Strawberry season leaves me swooning! I can’t help it. For me, it’s the sign that Summer has really, truly arrived… and with it, all the fresh and wonderful foods that the season brings. With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you my hands-down, absolute favorite strawberry season salad. It ticks all the boxes with a bit of everything: sweet strawberries, crunchy and spicy pepitas, bacon, leafy greens and a simple and refreshing lemon dressing. Plus, there is plenty of room to “make it your own,” swapping additions in and out, depending on your mood of the moment, what’s in your fridge, or your guest’s preferences (yes, this is a guest-worthy salad!).
I found the original version of this salad on Food52 back in 2015, so I’ve clearly been making this dish for awhile! As with most recipes I try, I’ve tweaked and played with this one until I found a version – and prep method – that works best for me. Along the way, I’ve used a variety of “add-ins,” settling on a personal favorite but knowing I can make adjustments. I’ll try to reflect all of that here, going with my favorite combination of ingredients, but alerting you to what else I have found works (and I’m sure you will be able to add to the list!).
Summer Strawberry Salad
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Serves: 4-6 people
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
For the dressing:
1 small shallot
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dry farro
1/4 pound bacon, sliced into 1/2” pieces (easiest to do when the bacon is cold)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup raw pepitas
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 bunch lacinato kale
1 quart of strawberries
4 oz goat cheese
Salt, pepper & a just a touch of additional olive oil
Now that you’ve read the ingredients, I feel like I have to quickly jump in to address those of you who may have an automatic averse thought or two to the word “kale.” Trust me, my husband is one – and he loves this salad! First, it is lacinato kale that’s used here… the leaves are more slender than other kale varieties and they tend to be sweeter and more tender. I find it mostly in the organic section of the produce aisle at my local grocery store, and I really do suggest you don’t let it turn you away from giving this salad a try. Plus, we’ll be preparing it in such a way that will tenderize it even more.
Let's also talk a little about the farro and pepitas, for those of you less than familiar with this amazing grain and delectable crunchies. Farro is a wonderful whole grain, jam-packed with protein and fiber. It resembles barley in shape, just a bit longer and larger. It has a sort of mildly nutty flavor and, unlike barley, a firmer chew. I used to only be able to find it in Italian or other Mediterranean grocery stores, but I’m seeing it more and more in general grocery stores. If it’s not with other grains (like rice or quinoa) in your grocery store, you may find it in the “international” food section. Typically, one cup of dry farro will yield about 3-3.5 cups cooked.
Pepitas are often referred to as raw, hulled pumpkin seeds. While this is true, it made me laugh when I read somewhere that if you go through the process of shelling pumpkin seeds from your Halloween pumpkin, what you’ll find will be quite different. It turns out that pepitas are found in specific types of pumpkins that produce seeds without a hull. So pepitas are actually hulless to begin with. You can buy them either raw or roasted, and for this recipe you want them raw.
While we’re still discussing ingredients, it seems like a good time to mention some alternatives:
- The original recipe called for 1/2 pound of bacon, but no other protein. With the addition of the chicken, I reduced the bacon to 1/4 pound. Certainly using the full amount originally called for is delicious; you just may not need to add chicken, as well. (Or you can, it’s up to you!)
- Pancetta (cubed) is a delicious substitute for the bacon, either at the 1/2 pound or 1/4 pound weights.
- You can also use dark chicken meat, if you prefer, especially if you have leftover chicken already prepared in your fridge. Some worry about the chicken breast being too dry, but I have not found that to be the case, as there is enough moisture in the salad.
- If you can’t find or otherwise prefer not to use pepitas, I have found that pine nuts or slivered almonds work well. Roughly chopped walnuts or pecans would also work well.
- The original recipe did not use cheese at all. It can easily be eliminated or, if you prefer a different type of cheese, go for it! I have substituted feta and Gorgonzola for the goat cheese. You definitely want it to be a softer cheese, so that it blends in with the other ingredients as you toss the salad. Although I used 4 oz of goat cheese, you may want to add less of a stronger cheese, like Gorgonzola. In the end, it’s really up to your taste.
- It’s easy enough to make a vegetarian version of this salad. You may want to use a more robust cheese to provide a stronger flavor profile to compensate for leaving out the bacon/pancetta/chicken.
Note that if you prefer to skip directly to the recipe, without any side notes, photos or videos, I have included a printable version at the end of this post.
I mentioned earlier that I found a prep method for this salad that works for me – which you may not think is very important for a salad! But I’m big on preparing whatever I can ahead of time, so that when it comes time to pull a meal together, most of it is done. So that’s how I’m going to go talk about putting this together: what can be done ahead, as well as how to save time by doing multiple tasks at once.
First, let’s make the things that can be done ahead of time. All of these “make-aheads” can be done a day or two before you are going to serve this salad. I always begin with the dressing and the proteins.
