Sicilian-Style Brown Rice Salad

Rice salad recipes are my secret weapon against ho-hum meals and this brown rice salad is loaded with fresh and unexpected Mediterranean flavors. Your family and friends will love this inspired Sicilian salad as a satisfying vegan main course or delicious side dish to go with meats and seafood.

a cup of brown rice before cooking.

I love the versatility of using rice in salads. It adds a texture and chew that compliments any fruits, vegetables, nuts and cheeses included in the dish. In fact, I’ve already shared 6 other rice salad recipes on this website including:

Why use brown rice in a salad?

Brown rice is a whole grain, which means it contains both bran and germ (the most nutritious aspects of the rice). Plain white rice, however, is stripped of the bran and germ during processing, therefore removing most of its nutritive value.

Using cooked brown rice in this salad adds healthy benefits you won’t get from white rice. See a comparison of brown vs. white rice in this article from Healthline.

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As is the case with most whole grains, brown rice needs to cook a little longer than white and I’ve got a great foolproof method that makes perfectly steamed brown rice that’s ideal for this Sicilian brown rice salad recipe.

What you’ll need for brown rice salad:

  • Cooked and Cooled Brown Rice
  • Asparagus Spears
  • Grape Tomatoes
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Red Onion
  • Chick Peas
  • Pine Nuts
  • Italian Parsley
  • Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe given)
how to blanch and shock the asparagus.
Don’t add raw asparagus to the salad. Instead quickly blanch and shock, to make it tender & preserve the color

People always ask me the best (read: most consistent and foolproof way) to cook rice and whole grains. This is my answer. It works for any grain from rice to barley, farro to quinoa.

How to cook perfect brown rice on the stovetop:

  • Fill a large 3 quart saucepan by 2/3 to 3/4 with fresh water and bring to a boil. Add a teaspoon of kosher salt, then stir in 1 cup of brown rice (or other whole grains). I know it looks like way too much water, but trust me, this works.
  • Bring the pot back to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally and reduce heat to medium (so there’s still agitation in the pot). Cook the rice or other grain to about 5 minutes less than the instructions on the package call for. (If the package says 35 minutes, cook for 30.)
  • Once the rice or grains are cooked through, transfer to a fine mesh strainer to drain off the excess liquid.
  • Transfer the cooked rice back to the same pot and cover tightly with the lid. Set the pot aside (off the heat) to steam for 10 minutes.
  • Fluff with a fork.

I use this method for ALL of my grains and rice and it never fails. They are always perfectly steamed and the pot doesn’t boil over.

Note: To use the brown rice in this salad recipe, it still needs to cool to room temperature, so after the rice has steamed, just remove the lid and set it aside. As the steam evaporates, the rice will cool and dry. Stirring occasionally will speed up the process.

kalamata olives and grape and cherry tomatoes.
Remove the pit from the olives and cut the kalamatas and tomatoes into quarters.

How to make Sicilian brown rice salad

  1. Cook and cool the brown rice
  2. Trim the tough bottom stems of the asparagus and cut into 1″ pieces (leaving the delicate tops intact). Blanch and shock the vegetables (instructions given in the recipe card, below)
  3. Prep the vegetables by seeding and quartering the kalamata olives and slicing the tomatoes into quarters. Drain and rinse the can of chick peas as well as the mandarin orange segments. Mince the red onion.
  4. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium high heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Combine the cooked and cooled rice with the asparagus, olives, tomatoes, red onion, chick peas and mandarin orange segments.
  6. Just before serving add the toasted pine nuts and parsley and drizzle with dressing a little at a time, tossing after each addition until the Sicilian salad is well coated, but not overdressed.

Watch the quick video (with narration)

YouTube video
mandarins and removing the sting from the onions.
If you don’t like the sharp flavor of raw onion, use my pro-tip to quell it.

Pro-Tip: How to take the sting out of raw onion

If you have diners who don’t like or are sensitive to the harsh taste of raw onion, try this tip to soften the flavors and make it more palatable for many eaters.

Fill a small bowl with water and ice and add the sliced or chopped onions to the ice water. Let the onions rest for 10-15 minutes, then drain well (I use a mesh strainer) and pat dry with paper towels. It lessens the intensity of the allium, both in aroma and flavor.

making lemon vinaigrette.

This is my standard lemon vinaigrette recipe and I use it for everything from green salads, to other whole grain salads and even to dress steamed vegetables. You may not need the entire amount of dressing for the brown rice salad, but any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

How to make lemon vinaigrette for this Mediterranean style brown rice salad:

  1. In a small bowl combine the minced garlic, dijon mustard, lemon zest, kosher salt, black pepper and lemon juice.
  2. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly, until the dressing is emulsified. Set aside until ready to use. (Note: if the dressing separates, just whisk it again).
assembling the salad in a bowl.
Just add all of the ingredients to a large bowl.

It’s easy to customize this Mediterranean brown rice salad to your own tastes, or according to what you have available in your fridge and pantry.


  • Swap pine nuts for pistachios (another Sicilian ingredient).
  • If you’re sensitive to red onion, use thinly sliced scallions (white and pale green parts).
  • Add a handful or two of baby spinach leaves to the brown rice salad recipe for added nutrition.
  • Use fresh herbs. 2-3 tablespoons of fresh dill, marjoram, basil or tarragon (or a combination) will add a whole new dimension to the Sicilian salad.
  • Crumbled feta cheese is a great addition.
  • Feel free to use another whole grain like farro, quinoa, khorasan wheat or barley instead of brown rice.
the Sicilian salad in a bowl after tossing with the dressing.
This Sicilian brown rice salad is perfect for picnics and potlucks.


