home from work later! And I'm almost giving up on planting tomatoes! It's not the squirrels here for me. It's the rabbits! They don't even run when you come out. They stand there eating your vegetable with a look on their face like 'yeah...and what are you going to do about it?' It's so hard to cuss out a sweet little bunny!
Hi Anne, the one good thing those cages did is keep the rabbits out of the garden! They're awfully cut, aren't they? Kitty Riffs is enchanted with them -- loves to lurk on our screened porch, and pretend she can get at them! Thanks for the comment.
I just had chickpea salad yesterday for lunch. Instead of rice I added lentil and it was good. Salad is so perfect for spring. Love all the ingredients in your salad!
Heh--genetically enhanced squirrels of big brain, perhaps? Hey, the rats of Nimh managed to escape, you know! But in the end, I'm just happy you're sharing this recipe and had enough left over to make it!
Hi Ala, those squirrels are something. But I'll win! In the end. Which may be a long time coming. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Holly, the lentils sound like a super addition! Aren't salads like this fun? And tasty! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
John I love this salad. It's light, healthy and full of flavor. I rarely think of adding chick peas to my salads but since I have all these ingredients on hand I think I will make this today. Thanks for sharing.
A salad like this any time of year is a welcome addition to anyone's repertoire. I can even see a poached or fried egg on top for a nice summer lunch. I always love that you detail so many options in the notes.
Ah the squirrels, we have some very clever ones too. Several years ago we befriended a beautiful golden squirrel who the neighbour's kids named Sissy. Now Sissy was very clever, she always knew when to come around for some handouts. Once she almost came into our house so we stopped giving her nuts. But to this day, the neighbourhood squirrels come around and sit on the treat stone waiting (we've learned our lesson and we don't feed them anymore!) Sadly Sissi hasn't been seen in a couple of years so I suspect she came to an early end (foxes, owls, we have them all!), but we often see her special colouring on some other squirrels who I suspect are her off spring.
Hi Vicki, it's really a nice salad -- super flavor. And easy! My kind of dish. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, a poached egg would be lovely, wouldn't it? And maybe a bit of prosciutto? So many ways one can go with a salad like this! Squirrels are something, aren't they. But I will prevail. Eventually. Maybe. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh, this looks so vibrant - John - even though we in autumn down here in NZ there is fab baby spinach around which would be perfect for this salad.
I always find Spring to be the trickiest to cook in. It is often beautiful, yet quite chilly. Nonetheless, I am always happy to eat a great salad as a meal. This one looks perfect--thank you. --Rocquie
Hi John, a beautiful salad , you know it very delicious , the ingredients marry each other so well and yes I will have this one for dinner this weekend , yes spring is here , she is peeking around the corner here . Thanks for sharing . :)
Now THIS is a salad that gets me excited!! Big flavours with greens, makes it much more interesting! And I love that you'l filled it out not only with chickpeas but also with rice. It's actually a real meal!
Hi Rachel, this is one of those salads that great right before and after summer. So it's perfect for you! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rocquie, I agree spring is a hard season for cooks. We're craving light, but often the weather demands hearty. This is a pretty good bridge between the two! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nee, good to see spring peeking at us, isn't it! :-) I'm ready for it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nagi, we both really like big flavors, don't we? Only way to fly! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I am soooo ready for spring and this beautiful salad might just get me through the rest of our winter (it snowed this morning). This sounds great. Can't wait to try it.
I have to say off the bat that your blog is so entertaining. I love when you and Mrs.KR go sparing. I could just see you both doing this. Very amusing. Your post and recipe is so perfect as my brother served this last weekend. We were at his house and he BBQ, (yes in the snow) but he had this very similar salad made with as I call them ceci beans. It had almost all the same ingredients, except the rice. He didn't use any pasta or rice at all. I enjoyed that so much. Now I want to try your recipe with the rice. As you said it is a hearty salad, but yet spring like. Fabulous...Thanks for sharing and always making me laugh. Have a great week...
