This zucchini herb salad is summer simplicity at its best. The freshness of the herbs and zucchini is even more irresistible with the addition of savory and nutty shaved Parmesan, toasted almonds, and a lively shot of fresh lemon. It's one of my favorite cures for the "sad salad" rut, and helped me avoid "sad desk lunches." As any good salad should, it has a variation of textures and a great balance of flavors.
Remember: Salads don't always need lettuce!
Crisp, fresh zucchini and summer squash are seeded and thinly sliced, then tossed with nutty toasted almonds for more crunch, coarsely grated Parmesan for a savory foundation, and vibrant fresh mint and basil. Then you douse everything in a zippy, happy, lemon vinaigrette. The result is bright but savory, with an addictive crunchy-toothsome texture. (Tip: This is a terrific salad to bring on a picnic. Try pairing it with a juicy plum crostata for your next get-together!)
Adaptable and easy, this zucchini and herb salad can be tossed together with whatever you have on hand.
A simple recipe like this makes it easy to flex your creative muscles, too. Do you have cilantro but not basil? Only Parsley? Great! Maybe lime instead of lemons? Or perhaps you used all your citrus on a batch of lemonade—but you've been looking for an excuse to use that new fancy vinegar that's been winking at you from your cupboard. You could even add a bit of heat, if that suits your mood: try a sprinkling of chili flakes to garnish, or add a dab of harissa into the dressing.
My recipe suggests coarsely grated cheese, so it doesn’t disappear into the dressing and lose its impact. Shaving with a vegetable peeler is another excellent choice, leaving you with even bigger shards of cheese for a bigger umami impact. Another excellent change would be substituting the Parmesan in favor of feta, goat cheese, or fresh mozzarella. I might finish with a bit of chunky salt to make up for a milder cheese.
This zucchini salad really is irresistible. You'll probably go back for seconds, so make extra!
I claim that this recipe serves 4, and it does if you have more on the table to round it out. But be warned: I happily ate half a batch right after taking these photos, and I regularly double the recipe when teaching it in classes because folks are always going back for more… The good news is this: if it disappears too quickly, it’s easy to toss together another round.
Notes for Success:
If you’re using iodized table salt instead of Kosher salt, start by cutting the amount of salt in half, and then adjust to taste. Kosher salt is fluffier, with more irregular crystals, so 1 teaspoon Kosher salt is actually less salty than denser, more regularly shaped table salt. Also, you can slice the zucchini on the bias, as I have suggested here, or go for half crescent moons. Or, if you have the patience, use a vegetable peeler to make beautiful and very thin, long ribbons. Thinness is the only important factor here.
Recipe: Zucchini Salad with Herbs and Shaved Parmesan
- 1½ teaspoons lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice, About 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper , See Notes
- 1 medium zucchini , About 8 ounces
- 1 medium summer squash or yellow zucchini , About 8 ounces
- ¾ cup lightly packed basil leaves, torn if large
- ½ cup lightly packed mint leaves, torn if large
- ⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1½ ounce aged nutty cheese, such as Parmesan, Pecorino, or Gouda, coarsely grated, Vegan option: omit or sub aged vegan cheese
- Step 1Mix together the lemon zest, juice, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Step 2Quarter the zucchini and summer squash lengthwise and slice out or scoop out the seedy core. Thinly slice the resulting baton shapes on the bias (See Note). Toss in a large bowl with the herbs, almonds, and roughly 3⁄4 of the cheese. Add the dressing and toss to evenly coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese before serving.