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In this refreshing Zucchini Salad, 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!
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.
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!
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.
A Better Marinade
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, or Lamb Kabobs,
- Grilled Shrimp or Chicken Kabobs
- 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
Thinly slice zucchini with Y peeler or mandoline slicer and place in large bowl.
Add fresh lemon juice, salt and smashed garlic clove; gently toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 ½ hours up to 6 hours.
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.
- 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
- Thinly slice zucchini with a Y Peeler or mandoline slicer at its thinnest setting. Place zucchini ribbons in large bowl, gently separating slices with your hands.
- 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.
SO GOOD!! I’m such a food snob and this salad was on point! I added fresh mint but followed the recipe to a T otherwise. So refreshing and delicious. Don’t skip the pine nuts. Toasting them makes the salad even better!
Marissa Stevens says
Love that you enjoyed this recipe, Jackie! Thank you for coming back to let me know.
I skipped the marinating phase and dug straight into it. Used walnuts rather than pine nuts. Delish!
Marissa Stevens says
Ha! I love it, Amy. So glad you enjoyed it!
Chef Mimi says
Beautiful. This is summer perfection!
Marissa Stevens says
Thanks so much, Mimi!
David @ Spiced says
I'm so glad to see this recipe pop back up, Marissa! It's zucchini season, and I'm always hunting for ways to use it. This sounds like a fantastic option next to a piece of grilled chicken - summer at its best!!
Marissa Stevens says
I agree, David! Thank you.
Sarah Magee says
I have used my preserved lemons (salt & lemon in one) from last year and my current zucchini of this year. Love the bright fresh flavours. I tend to view recipes more as a suggestion than an instruction.... this one is perfect as is - only modification i made was to use preserved lemons instead of fresh juice. Served with some salt & pepper calamari cause that's what I had available. Thank you for sharing.
Marissa Stevens says
Sounds like a wonderful meal, Sarah! I'm so happy that you enjoyed this and love the idea of preserved lemons in it!
Amazing!!!!! So delicious and refreshing!!!
aww...thanks so much, Sashena!
I made it with zucchini spirals I bought in the supermarket because I didn't have peeler or mandolin and it was really tasty
Wonderful! So glad you enjoyed, Mary!
Love your tips for taking the water out of the salad. Also, l love the addition of feta and pine nuts! This is one tasty salad!
Thanks so much, Renee!
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen says
I just made a similar salad with zucchini and yellow squash from my brother-in-law's garden. Next time I'll need to add the feta. Looks delicious Marissa!
Thanks so much, Mary Ann!
Katherine | Love In My Oven says
Loving all the zucchini recipes that keep popping up!! I always have so much zucchini in the garden, so I'm always on the lookout for new ways to use it. This is my first year with yellow zucchini! I can't wait to try your salad!!
I'm excited for you to try it, Katherine! And jealous of all that zucchini you're growing - I definitely have a brown thumb! 😉
You may be so bold because I can tell by looking at it just how wonderful it is! These are summer flavors at their finest!
hahaha, thank you so much my sweet friend!
Kelsie | the itsy-bitsy kitchen says
Thank you for doing all that testing so I don't have to! This really does look perfect! Have a great week, Marissa!
My pleasure, Kelsie! 🙂 Thank you! You have a great week too!
David @ Spiced says
Well I certainly appreciate your trial and error approach to this salad, Marissa! We are starting to pull zukes out of the garden now, and I'm thinking this would be a fun (and different!) way to use some of 'em. This one is perfect for summer side dishes!
Yay! I can't wait to hear how it goes, David!
yum yum looks beautiful and delicious.
Thank you so much, Sherry!
This is lovely. I love all of the ingredients, and I have beautiful gold squash coming out my ears, as well as green. Maybe I'll mix the two! Thanks!
That's wonderful, Mimi! It's so pretty with the two colors mixed!
Much as I love a good pasta salad, my body doesn’t love carbs anymore. Your zucchini salad is one delicious alternative! Simple delicious flavors!
I know what you mean, Liz! Thank you very much!
Dawn - Girl Heart Food says
What a beautiful summer salad! Love the addition of pine nuts for extra oomph and texture! Gotta get me some zucchini today 🙂
Woohoo! You know I love to hear that, Dawn! 🙂
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
I must say, this zucchini salad definitely looks perfect!!! I love zucchini any which way I can get it during the summer, and I'm definitely adding this beauty to the rotation! Love all the fresh flavors, Marissa!! Pinning! Cheers!
Aww, thank you so much, Cheyanne!
This salad is a great way to use up all that garden zucchini!
Love the way you think, Kevin!
Kevin | Kevin Is Cooking says
We ran out of pine nuts, but I made with toasted hazelnuts and it was heaven. 🙂
That's wonderful, Kevin! So sweet of you to let me know. Now I need to try it with toasted hazelnuts!!