Hi Karen, more snow? Yuck! Hope we're finished with ours! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dottie, your brother has good taste! ;-) Glad you enjoy our conversations -- they're loads of fun to write! Thanks for the comment.
Fresh and delicious, just perfect for the changing season to Spring. Enjoy!
I adore hearty salads --- and as for rodents, we had an huge avocado tree in our last house...and never ONCE got one for ourselves :/
What a heathy dish! I never thought of adding chick peas to my salads. Will try that next time.
So wholesome, so nutritious, so delicious!!!!!
I would be happy with this as a main dish. As summer salads are making way for heavier fare, I think there's time for this salad before the cold sets in.
You two sound just adorable! You need to borrow our rodent killing jack Russel's. They're like valociraptors - so deadly. No rats, opossums, squirrels, rabbits or snakes in our yard. Love this salad - had one for lunch today with chick-peas but didn't think to add rice. Very nice! Come-on spring!
The bright colours of your salad are screaming to me that Spring is arriving... It must be beautiful now at St Louis!
We are the opposite now... seeing that grey skies and less daylight. Sad that we have to wait for another 6 months for our Spring.
I love the idea of marinating some of the veggies ahead of time! This salad is a winner!
Hi Lizzy, this really is nice. Great for our spring, your fall. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sue, those rodents can be pesky, can't they? Too bad about your avocados! What a bummer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Peachy, it really is a good dish -- loads of flavor, and very satisfying. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Denise, isn't this great? Truly a good dish! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, we prefer this as a main, although it makes a nice starter too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Tricia, we need something to deal with our squirrels! But I'll figure it out. I hope. ;-) Thanks for comment.
How lovely to have a vegetable garden but what a shame about the squirrels. We don't have to worry about squirrels over here but don't worry - we have our share of thieves as well and it's the possums! I always buy canned legumes as I'm not usually organised enough to prepare the soaking of dried legumes a day ahead. Your salad looks really lovely and I do hope your Spring arrives swiftly xx
Hi Zoe, we're at the just before beautiful stage. Things are budding out like crazy, and we have some blooms. But we're probably two weeks, give or take, away from it getting really pretty. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, marinating the veggies really does add a lot of flavor. Plus they all get to know each other much better. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, spring is definitely coming! Although we could still have snow in April (very rare for that to happen, though). We have possums, too, but they aren't too much of a problem in our garden. Yet. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
The daffodils are blooming all over the city right now along with fruit trees making afternoon drives absolutely lovely. We went for a drive in the valley this afternoon and when we got home, we both felt like a salad for supper, a definite sign of spring. I can see this salad being served on our table this spring. Love the spinach and chickpeas and the rice was a nice surprised. Very colorful and hearty. Great salad John!
Hi MJ, don't you love it when flowers begin blooming again? Always such a fun time of the year. I think you'll like this salad -- loads of flavor, and really colorful. Thanks for the comment.
Well, I won't tell you what Manservant has resorted to with the rabbits-but it works. We have a ton of squirrels, but have never had a problem with them eating veggies. We do have a lot of giant spruces and maybe those pine cones keep them happy. Perhaps you should put out sunflower seeds. They do love those! I love this salad, so perfect and fresh and gorgeous!
I love this salad... I feel Spring right now... On my way to the kitchen!
Hi Abbe, distracting the squirrels with sunflower seeds is a good idea! Actually, they always attack the tomatoes during a dry spell -- wondering if they're after liquid. Although once they get a taste, they keep on going! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marcela, our kitchens always look forward to seeing us! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Spring has barely arrived in NYC, today it is 66... woohoo and drizzly! Love this salad, so healthy and springy. :-)
This is so my kind of dinner. I'm actually going to be making a salad with quinoa tonight!
Good luck with the 2015 plan. Those rodents have a way of making fools of all of us.
Love the salad!
This salad is so pretty and loaded with great flavors John...I like the idea of cooked rice, somehow I always forget to add rice in salad...and yes, I could have this salad as my main meal...anytime.
