This easy summer rice salad with pesto, tomatoes, and arugula is creamy, herby, and fresh. Think of it as an alternative to pasta salad – or a very lazy risotto.
After 10 consecutive summer camping trips, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that I’ll come home with a ton of new recipe ideas. But it wasn’t until this year that I realized that some of my best cooking all year, in fact, happens in that rickety gazebo.
Campsite cooking has many limitations: tiny stove, minimal prep space (half a picnic table), no electricity (thus no appliances, like my beloved food processor), and limited ingredients (i.e. whatever’s in the cooler). Oh, and did I mention all the mosquitoes and ants you constantly have to swat and flick away? It’s basically “Chopped” on steroids.
And yet, I cherish every second. All these constraints get me thinking outside the box and I end up creating things I never would’ve thought of back home. Plus, without the pressure of wondering if an idea is good enough to publish, cooking feels more like play than work.
This Italian/Mediterranean-inspired summer rice salad is the result of one of the many wine-fueled dinner prep sessions at the campsite this year. I had to use up what we had: basmati rice, local tomatoes, a can of beans, a tub of pesto. At first I worried it’d be a weird combo, but after rave reviews from my camp-mates, I ended up making it twice during the trip.
What’s In This Summer Rice Salad
The base of this salad is fragrant brown basmati rice (see below for substitutions). Sautéed cherry tomatoes punctuate the rice with savory-tart bursts of flavor, arugula lends peppery freshness, and everything gets bound together by fragrant pesto (which you can make from scratch or buy).
If grain salads are new to you, think of this as a twist on pasta salad – or a super lazy risotto. This salad is technically a complete meal (carbs + protein + fat + vegetables), but it also works as a side. You can have it warm or at room temp, and it’s ideal for toting to picnics, barbecues, and potlucks.
How to Make This Vegan Rice Salad
Start by boiling some water for the rice. Cook the rice undisturbed (don’t stir!) until all the water is absorbed. Then let the rice stand covered for another 10 minutes to absorb the remaining steam in the pot. This technique gives you the fluffiest rice ever.
While the rice cooks, sauté tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they’re juicy and collapsed, about 8 minutes.
Next, make the pesto in a food processor or blender. (For a shortcut, use store-bought). Traditional pesto relies on Parmesan cheese for creaminess and umami; for a vegan version, I’ve found the combo of raw cashews and miso makes the best substitute.
Lastly, combine the rice and tomatoes with pesto, white beans, and arugula.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Brown Basmati Rice: This rice has a fragrant nutty aroma and chewy texture, and requires a bit more water for cooking than regular rice. You can get it at Trader Joe’s or find the Riceselect brand at any supermarket. As substitutes, use regular long-grain brown rice, white basmati rice, or farro.
- Cherry Tomatoes: I love their small size in this salad but you can use regular vine tomatoes, too, and just chop them into a similar size.
- White Beans: Feel free to sub with pinto beans or even chickpeas.
- Raw Cashews: After many years of experimenting with vegan pesto, I’ve found that raw cashews result in the creamiest texture and richest flavor. If you have a nut allergy, use raw sunflower seeds instead.
- Olive Oil: A good-quality extra virgin olive oil is key to the success of homemade pesto. California Olive Ranch is a solid, widely-available, affordable option.
- Store-Bought Pesto: For a shortcut, use good-quality store-bought pesto from the refrigerated section. Vegan pesto can be found in fancy stores like Whole Foods.
More ways with rice…
- Vegetable Fried Brown Rice with Tofu
- Middle Eastern Mujadara
- Brown Rice Congee
- Guide: How to Make Fluffy Brown Rice
Think of this summer rice salad as an alternative to pasta salad – or a very lazy risotto.
For the Salad
- 1 cup brown basmati rice (substitution ideas below)
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- One 15-ounce can white beans (like cannellini or great northern)
- 3 generous handfuls arugula
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
For the Pesto (optional, see note below)
- 3 packed cups basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
- 1/3 cup raw cashews (see note below)
- 1 medium garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons white miso
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- In a small pot, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice with 1/4 teaspoon salt, cover tightly with a lid, and simmer on low heat until all the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes (do not stir during cooking). Then turn the heat off and let stand covered (without stirring) for another 10 minutes.
- While the rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are juicy and collapsed, about 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the pesto. In a food processor (see below for blender instructions), combine the basil with 1/3 cup cashews and 1 garlic clove. Pulse until everything is broken down. Then add 2 teaspoons miso, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. With the motor running, gradually stream in 1/3 cup olive oil and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
- Transfer the rice to a large bowl and add the beans, arugula, tomatoes, pesto, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
- You can substitute with white basmati rice, regular long-grain brown rice, or farro.
- For a shortcut, use store-bought pesto.
- If you have a nut allergy, sub with sunflower seeds.
- To make pesto in a blender: instead of pureeing in 2 steps, combine all the pesto ingredients at once and blend together.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe
- Calories: 370
- Fat: 18.8 g
- Carbohydrates: 44.2 g
- Fiber: 5.6 g
- Protein: 9.6 g
Keywords: summer, rice, pesto, tomatoes, arugula