Craving a burst of flavors and textures? This Italian Chopped Salad with Zesty Dressing is a delightful medley of fresh vegetables, rich cheeses, and cured meats, all brought together with a homemade zesty red wine vinaigrette dressing. Perfect for a light lunch or a crowd-pleasing starter! It may just be one of my favorite chopped salad recipes.
This Italian Chopped Salad recipe with Zesty Dressing is bursting with fresh vegetables, aromatic herbs, and zesty Italian flavors. This salad will transport you straight to a sunny terrace in Italy—no passport required!
A staple in Italian-American restaurants, the Italian Chopped Salad is often considered the underdog of salads, but make no mistake—its presence is powerful.
Perfect for a mid-week dinner, a family get-together, or even a holiday feast, this filling salad is versatile enough to fit any occasion. It's also a great option for potlucks, offering a lighter counterpoint to heavier dishes.
While its roots may not go deep into Italian history, its flavors are quintessentially Mediterranean, making it a beloved classic for many.
What You'll Love About This Recipe
- The Variety of Textures: Crunchy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and creamy mozzarella—oh my!
- The Zesty Dressing: It's tangy, sweet, and irresistibly good.
- Quick and Easy: Just 15 minutes to prep, making it perfect for busy lives.
- Highly Customizable: Swap in your favorite ingredients and make it your own.
- Nutrient-Packed: A medley of vitamins and antioxidants in one delicious dish.
This chopped salad recipe is divided into two parts. The salad itself, and the homemade zesty dressing we made to put on it. The dressing combines perfectly with the flavors in the salad, so i highly suggest trying it out.
For the Salad:
Chopped Lettuce: Look for crisp, fresh leaves that are free from any blemishes or wilted edges. Romaine is a classic choice but mixing in some spinach or arugula can add more depth and nutritional value to your salad.
Cherry Tomatoes: Go for plump, vibrant red or multi-colored tomatoes. They should be firm to the touch for the best flavor and texture.
Cucumber: English cucumber is an excellent choice because it has fewer seeds and a sweeter taste. But feel free to use any cucumber you like, just ensure it's fresh and firm.
Red Onion: A thinly sliced red onion adds sharpness and a pop of color. Pick onions that are smooth and have a glossy outer peel.
Black Olives: Kalamata olives are your best bet for an authentic Mediterranean touch. They offer a unique briny flavor that complements the other ingredients perfectly.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese: Go for buffalo mozzarella if you can; it's creamier and richer. Make sure the cheese is fresh and kept in its brine for maximum flavor.
Green Bell Peppers: Adds a fresh, crisp texture. Choose peppers that are firm, glossy, and smooth.
Banana Peppers: These offer a mildly spicy kick. They're usually available jarred in grocery stores. Opt for those with a vibrant yellow color.
Salami: Choose a high-quality salami for the best flavor. If you're looking for something less fatty, turkey salami is also an option. I like the dry Italian salami.
The saliami and mozzerella are key to making this a hearty italian chopped salad recipe.
For the Dressing:
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Choose an "extra-light tasting" variant for a more subtle flavor. The quality of the oil can make or break your dressing.
Red Wine Vinegar: This adds the tanginess to the dressing. Opt for a good-quality vinegar for a more balanced flavor.
Garlic Clove: Freshly minced garlic provides a pungent kick that's irreplaceable. A little goes a long way!
Dijon Mustard: It adds creaminess and a bit of spice to the dressing. Opt for a well-known brand for consistent flavor.
Fresh Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice is crucial for that citrusy tang. It brightens up the entire dressing.
Dried Oregano: A classic herb in Italian cooking. For a more intense flavor, rub the dried oregano between your palms before adding it to the mix.
Sea Salt: Opt for fine sea salt for better dissolution in the dressing.
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper: Adds a subtle heat. Freshly cracked is best as it's more potent than pre-ground pepper.
Sugar: Just a tablespoon balances out the acidity and brings all the flavors together. You can also use honey as a natural sweetener.
First things first, dice, and slice all your salad ingredients. Don your favorite apron, sharpen that knife, and let's get to it!
Tip: A chef's knife works best for chopping veggies, but a serrated knife is excellent for those cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Oh, and for those thinly sliced red onions, a mandoline slicer can be a game-changer!
Now, grab a large bowl and start combining all those fabulous dressing ingredients.
