Zest up your chopped salads with this Zesty Lemon Dressing recipe

The flavors in this Chopped Spinach Salad work so well together that I’ve already made it three more times since that first 'happy accident.'

This Chopped Spinach Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing is elegant, easy to make and delicious. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

A couple weeks ago, I was trying to pull a quick salad together for dinner. I wasn’t due to make my weekly grocery trip for another day and didn’t want to run to the store for just a few ingredients. Luckily, my inventory was more robust than I expected, and I had just what I needed to make a salad that has now become a favorite in our home.

Baby spinach leaves are the greens in this Chopped Spinach Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing, but the batch I had more closely resembled teenage or even adult-sized leaves. I adore fresh spinach but find large leaves to be unwieldy, often requiring removal of long stems or a knife to cut the leaves as we eat.

My pantry search turned up ingredients that were bite-sized, including mini cucumbers, one large radish, feta cheese crumbles, thinly sliced red onion and chickpeas, and I didn’t want this extra-leafy spinach to overpower them. So, I laid out 4 cups of not-so-baby spinach leaves, reached for my chef’s knife and chopped them into half-inch strips, stems and all. Spinach is a sturdy leaf, but chopping the leaves transformed their texture, making them more delicate and easier to mix with the other ingredients.

Use a large chef's knife to roughly chop the baby spinach leaves into half-inch strips, stems and all. Sarah Nasello / The Forum


Chopping the spinach leaves makes their texture more delicate, so they will be easier to eat and better complement the other ingredients. Sarha Nasello / The Forum

I’d planned to make our house vinaigrette to dress the salad — a simple mix of extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. But then, in the back of my refrigerator, I found a lonely lemon that was begging to be included. All the components of this salad work well with lemon, especially the chickpeas and feta cheese.

Since I’d already mixed the dressing, I used just the zest from the entire lemon to give it a boost of lemony flavor without adding more acidity. Not only did this simple step elevate the dressing with a punch of lemon tartness, but it also resulted in what I call my "happy accident."

Sarah's Chopped Spinach Salad features fresh baby spinach, red onions, mini cucumbers, chickpeas, radishes and feta cheese. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

One of my family’s favorite places for Italian food — in the world — is Broders' Cucina in Minneapolis. Whenever we visit the Twin Cities, we never leave without stopping at Broders' to have lunch and load up our car with food to bring home.

While we dance around their menu of Italian pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and deli foods, one dish we order every time is their Greek salad, which comes large enough to share. It’s a simple salad dressed with an amazingly good lemon vinaigrette that I have tried for years to replicate. I never imagined that the simple addition of a heaping tablespoon of lemon zest added to our basic house vinaigrette would do the trick.


A generous heaping of fresh lemon zest brightens up all the flavors and gives a tangy punch to this simple salad dressing. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The flavors in this Chopped Spinach Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing work so well together that I’ve already made it three more times in the past two weeks. It pairs well with grilled meats and fish, making it an excellent choice for a dinner side dish or lunch salad, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Have a fun, safe and delicious holiday weekend!

Chopped Spinach Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing

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Serves: 4 to 6

Salad ingredients:

4 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped into strips ½-inch wide

1 large radish, cut in half and thinly sliced

¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced


2 baby cucumbers, cut into half-moons ¼-inch thick

1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

Dressing ingredients:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Zest of 1 lemon (or 1 heaping tablespoon)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt


¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or Mason jar, then whisk or shake vigorously until well combined and emulsified. The feta cheese in the salad will add more salt, so wait to taste and adjust until after you have tossed the salad with the dressing.

Starting with the spinach, place all the salad ingredients in a medium bowl. Add all the dressing and toss until well combined. Taste and add more seasoning as needed.

Serve in the bowl for family-style gatherings, or on individual plates for a more elegant presentation. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 1 day.

Advance prep:

  • Dressing can be made and refrigerated up to 1 week.
  • Salad ingredients can be prepared a day or two before serving and refrigerated until ready to serve.
  • For best results, wait to toss the salad with dressing until just before serving.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at

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