It’s around this time of year that my daily bowls of cozy soup and roasted veg suddenly leave me wanting nothing but fresh ingredients. Especially now that I live in Chicago where the winters are long, there’s something replenishing about escaping the chill through ingredients that make me feel like spring could be around the corner. If you’ve made any of my previous salad recipes, you know that I prefer textures and hearty ingredients over a bowl of leaves (case in point, this Mexican chopped salad.) So, using what I had on hand and getting a creative with ingredients, I created this feta salad packed with protein and crispy veggies that had me going back for more.
As with many of my recipe ideas, it all started with a block of feta. And those that don’t usually start by rifling through my fridge and shopping my own pantry. I love the process of taking a random collection of ingredients from the fridge and turning them into my own no-recipe recipes. It’s like my own Chopped challenge. And this time, the hero was this block of feta.
I love feta cheese. It has this great salty and slightly tangy flavor that adds a nice brightness to any dish from salads to breakfast, and we of course can’t forget about the viral TikTok recipe that broke the internet last year. But use with caution as I do think it’s easy for feta to overwhelm the other flavors in a dish. So, when I approached the feta in this salad, I wanted to use other punchy flavors and balanced ingredients to round out the recipe.
What ingredients are in this salad?
Let’s start with the beans. I used butter beans, but you can also use cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, or navy beans. Butter beans are a favorite of mine because they add a rich creaminess to the salad. They also add an extra dose of protein which helps to make your salad actually fill you up.
For freshness, I used crunchy cucumbers, red onions, and lots of fresh herbs. I had parsley and mint on hand, but think cilantro and green onions would be great too. Especially against the saltiness of the feta, having these fresh ingredients add the perfect contrast in flavor.
Slightly controversial, but I loved the olives in this salad. I had them on hand, and they added a nice briny flavor here. Can I leave them out? Absolutely. If you hate olives, just pretend they don’t exist.
Some torn-up stale and chewy bread and crunchy pistachios really rounded this out. But the star of this dish? The lemon relish.
So let’s talk about this lemon relish. It uses a whole lemon. Rind and all.
While bringing this feta salad together, I knew the flavor profile would be lean, briney, and acidic. And while I think this salad would work well with just a heavy pour of olive oil over the top and a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, I still wanted something that would brighten up all the flavors and tie them together. I hesitated to call this a dressing, as it’s more jammy in texture. It’s also not quite a vinaigrette. It might not be quite a relish either, but it’s the closest I could get. The sweetness in it really helps mellow out the flavors of the salad, while elevating each ingredient as well.
Wait, can I eat lemon rind?
Yes you can! Lemon rinds have lots of vitamins, minerals, and fibers, so they are beneficial to your health. I make sure to buy organic lemons and then wash them really well. Obviously, the raw lemon rind is tough, fibrous, and not pleasant to eat. But when it’s cooked, either baked or fried, it takes on a nice chewy texture and highlights the lemon flavor.
For this version, I first sliced the lemon into very thin slices. I placed the slices into a pan with olive oil on the stove, drizzled on lots of honey, and then blended everything together. The result is a luscious relish that was just as delicious on the salad as it was for dipping bread.
How do I keep leftovers for this salad?
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. I kept my leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days and it was great. The lemon relish helped marinate the other ingredients.
While this salad is a no-recipe recipe, it’s packed with flavor and will become a new go-to. If you make this, be sure to share!
- 1 block of feta cheese, cubed
- 1 english cucumber, cubed
- 1/2 red onion or a large shallot, sliced thin (for less bite, soak in water before assembling salad)
- 1 can of white beans
- leftover bread of choice, torn into pieces
- herbs of choice: I used 1/2 bunch parsley and mint, but can also use cilantro and green onions
- 1/2 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
for the lemon relish:
- 1 large lemon, thinly sliced and seeds removed
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp honey
- salt and pepper to taste
- Make the lemon relish. In a stove top pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and bring up to a low-medium heat. Place the lemon slices in the oil. Drizzle with about 1 tbsp of honey, and let saute in the pan until lightly golden in color. Flip the slices, drizzle with another 1 tbsp of honey, and cook until the second side is golden brown and the rind has softened. Turn off the heat.
- In a food processor or small blender, add the lemon slices with the oil from the pan. Add an additional tbsp of honey, salt and pepper, and blend. Add another 1 tbsp of olive oil as needed to make the mixture smooth. It's okay if it separates a little bit, you just want the lemon rind to have broken down.
- Taste and adjust salt and sweetness as needed. Set aside and assemble the salad.
- Add all of the salad ingredients to a serving bowl. Drizzle over the lemon relish, and add salt and pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Enjoy!
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