Hope you are having a fabulous week...I just seeded some edible flowers... :)
I see the famous checked napkin---Ha. I love the combo of the salad. This is the type of salad that I would make and have made. I would probably be the one that added more greens and less chick peas. But that's what's so lovely about a salad. It's so easy to modify. Wowzer, good luck with your squirrel battle. I don't have that problem, but in my front yard, it is the deer. Back yard is fenced and so far they haven't bothered to jump the fence.
Hi Honey, 66 is nice! Happy Spring to you! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, we like quinoa best in salads and soups. Works so nice in them, don't you think? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Beth, oh, I'm pretty sure I'll be reporting back that the squirrels outwitted me once again. :D Thanks for the comment.
Hi Juliana, our squirrels would adore your edible flowers! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carol, blue checked napkin has becoming kind of a running joke with me. ;-) But I have a weird sense of humor! We don't have deer, but know people who do -- they can be a real pest. Thanks for the comment.
Yes, the squirrels will get the tomatoes. But that is a summer worry, the only worry we have now is how many of these spring salads we can wolf down before the squirrels descend. GREG
Hi Greg, thanks for putting things in perspective! We'll worry about the squirrels in July. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Chickpeas makes me SO very happy- especially ROASTED! :)
This looks to me the perfect spring salad. So refreshing and looks wonderful. I can even have it as my main course.
Hi GiGi, roast chickpeas rock, don't they? Love them -- one of our favorite snacks! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Minnie, we ate this as a main! Although it's also terrific as a starter. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks fabulous - I'm a BIG fan of chickpeas.... and salad ! (I followed the link I found on 'Savoring Today' and found your wonderful blog!) Cecile @ My Yellow Farmhouse.com
That's a beautiful salad. Here in Cali, the weather is just so beautiful, I've been enjoying spring salads for a while, will do this soon.
Phew! Its hot and humid here with temps reaching 104 F! I made a big bowl of this salad just yesterday coz the curries have taken a back seat in this heat. Next time I am going to throw in some spinach and rice ;-)
Looks like my kind of salad, so fresh and full of goodness!
Hi Cecile, sounds like this dish is right up your alley! Welcome, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Asha, cold here again, alas -- we even had a dusting of snow. So I need to make this again and think of your weather! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Taruna, this dish is perfect for your hot weather! We eat tons (well, not literally, but you know what I mean!) of salad in the summer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, fresh, good, and has a lot of eye appeal. Winner! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now thats one beautiful and fresh looking salad!
Hi Kelsey, isn't it pretty? And really, really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We had snow on Wednesday and sunshine on Thursday. Springtime in the Rockies is upon us. And tis the season for these types of salads. Thanks for a great idea and all the variation ideas. Chick peas or white beans, I'm liking this.
We've been eating so many more of these meals lately:) I wish we had daffodils springing up here, but we've only just had our first rain and warmer temperatures. Beautiful spring main dish!!
Hi Lea Ann, we actually had a light dusting of snow this week! Very light, but it was a surprise. Very changeable weather at this time of the year, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Smidge, your spring is a bit off, I'd guess. But when it gets there, this dish will be welcome, I'll wager! Thanks for the comment.
Healthy, delicious, and colorful; all the perfect ingredients in your salad; great for this summer and all the fresh veggies at the farmers' market. We have our share of squirrels, chipmunks, deer and ducks to eat/ruin everything. As one of our sons says, "Squirrels are nothing but rats with tails," and I'm beginning to think he's right. Thanks for sharing and Happy Gardening!
Hi Pam, isn't this pretty? And such a refreshing dish! Squirrel are kinda cute, but I think your son is right! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, Mrs K.R. is as sharp as ever, LOL. Love everything about this salad, good luck with your garden.
Spring is in the air, there's a bounty of awesome salads hitting the web now, and yours is among the top. Terrific execution with the recipe, and I do get a chuckle form the banter between you and Mrs. KR. Cheers!
