We've been making this Zucchini Salad on repeat for the past few weeks, determined to perfect the recipe. And perfect it we did, if I may be so bold!
Paper thin slices of raw zucchini marinate in fresh lemon juice, salt and garlic until their texture is transformed to something more like tender pappardelle pasta than raw zucchini. The zucchini maintains the right amount of bite, similar to pasta cooked al dente. Then a sprinkle of creamy feta cheese, a shower of buttery pine nuts and slivered fresh basil and you're ready to serve!
Ingredients You Need to Make Zucchini Salad
- Fresh Zucchini: ideally a mix of small to medium green zucchini and yellow summer squash
- Lemon Juice: ideally fresh from about 1 large lemon
- Garlic: fresh garlic clove
- Olive Oil: good quality, extra-virgin olive oil
- Feta Cheese: or crumbled goat cheese (chèvre), or shredded Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Pine Nuts: or chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans or almonds
- Fresh Basil Leaves: optional, but recommended!
How it all started.
Our quest for the perfect Zucchini Salad began with this recipe from the New York Times. Not always a fan of raw zucchini, I loved the idea of tenderizing thin slices in a tangy, salty marinade. And the tangle of thin slices was so pretty! But being the skeptic that I am, I questioned three things: one, that it was necessary to toss the zucchini slices with salt first before adding the lemon juice and garlic; two, that such thin slices would really require a minimum of 4 hours to marinate; and three, that the dish wouldn't be improved by a shower of feta and pine nuts. But I had to test these theories to be sure.
Recipe testing notes, or why this is the ONE.
First I tried the NYT recipe as directed: I tossed the zucchini slices with salt and let stand for 30 minutes then drained and patted them dry before adding the lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. After marinating for 4 hours, the salad was tasty, but on the watery side and I hesitated to pour off the liquid since I'd already tossed in the olive oil. We enjoyed this version, but there was definitely room for improvement.
Next I tried increasing the amount of zucchini slices and tossing them with all but the olive oil: salt, fresh lemon juice and garlic. Then covered and refrigerated. We tasted the zucchini slices at 1 ½ hours, 2 hours, 4 hours then 6 hours (Oh how I love tasty R&D!). As it turns out, the perfect amount of marinating time is between 1 ½ and 2 hours, there was no improvement in texture or flavor by marinating for the full 4 to 6 hours as the base recipe suggested.
As a bonus, I much preferred the flavor of the zucchini when it was marinated in not just salt but lemon juice and garlic from the start, better flavor and one less step. Both the lemon zing and subtle garlic heat came through better when the slices hadn't spent time in salt first. This way, you're draining and patting dry the zucchini and tossing in the the olive oil right before you serve.
Though the salad is delicious on it's own, it's even better with the added texture and flavor of feta and pine nuts. And you could certainly toss in some fresh herbs if you like. Fresh mint, chives or basil (as pictured) would be especially good.
Yes, and you should! Use a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to thinly slice it raw for salads and marinate if you want a more tender / less crunchy texture. (As in this recipe.)
Yes you can! Swap raw zucchini for cucumber in any salad you like. Just know that raw zucchini has a denser, less watery texture than raw cucumber and is a bit less crunchy.
To make this salad a meal, I recommend serving as a side dish with: Pan-Fried Lamb Chops, Grilled Lamb Chops, Lamb Kabobs, or Roasted Lamb Chops. Or with seafood like Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta, Salmon Piccata or Shrimp Piccata. Or with tender spaghetti tossed with Checca Sauce (raw pasta sauce).
More Delicious Summer Salads to Try
- Corn Salad (made with fresh sweet corn cut from the cob!)
- Tabouli Salad (a classic Mediterranean salad that's a house favorite!)
- Greek Salad with lemon and olive oil or with easy Greek Salad Dressing (when tomatoes are at their peak, this is a must make!)
- Greek Farro Salad (this one is perfect for picnics!)
How to Make Zucchini Salad
Step 2: Add fresh lemon juice, salt and smashed garlic clove; gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 ½ hours up to 6 hours.
Step 3: Drain zucchini slices and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil and gently toss to coat; adjust seasoning. Divide among serving plates and top with crumbled feta cheese and pine nuts. Serve.
Zucchini Salad with Lemon, Feta and Pine Nuts
- 1 ½ pounds small to medium zucchini ideally a mix of green zucchini and yellow summer squash
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice about 1 lemon
- 1 clove garlic smashed
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces feta cheese crumbled
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ cup thinly sliced basil leaves optional
- To zucchini add salt, lemon juice and smashed garlic clove; gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 ½ hours and up to 6 hours.
- When you're ready to serve, remove zucchini mixture from refrigerator. Drain and discard garlic clove. Gently pat slices dry with paper towels. Alternatively, you can turn slices out onto a paper towel lined baking sheet in a single layer and pat dry for a drier salad. Return zucchini slices to bowl.
- Drizzle zucchini with olive oil and gently toss to coat; adjust seasoning as desired. Divide among 4 serving plates. Top each salad with an equal amount of crumbled feta, pine nuts and basil if you like. Serve.