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Recipe for spinach salad with bell pepper, olives, feta, and pine nuts {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Spinach salad with pepper, olives and pine nuts, and a pesto dressing.

Remember when spinach salad meant warm bacon dressing and chopped hard-cooked eggs, and we all loved it and felt oh-so-sophisticated when we ordered it at a café? Did you know (I didn't) that spinach salad, an adaptation of a German dish of dandelion greens with a bacon-vinegar dressing, probably originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and not in the kitchen of a French chef? These days, when it comes to spinach salad, there are no rules, as this version with bell pepper, olives, feta cheese and pine nuts proves. There are a few secrets to making great salads that draw on ingredients in your pantry, and they all come down to this: be fearless! Combine unlikely ingredients, using whatever's in season. Take a sauce you'd made for pasta, or a chutney, and thin it with some water to make a salad dressing. Don't be afraid of color. If you don't have baby spinach for this salad, pluck a few lettuce leaves from your garden. And if you don't have good feta, try ricotta salata or another salty cheese.

Spinach salad with bell pepper, olives, feta and pine nuts, and pesto dressing.

Spinach salad with bell pepper, olives, feta and pine nuts

From the pantry, you'll need: feta, black olives, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts.

Serves 4.


For the pesto dressing:
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
2 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup canned black olives, halved
1 small red bell pepper, cored and diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
Fresh black pepper


To make the pesto dressing: Place basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until chopped. With the machine running, add olive oil in a stream. Thin the dressing with 2 Tbsp water, and set aside. (Can be made up to 3 days in advance.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the spinach, olives, bell pepper and feta.

In a small dry nonstick frying pan, toast the pine nuts over low heat for 2-4 minutes, until the nuts are just starting to brown and become fragrant. Remove from heat, and add to the spinach mixture.

Toss the salad with just enough of the pesto dressing to moisten all of the ingredients without drowning them (you will have leftover dressing; refrigerate and use for another dish). Add fresh black pepper, to taste.

Serve at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Spinach salad with honey mustard vinaigrette
Deconstructed spinach salad on a crunchy whole wheat rice cracker
Chickpea, quinoa and spinach salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette
Spinach salad with glazed beets and blue cheese
Greek pasta salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Mediterranean spinach salad with garbanzos, tomatoes, radishes, and sumac-lemon vinaigrette, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Spinach pomegranate salad with apples and walnuts, from Pinch My Salt
Spinach salad with feta and walnuts, from Eating richly even when you're broke
Spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette, from Annie's Eats
Spinach artichoke pesto pizza, from Two Peas & Their Pod

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I love your "be fearless" motto. It really does lead to the best creations in the kitchen. This salad is something I'd happily eat for lunch.

LOL! I do remember and I didn't know that!
Salads to me are like egg dishes - you can put just about anything in them! This salad has my name written all over it!

Cookin' Canuck, I always encourage readers to take recipes as a starting point, and dig around the pantry. Who knows where the dish will end up? Be fearless!

Carol, we might have eaten that original spinach salad at some of the same Boston restaurants!

My CSA Box just started so I'm looking forward to a lot more fresh salad greens - some of my favorite flavors are in your recipe - going to give this a try this week!

Jeanette, I'm always a little bit envious of friends who get CSA boxes. We have so many farms around us that I try to spread out my shopping amongst all of them. I hope you'll get some early basil this week.

@ Lydia - Stephanie's on Newbury no doubt! LOL!
(which now has a south end branch and a soon-to-be-opened "Southie" location!! who would have thought!)

Carol, before Stephanie's, there was The Magic Pan, on Newbury at Berkeley. Do you remember that?

Lydia - perhaps before my time of working/living in Boston! But it sounds fun!

I'm thinking that the originator of that salad was thinking 'ok, if I put bacon in it I bet they'll eat this' . . . because of course I think that way all the time. Frequently, it works.

Your advice to be fearless is spot on--I've got a big bag of salad greens in the crisper from the CSA, and I'll poke around to see what I can add (to the pancetta, since I'm out of bacon) and make something good.


Thanks for the fabulous salad/ dressing basic recipe. We are converts!

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