Hi Cheri, Mrs K R is something, isn't she? ;-) Thanks for the good garden wishes, and the comment!
Hi Brooks, definitely salad season, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
A lovely and scrumptious salad! Great combo. I love chickpeas.
Hi Rosa, isn't this nice? The flavors just work,and the dish is awfully attractive. Thanks for the comment.
This is a beautiful salad bursting with fresh flavors and vibrant colors....it is well into summer now and we will be needing lots of these delicious salads for a quick,light but delicious lunch,on a separate note squirrels really are a menace....they were for the strawberry garden too....and believe us they really chew on those nets here as well...great post and lovely dish,thanks so much :-)
Great flavors and textures in this dish. It looks delicious.
Hi Kumar, I think squirrels must be a menace everywhere! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, it's the texture that I like most of all about this dish. Although the flavors and colors are fun, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
What a beautiful salad you have here! Nice flavour and colours, they definitely go well with some grilled meats
Hi Raymund, isn't this nice? Loads of flavor! And this would be perfect with grilled meat. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
This is the prettiest salad ever!! It just screams Spring!
Hi Ashley, isn't this nice? And it tastes even better than it looks! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
It was cold last week and its getting better now!! Hope it stays like that after Easter. I love chickpeas salad and your salad looks so refreshing and apt for the spring.
Hi Shibi, it's in the 70s here today! Not what you want to hear, though. ;-) But this salad is perfect for our weather today! Thanks for the comment.
This is calling SPRING to me! It's Spring here but it's 25 degrees today so I'm just swooning for some fresh salad. This looks delicious!
Hi Pamela, brrr! That's cold! But this salad will make you forget the weather. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
This is a lovely and vibrant salad perfect for spring -- it's slowly coming here in Buffalo lol. The robins are singing and the snowdrops are up, but we are still cold!
Hi Amy, Buffalo has a tough climate! Loads of cold and snow. But this salad is sure to hurry spring along! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Great salad. I really enjoy chickpeas. I wish I had discovered them sooner, but your salad looks like a good way to make up for lost time.
Hi Madonna, we really like salads like this in early spring -- very filling, and they remind us warm weather is ahead. Thanks for the comment.
Warmer temps have had me craving salads - and very often, my salads have been lacking in protein - adding chickpeas is the perfect solution! I happen to have all the ingredients for this salad - so I am thinking this needs to happen for dinner tonight!
Hi Shashi, chickpeas (or beans) really do add some nice protein to a salad. And probably this does need to happen for dinner tonight. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love salads like this. Light but filling enough to keep you satisfied for hours. We've been eating a lot of garbanzo beans lately, and I've got to try this recipe. Great post, John!
Hi Bill, this really is a satisfying salad. Aren't garbanzo beans good -- love them! Thanks for the comment.
Inexplicably, Minnesota has had spring for quite awhile (?????). I am looking for salads again for something new. And the chickpeas give it some heft. Making a grocery list ...
Hi Claudia, interesting that your spring is more advanced that ours -- usually it's the other way around! Thanks for the comment.
I love these salads that a light enough as a side dish but hearty enough to be a meal. I am doing a salad round up post. Can I feature your delicious salad?
Hi Bam, I love multiple purpose salads like this too! And of course you can feature this -- I'm honored! Thanks for the comment.
Very nice! I use grains in salads and found your substitutions very good. I use a lot of chickpeas any more and find that dried ones are easy to cook in a crockpot; no soaking required.
Best laid plans...funny!
Hi Tonette, we really like grain-rich salads. So hearty, and pretty healthy. Thanks for the comment.
I've been eating salad for lunch (to lose weight...) and this combination sounds wonderful! Having multiple ingredients in salad is quite important not to get bored with salad as main dish. Great recipe, John!
Hi Nami, I agree that having multiple ingredients helps entertain the taste buds. There's a lot of flavor going on here, so it really does work as a main. Thanks for the comment.
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