This hearty wild rice vegetable salad is your answer to the perfect summer weeknight dinner. It’s packed with fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables plus hearty grains. The result is a filling satisfying, colorful and delicious salad.
This is a totally DIY dinner too. Use our guide to build your favorite dinner salad any time of the year! Of course, it also makes a nice side dish for the hungerier crowd.
We created this recipe together in Vermont a few weeks ago. We had an abundance of perfect summer produce available. Homegrown zucchini, blueberries, tomatoes, herbs…you name it.
We kept finding more gorgeous produce to add into this salad. We can’t forget corn and peaches from the local farm! And before we knew it, our salad could feed 10 guests. Luckily, we’d had a long day of running and blueberry picking. The five of us polished off the whole thing. Needless to say, it was a hit!
This gorgeous summer dinner salad is the perfect way to celebrate seasonal produce. It’s great for a late summer dinner. Or your Labor Day weekend gathering!
How to assemble the perfect dinner salad
The basic components of a hearty and filling vegetarian dinner salad are simple. Grains, vegetables and fruits, all doused in a flavorful dressing. I like a mixture of cooked and raw produce for the varied textures and flavors.
You can use this plant-based recipe as a framework to build whatever dinner salad your heart desires. It can be easily changed with your favorite grains and produce. Plus, as new fruits and veggies come into season, the salad can evolve.
In August, we’re digging sweet corn and freshly picked blueberries. Come October, you’ll find us chowing down on a version of this dinner salad with roasted brussel sprouts and bright citrus segments.
Ultimately, this is a recipe to build the easy and satisfying dinner salad of your dreams. So we say: dream big!
First, start with a grain
The foundation of a truly hearty salad any time of year is a grain. Anything from jasmine rice to quinoa to farro (if you’re not gluten free) works. We chose wild rice for this salad recipe. It holds up well and checks the gluten free box.
Wild rice is also a bit more interesting than regular white or brown rice. I think it has more flavor and texture. It’s also full of fiber. Therefore, this summer salad is super satisfying for such an easy plant based dinner.
One thing to remember: cool the grain quite a bit before you mix it with the fresh ingredients. Ideally, your rice will be room temperature. Mixing hot wild rice into fresh bright arugula might not create the beautiful fresh salad you were hoping for.
That’s one reason to select a faster-cooking grain, however. Wild rice can take upwards of 40 minutes to get tender. We ended up sticking our steaming rice in the freezer for a few minutes before assembling the dinner salad. It might not be the most professional kitchen move, but it worked!
Quinoa, couscous or white rice all cook up quickly. They’re great for this filling salad when you’re in a rush.
Next, add cooked and fresh vegetables
While your cooked grain is letting off some steam, prep the produce for your dinner salad. To mix up textures and flavors, we use both cooked and raw veggies.
For cooked, we steamed a couple of ears of fresh sweet corn on the cob. This salad is also a great way to make use of last night’s leftover corn or other veggies, by the way.
If you cooked a few ears too many, save them for this salad. Bonus: they’ll already be fully cooled and ready to be sliced off the cob and tossed into this delightful dinner salad.
In cooler months, we might toss in leftover roasted vegetables from an easy sheet pan dinner the night before. These dill roasted radishes would be delicous chilled and tossed in a vinaigrette in a springtime rendition of this grain salad.
For fresh veggies, we stuck with the best stuff coming out of the garden these days. Sweet golden cherry tomatoes for starters. Creamy avocado for more staying power and healthy fats. And soft and smooth zucchini ribbons.
These ribbons are raw. You can make some seriously thin and delicate ribbons with a good peeler or mandolin. The ribbons then absorb all the delicous flavors from the salad vinaigrette. You won’t even notice that they’r raw in the finished salad.
If you have a bit more time, you can make the zucchini ribbons and let them marinate for extra flavor. Simply mix them with the juice from one lemon, a healthy pinch of salt and a grated clove of garlic. Then store them in the refrigerator. They’ll be soft and chilled by the time you’re ready to eat.
As they marinate, the zucchini releases a lot of liquid too. At the last minute, toss the full marinating container into your salad. You’ll have the bonus of a built-in dressing!
The final fresh veggie to toss into this salad is a hearty green. We like arugula for its peppery flavor and bit. Kale, bitter radicchio and endive would all hold up well too.
Add fresh seasonal fruit
Fresh fruit bring the sweetness to this hearty grain-filled summer dinner salad. It’s the middle of August, so we’ve been picking pounds (literally over a hundred pounds) of fresh blueberries. Here are all the amazing vegan blueberry recipes we’re using them in. So naturally, several handfuls of the sweet blue guys made it into our salad bowl.
We also sliced up a delicious white peach. First, it looks breathtaking on top of this already colorful salad. Also, the peach juices release when mixed. They add a floral and sweet flavor to the entire bowl.
Outside the summer months, citrus fruits provide sweetness to a wild rice salad. Try oranges or grapefruit. Grapes would also be great! Why not try roasting them for an upgrade?
Or when fresh fruit is really not calling to you, dried fruit works. Dried cranberries, cherries or apricots would add a nice chewy sweetness.
Mix a salad dressing and add your garnishes
Finally, it’s time to add everything to a BIG bowl and dress it up! This grain dinner salad is so weighty that it calls for a light salad dressing. We love a simple vinaigrette to get the job done. A big of Dijon mustard offers a nice twist without masking any of the wonderful fresh produce.
And to garnish, pile your salad bowl high with fresh chopped basil. Other herbs are wonderful too. Oregano, thyme, mint, chives, you name it!
We were feeling fancy. So we even tossed a few delicate nasturtium flowers on top. They’re edible, but not the most flavorful, so don’t worry if you don’t have them on hand.
Now it’s time to dig in! One warning before you move that serving bowl: it’s going to be HEAVY! There’s a lot of precious cargo in there, so tread carefully 🙂
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This hearty wild rice salad is your answer to the perfect summer weeknight meal. Full of tons of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables plus hearty grains, it’s filling, satisfying, colorful and so so tasty.
For the salad:
- 2 cups cooked wild rice, cooled
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 2 ears corn, cooked and kernels removed from cob
- 1 peach, sliced thinly
- 1 avocado, sliced thinly
- 1 medium zucchini, peeled into ribbons with a peeler or mandolin
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 2 medium tomatoes, sliced thinly
- 2 cups arugula or ½ head of radicchio, hand-torn into smaller pieces
- ¼ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
- Fresh edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, optional
For the vinaigrette:
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- To make the dressing, add all of the ingredients to a small bowl or container with a lid. Whisk or shake the jar to completely emulsify the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- To assemble the salad, add all ingredient except for the basil and edible flowers, if using, to a large serving bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add dressing and continue tossing until evenly coated. Top with basil and flowers.
If you have time, marinate the zucchini ribbons in a bowl with the juice from one lemon, a hearty pinch of salt and a grated garlic clove before assembling the salad. The longer they marinate, the more flavor they will develop. You can marinate for up to 8 hours ahead of time!