Confession: I’m so tired of lettuce salads. I could come up with a new dressing or add crunchy things to jazz one up, but it’s summer in Chicago and I’m completely over this supposed “salad eating season”. Salad tastes good when the weather warms up in May, but by mid-summer, I’ve had my fill.
So how do we make vegetables appealing when salads are boring and it’s a little early to roast all of the vegetables like we do in the fall? We shave them. As in, get out your vegetable peeler and pretend like you’re peeling the veggie, but keep on going until you’re left with a little nub of a vegetable. You’ll end up with tons of gorgeous curls of the vegetable, eager for a little dressing.
I have no doubt that we eat with our eyes. If you handed me a plate of diced zucchini with a lemon dressing, I’d be less than enthused. But in the case of this zucchini salad, a somewhat flavorless squash gets a dramatic upgrade once it’s shaved into thin ribbons and lightly dressed with vinaigrette.
Let’s start with the equipment. There are two kinds of peelers: a straight peeler and a y-shaped peeler. The y-shaped version has a horizontal blade and the straight peeler is a long, thin utensil with a vertical blade that swivels. I’d recommend a y-shaped peeler for this, but I used a straight peeler and it got the job done. I fully intended on using a y-shaped peeler but when I retrieved it from the packaging, I’d gotten a julienne peeler by accident. The julienne variety would have created zucchini streamers instead of the ribbons I was after (maybe next time!), so I rolled with the straight peeler.
Zucchini are one watery vegetable, about 95% to be exact. They don’t look like they hold tons of water until they mingle with salt, which draws out the liquid. So we could salt them first and let them drain, and then mix them with dressing. Or if you’re like me and also preparing Seafood Paella and Sparkling Sangria to go with them, you nix that step and just make a potent dressing, knowing that a little water will be introduced as the zucchini soften.
Lemon and olive oil go wonderfully with zucchini, and since I made this salad as part of a Spanish Dinner Party, they were the perfect choice to dress the zucchini. For color, I grabbed some yellow squash along with the zucchini and shaved them both with the peeler. Next up was a quick toss in the lemon vinaigrette, and then some time to marinate in the refrigerator.
The shaved zucchini that come out of the fridge differ from what went in—suddenly soft and tender, curling and bending around each other as if they’d just collapsed in a heap. The lemon vinaigrette will have increased too, but that’s just water drawn out of the zucchini.
While you’re waiting for the zucchini to get tender in the fridge, it’s time to toast some almonds. In this case, I added a little canola oil to the pan to create a shallow fry for the nuts. It also makes them glossy and creates something for the sea salt to cling to. Be sure to watch them carefully while frying, because they can go from not toasted to a little too toasted in the span of 30 seconds.
Once I was ready to serve, I took a few handfuls of baby arugula and arranged it on the serving platter. Then I heaped the zucchini and yellow squash ribbons on top, separating them as I went. The vinaigrette from the zucchini will dress the arugula nicely. Finally I topped it all with the shallow-fried almonds (minus a few—it was hard to resist sneaking some nibbles!) and it was ready to serve.
My summer salad eating conundrum is solved—now I’m shaving tons of veggies and avoiding lettuce for a few weeks to get my leafy green salad appetite back. This Raw Zucchini Salad would be a great side dish for a cookout, or a refreshing accompaniment to Seafood Paella and Sparkling Sangria as part of a Spanish Dinner Party.
If you make this salad, I’d love to know what you thought—leave me a note in the comments below!
Raw Zucchini Salad with Toasted Almonds
Yield 6–8 servings
A fun way to jazz up your salad routine!
- 3 medium sized zucchini
- 3 medium sized yellow squash
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 handfuls arugula
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- ⅓ cup slivered almonds
- Place one zucchini on a flat surface. Using a peeler, slowly drag the peeler the length of the zucchini to create a ribbon. Repeat until the zucchini is too small to peel. Repeat with the remaining zucchini and yellow squash. Place in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper together. Pour over the zucchini and yellow squash and toss gently. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 4 hours.
- Meanwhile, place the canola oil and almonds in a small nonstick skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat to toast the almonds, stirring occasionally. Watch closely—the almonds will go from untoasted to burnt quickly! Cook until the almonds are lightly toasted. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and set aside.
- To serve, place the arugula on a large serving platter. Spoon the zucchini and squash ribbons over the top of the arugula, adding the vinaigrette from the bottom of the bowl to taste. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve.
Change it up: walnuts or pine nuts would be delicious in place of the almonds.