Can I make the brown rice salad in advance?

Yes, but if you’re making it more than a few hours in advance, I recommend waiting to add the pine nuts, parsley and dressing until you’re ready to serve. This way the nuts will stay crunchy, the herbs vibrant and the dressing will taste brighter.

How long will leftovers last?

The Sicilian salad will keep in the refrigerator very well for 3 days and up to 4-5.

Can I make the brown rice ahead of time?

Yes. I actually recommend this to save on time. Cook the brown rice up to 3 days ahead and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature before using in the brown rice salad recipe.

A serving bowl of brown rice salad with mandarins and asparagus.
People love the vibrant colors and fresh flavors of this brown rice salad.

This simple recipe works well as a light vegan main course, but we often serve it as a side dish for grilled foods. Here’s some of our favorites.

What to serve with Sicilian style brown rice salad:

a closeup shot of the brown rice salad in a serving bowl.
Make this one soon!

More rice recipes you’ll love:

More whole grain salads you’ll love:

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Sicilian Brown Rice Salad in a serving bowl.
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4.60 from 5 votes

Sicilian Brown Rice Salad

This delicious brown rice salad has unexpected ingredients like pine nuts, citrus, asparagus and kalamata olives. Enjoy the Sicilian salad as a vegan main course or tasty side dish with your favorite grilled meats or seafood.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword olives, oranges, rice
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 8


  • 1 cup brown rice
  • ¼ pound asparagus spears cut into 1″ pieces
  • ¼ cup red onion finely diced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes quartered
  • cup kalamata olives pitted, quartered
  • ¾ cup canned mandarin oranges rinsed and drained well
  • 7 ounce can chick peas rinsed and drained well
  • cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  • 1 lemon zested
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice from the zested lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



  • Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water (4-5 cups) add salt and bring to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat to a vigorous simmer for 25-30 minutes, until rice is cooked. Strain rice through a sieve and return it to the saucepan. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and let the rice cool to room temperature. Fluff with a fork.


  • Meanwhile, make an ice bath by adding ice and water to a medium bowl, set aside. Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes until slightly tender and bright green. With a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to the ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color. Drain the asparagus on paper towels.


  • Toast the pine nuts by heating a small skillet over medium high heat. When it gets hot, add the pine nuts and use a wooden spoon to mix the nuts, until they brown and become fragrant. Do NOT step away as pine nuts can burn quickly.


  • In a small bowl combine the lemon zest and juice, garlic, dijon mustard, olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper. Whisk until the dressing is emulsified.


  • In a large bowl combine the cooled brown rice, blanched asparagus, red onion, tomatoes, kalamata olives, chick peas and orange segments. Toss quickly to combine.


  • Toss in the toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing to the rice salad and toss well. (If it needs more dressing, add it 1 tablespoon at a time, so that it’s lightly coated). Serve.


  • Assemble the brown rice salad, but leave the pine nuts, parsley and dressing separate. Just before serving add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.


YouTube video


Any leftover vinaigrette can be used for a green salad or to dress steamed veggies.


Calories: 285kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Sodium: 473mg | Potassium: 277mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 612IU | Vitamin C: 21mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 2mg

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  1. Cheryl Kemp says:

    4 stars
    Really nice salad..I did not have any pine nuts. I also increased the asparagus to 3/4 of a pound, and used a 14 oz can of garbanzo beans. I also left out the oranges and it was delicious. Very adaptable recipe.

  2. I’m not thinking deprivation either, it looks fab bright and vibrant, we have a few months before our asparagus is ready to harvest though 🙁

    1. Stick it in your back pocket for later, Brian!

    2. 5 stars
      Make it without the asparagus until then. Use other vegetables you love. So jealous of your upcoming crop!!

  3. Such a beautiful salad! I wouldn’t miss anything else if I was eating this! YUM!

  4. Everyday Sarah Jane says:

    This looks and sounds awesome! Loving the citrus and asparagus {my fave!} in this! And your right…this’ll satisfy every craving and make you forget it’s healthy!

    1. I love asparagus too – I think I make it every week!

  5. Boastful Food says:

    Grains and veggies over nice greens are the way to go! Love this combination, Lisa:)

    1. Especially after the food-fest of the holidays!

  6. This sounds so good Lisa! Definitely my kind of salad. I love the fact that you can keep it in the fridge and just pull it out for a quick lunch!

    1. Realistically, I think that’s what we all need, don’t you?

  7. I think that arugula is an under used leaf. I love salads with it. And add the loveliness of the oranges and asparagus and rice, it makes it so interesting and beautiful to look at! I also love the addition of the olives and sun dried tomatoes. Yum.

    1. I enjoy the peppery bite of arugula — its bitterness plays well with the orange segments.

  8. They say eat the rainbow and I would say this qualifies nicely. I could eat this everyday, lovely recipe.

    1. I appreciate that! Eating a rainbow is so much more fun than all brown food, too — don’t you think?

  9. Veena Azmanov says:

    5 stars
    We love rice in our home and I’m always looking for ways to make more brown rice. This has my family’s name written all over it. I must try. Thanks

  10. This salad doesn’t look blah blah blah to me at all. It appears very healthy and delicious!