Once they're all in, take your immersion blender and blend away! Feel the transformation as the ingredients fuse into a creamy, zesty dressing that screams flavor!
Hint: No immersion blender? No problem! A whisk and some good old elbow grease will also do the trick.
Next grab a big salad bowl, and let's start layering this beauty. Start with a fluffy bed of that freshly chopped Romaine lettuce. On top of that, scatter those ruby-red cherry tomatoes.
Next, layer on the diced green bell peppers, refreshing cucumber, and that luxurious cubed mozzarella. Don't forget the sliced salami—it's where the magic happens!
Add the zingy red onions, rich black olives, and those cute banana peppers for a spicy kick. And last but not least, sprinkle on the fresh basil and parsley like you're Picasso adding the final strokes to a masterpiece.
Drizzle that zesty dressing all over your layered creation. Give it a gentle but confident toss and witness the marriage of flavors and textures that is your Italian Chopped Salad.
Pro Tip: Don't drench; just drizzle. You want to coat the salad, not drown it!
There you go, you've just made a sensational Italian Chopped Salad with Zesty Dressing. Give yourself a pat on the back and dig in!
This versatile chopped salad recipe is absolutely delicious and will quickly become a staple.
Who says salads have to be boring? This Italian Chopped Salad with Zesty Dressing is anything but! With layers of color, flavor, and texture, it's the perfect dish to impress guests or treat yourself to a restaurant-quality meal at home.
For the Salad
- 4 cups of Romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup of cucumber, diced
- ½ cup of red onion, thinly sliced
- ½ cup of black olives, pitted and sliced
- ½ cup of fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
- ½ cup of green bell peppers, diced
- ¼ cup of banana peppers, sliced
- ¼ cup of salami, sliced
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
For the Zesty Dressing
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably labeled "extra-light tasting"
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Begin by chopping, dicing, and slicing the ingredients listed in the salad ingredients section.
- In a deep glass, combine all the dressing ingredients and use an immersion blender to mix them thoroughly.
- Assemble the salad by layering it in the following order: start with the chopped lettuce, followed by the halved cherry tomatoes, diced green bell peppers, diced cucumbers, cubed mozzarella cheese, sliced salami, thinly sliced red onions, sliced black olives, banana peppers, and the chopped basil and parsley.
- Finish by topping the layered salad with the prepared zesty dressing.
Just drizzle the dressing over your chopped salad, you want to coat the salad, not drench it.
- Red Wine Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar or even white wine vinegar can be used for a different tang. However be warned, it'll dramatically alter the flavor.
- Mozzarella: If you prefer a sharper cheese, try using feta or even goat cheese. Fresh parmesan cheese would make a delicious addition as well.
- Salami: Turkey salami or even a plant-based meat substitute works if you're looking for a lighter or vegetarian alternative.
- Vegetarian Delight: Skip the salami and add some protein-rich chickpeas or grilled tofu.
- Spice it Up: If you like your salad with a bit of heat, add some red pepper flakes or even jalapeños to the dressing.
- Fridge: If you have leftovers, it's best to store the salad and dressing separately. Place the salad in an airtight container, where it should last for up to 2 days. The dressing can be stored in a separate jar and will last up to a week.
- Freezer: Freezing this salad isn't recommended. The veggies will wilt and lose their crispness.
- Reheating: This salad is best enjoyed fresh. If you've stored the salad and dressing separately, simply combine them when you're ready to eat.
- Lettuce Prep: Make sure to thoroughly dry your lettuce after washing. Excess water can dilute the dressing.
- Advanced Prep: Feel free to chop your veggies a day in advance, but store them separately to maintain freshness.
- Dressing Wisdom: If you let the dressing sit for an hour in the fridge, the flavors meld together more harmoniously.
- Gentle Toss: When mixing the salad, use a gentle hand to keep the chopped components looking fresh and intact.
- Herb Freshness: Fresh herbs can elevate your salad to gourmet levels. If using dried herbs, remember that they're more potent.
- Protein Boost: For a more substantial meal, consider adding grilled chicken, shrimp, or even chickpeas.
- Cheese Choices: Feel free to experiment with different cheeses like feta or Parmesan for a unique twist.
- Presentation: For a professional look, serve the salad on a large platter and let everyone help themselves.