North African Tuna and Rice Salad

Preserved lemons and tuna transform leftover white rice into the perfect salad meal.

A white dish holding North African tuna and rice salad. The dish is sitting on a folded towel.

Serious Eats / Jillian Atkinson

Why It Works

  • Preserved lemon and harissa brighten up plain rice.
  • Using meaty tuna, crunchy vegetables and soft rice creates a wonderful combination of textures.

The cuisine of North Africa is noted for its use of condiments like harissa and preserved lemon. Tuna, a fish rarely used in other parts of the Arab world, also tends to feature heavily in North African salads, sandwiches, and pastries. The examples are endless: Harcha is a semolina pancake that sometimes includes tuna; chermoula is a widely used condiment that in certain regions relies on preserved lemon; tagines from chicken to fish often include preserved lemon and harissa; mhamasah, a giant couscous similar to fregola sarda, is used as a base for a tuna salad; in Tunisia, these ingredients come together in a delicious sandwich with avocado and eggs. 

The creativity these dishes can inspire is vast and I draw on many of those flavors for this rice salad, designed to be made with fresh or leftover rice. Preserved lemon is the real star of this show, providing a depth of citrus that is pungent yet bright, and marries the robust flavor of tuna with the softer notes of plain rice. (Please note that regular lemon would not be a good substitute in this particular dish).

Perfect as full meal on its own or as part of a more elaborate spread, this salad is best enjoyed at room temperature. If you're using leftover rice from the fridge, allow it sit out for a bit before preparing the salad. Oftentimes, when rice sits in the fridge, it sticks together in a single mass. Some ways around it include adding more oil to the water when cooking and allowing the rice to cool completely on a large baking sheet before transferring to a container and into the fridge. Finally, even if it is clumping together, using two forks that you gently pull in opposite directions, you can easily fluff the rice apart.

The jarred style of tuna tends to be better quality than the canned, with bigger pieces and better texture. However, if you can’t find jarred tuna, canned tuna will still work. The flavors in the salad are quite strong, so if the jar/can of tuna you use is one or two ounces off, it will still work out fine.

As for the vegetables, they were chosen for their crunch as a nice contrast to the fluffy rice and tender tuna, but you can substitute with whatever you have on hand. After all, this is a dish meant to repurpose leftovers, not send you scavenging for something you don’t have. 

May 2021

Recipe Facts

Total: 10 mins
Serves: 2 servings

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For the Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) harissa (or another chili paste)

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon rind (from about 2 mini lemons or half a large lemon)

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Kosher or sea salt

For the Salad:

  • 2 cups (about 9 ounces; 250g) cooked long grain rice (such as jasmine or basmati), cooled

  • One 7-ounce jar of tuna fillets in olive oil, drained and flaked (see headnote) 

  • 15 to 20 green olives (preferably Middle Eastern), pitted and chopped

  • 2 scallions, ends trimmed, thinly sliced

  • 1 small red bell pepper (about 6 ounces; 170g), stemmed, seeded, and finely diced 

  • 1 cup (3 1/2 ounces; 100g) green beans, stems trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces, lightly blanched (can use frozen beans soaked for a minute in boiling water)

  • A few cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)


  1. For the Dressing: In a measuring cup or jar, combine lemon juice, olive oil, harissa, preserved lemon, cilantro, and pepper. Stir or shake until well combined; season with salt. Set aside.

    A two-image collage. The left image shows the dressing ingredients combined in a glass jar but not yet mixed. The right image shows the ingredients now fully mixed in the jar.

    Serious Eats / Jillian Atkinson

  2. For the Salad: In a large bowl, combine rice, tuna, olives, scallions, bell pepper, and green beans. Using two big forks, toss gently until well combined and rice grains are separated.

    A two-image collage. The left image shows the ingredients for the rice salad in a bowl, with all of the ingredients in distinct piles next to each other. The right image shows the ingredients now fully mixed in the bowl.

    Serious Eats / Jillian Atkinson

  3. Drizzle with the dressing and toss gently, fluffing the rice, until evenly dressed. Garnish with cilantro leaves, if using. Serve at room temperature.

    A two-image collage. The left image shows a hand pouring the salad dressing from the glass jar over the bowl of mixed ingredients. The right image is a close-up overhead shot of the mixed salad.

    Serious Eats / Jillian Atkinson

Make-Ahead and Storage

Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 1 day, but should be brought back to room temperature before serving.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
575 Calories
26g Fat
51g Carbs
35g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 575
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 26g 34%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 47mg 16%
Sodium 1031mg 45%
Total Carbohydrate 51g 19%
Dietary Fiber 6g 20%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 35g
Vitamin C 166mg 830%
Calcium 93mg 7%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 909mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)