Quinoa salad with vegetables

This salad is usually made with couscous, one of the many wonderful ingredients you can find on Sicilian menus.
Couscous is part of the island’s tradition because over the course of the centuries Sicily got influenced by many different cultures and the Arabic one was one of them (see the history of the Emirate of Sicily).

Couscous is typical of the Trapani area and it’s mostly eaten the standard way, meaning hot and served in a terracotta dish that reminds the classic Norther African tajine. The big difference with a Moroccan couscous is the main ingredient: fish instead of meat, often enriched with saffron and soaked in an intensely savoury fish stock.

Though I love a good couscous made the classic way, I usually prefer it in salad form and this is the version that I prepare during my cooking lessons. Recently we made this gluten-free version with quinoa during a team building cooking class with a few participants with an intolerance and I totally loved it. You can, of course, prepare it with couscous.

I’ve enriched it with a pickled cauliflower that I ate at a lovely restaurant in Haarlem a few weeks ago and I totally fell in love with. I tried to reproduce it in my kitchen and I was lucky: first time right!
It’s really quick to make and you can also prepare a big batch and keep it in the fridge in its cooking liquor inside a glass jar. I knew I would consume it quickly – it’s so tasty! – so I didn’t bother preserving it at all. 🙂

I like to serve this salad at room temperature, or chilled on a hot Summer day.
Make sure the quinoa has cooled off properly otherwise the herbs will wilt with the heat.

This recipe is totally gluten-free and can be made vegan by using agave syrup instead of honey.


Serves 4


300 gr. quinoa or quick cooking couscous
1 big courgette
3 carrots
4 red onions
4 cloves garlic
2 limes
salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil
a big bunch of parsley
a small bunch of fresh mint
a small bunch of basil

1/2 cauliflower head cut in florets
600 ml. of water
400 ml. of (wine) vinegar
2 spoons of honey or agave syrup
1 pinch of curcuma
1 pinch of ground coriander seeds
a few bay leaves

IF YOU USE COUSCOUS: put the couscous in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt, mix and cover with about 7 dl. of hot water. Stir occasionally and let it rest for 10 minutes until the couscous “swells” and is ready for use. If it’s still quite coarse, rub it between your hands to remove any lumps.

IF YOU USE QUINOA: cook the quinoa for about 12 minutes in salted boiling water, drain, rinse with cold water and leave to cool further.

PICKLED CAULIFLOWER: put water and vinegar in a pan and bring to a gentle boil. Add the spices and the bay leaves together with the honey and a bit of salt, then dip the cauliflower florets in this mixture. Leave them to cook for about 5 minutes. It can be less or more, it really depends on how much al dente you want the cauliflower to be so taste a floret from time to time. I like it quite crunchy but not too much. 🙂
Drain and leave aside to cool.

VEGETABLES: wash the courgette and the carrots, remove their ends and dice (small cubes). You can peel the carrots first if you want.
Peel the onions and chop them.
Peel and crush the garlic cloves.
Squeeze the limes and keep the juice aside.
Sauté the chopped onions and garlic in 8 tablespoons of olive oil until soft.
Add the other vegetables and cook until tender. You can put a lid on the pan to have them cook gently in their own steam.
Season with salt and pepper and keep them aside.

Chop the parsley, the mint and part of the basil leaves finely and keep aside.

Toss the vegetables, the lime juice and the parsley/mint/basil mixture with the quinoa/couscous and serve garnished with whole basil or parsley leaves and the pickled cauliflower. You can add a drizzle of olive oil for a richer taste.