- The chicken breast can be prepared specifically for the salad, or it is also a great way to use up leftover chicken. You can prepare the chicken breast any way you wish: grilled, baked, roasted. I would recommend leaving it unseasoned so that the only seasonings in the salad are those you intentionally put in. If I am not using leftover chicken, I place the chicken on a pan, brush it with a little cream to help retain moisture (if you don’t have it, don’t worry about it), leave it unseasoned and bake at 350⁰F for 30-40 minutes (to 165⁰F). However you prepare yours, set it aside to cool. If using immediately, you can leave it out; if you are not using for a day or two, wrap it and place it in the fridge, bringing it to room temperature before using. Although the chicken will be shredded in the salad, I don’t like to shred it too far ahead of time because it will dry out. So just let it remain whole for now.
- While the chicken is in the oven, place the cut-up bacon in a cold pan and fry it over medium heat, until it is just getting crispy. Remove it from the pan and let it drain on paper towels. Once drained and cooled, you can either leave the pieces whole or chop them a bit. My personal preference is to give them a rough chop. Reserve 1 tsp of the bacon fat. Put the bacon in the fridge if not using it right away, bringing it to room temperature before using.
- While both the chicken and bacon are cooking, make the dressing. First zest the lemon and set the zest aside. Then juice the zested lemon into a measuring cup. You may need more lemons to bring it to 1/3 cup of juice (I used two, but it will depend on the size of the lemons). Add the olive oil into the same measuring cup. Mince the shallot and then add both the shallot and the lemon zest to the measuring cup, along with about 1/2 tsp salt. Mix well with a spoon.
While the chicken and bacon are still cooking or cooling, you can toast the pepitas (or pine nuts/other nuts). Here’s a little video to show you how:
If you opted not to use bacon or pancetta, you will not have any rendered fat to use in toasting the pepitas. Just substitute a teaspoon of neutral high-heat oil such as grapeseed oil (not olive oil). I’ve been known to do this myself when I’ve forgotten to save the bacon fat! Also note to stand off to the side – not directly above – the pepitas as they heat up! When they start to “pop” as I mention in the video, they can spatter, and you don’t want that hot oil to get in your eyes. Also, while I stopped shaking the pan at the end of the video, I did return to give it a stir/shake it several times before they were done. You must keep watching them, as they can burn quickly and easily.
See how much you were able to get a lot done in about 30 minutes! It is possible that the chicken may need to go for a few minutes more, but your “active” prep time was pretty short. Once you are ready to put your salad together, be sure you first remove your chicken and bacon from the fridge. Everything else will fall into place in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the farro!
I am going to first tell you how to cook the farro. But as soon as you put the salted water on for boiling, move on to the remaining ingredients, so no time is wasted. You can then go back and forth: once the water boils you can go back to the farro, and once you’ve lowered the heat, you can continue where you left off with the other ingredients.
For the farro:
- Place 2 quarts of well-salted water in a sauce pan and let it come to a boil over high heat.
- What follows are the steps to slice the kale, shred the chicken and slice the strawberries. If at any point the water starts to boil, add the farro to it and give it a good stir. After the water returns to a boil, lower the heat to just above medium and set your timer for 20 minutes. Now you can go back to your other ingredients.
- After 20 minutes, taste a grain of farro. It should be cooked through, but not mushy, still with a little “bite” to it. When it is done, drain the farro through a strainer.
- Place the still-warm farro in your serving bowl and toss it with about half of the lemon dressing. Be sure to give the dressing a good stir first. Since it will be chunky from the zest and shallots, use a spoon to get some of those bits in there as well.
For the kale:
- While waiting for the water to boil and farro to cook, take a look at this video on how to remove the tough center rib from kale leaves. Pull the ribs out and slice the kale into thin pieces, as described. Don’t stress over this, they don’t need to be uniform and perfect! The idea is just to have small pieces so they are as tender as possible.
- Place the sliced kale in a bowl and add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Using your hands, toss and massage the olive oil into the kale. This massaging will push the oil into the kale, making it nice and tender. This is not a long process, only about 20 seconds. If the farro is not yet done, just put the bowl of kale aside.
- Once the farro has been dressed in your serving bowl, put the kale on top. The farro will still be warm and that warmth will provide some steam to the kale, making it even more tender.
For the chicken and strawberries:
- Shred the chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Hull and slice (or quarter, your preference) the strawberries.
Now you have all your salad components ready to go!
You can assemble the salad in whatever order you wish. I go back and forth on whether I like to distribute the strawberries or the chicken around the perimeter first. I did the strawberries first this time, although doing the chicken first allows for a more visible pop of red color. You choose! I then added the chicken, followed by the bacon, and then the chili-dusted pepitas. At this point I pour on the remainder of the lemon dressing. I like to add the cheese last, hand-crumbling it directly onto the salad, followed by some liberal grindings of black pepper. Ready to toss and serve!
You will notice that the only salt that was used in this recipe was in the lemon dressing and on the pepitas. I never add any additional salt before tossing this salad, as the amount you may need will depend not only on your own taste, but on the saltiness of the bacon and cheese you’ve used. It also can start to pull water from the strawberries, making them mushy, and I prefer to put that off as long as possible. Taste it once it is tossed. I generally find very little, if any, salt needs to be added. If it needs a lot, that’s one thing, but if it needs only a little hit of salt, I sprinkle a touch of large-flake sea salt over the top of each individual serving plate, along with a grinding or two of pepper.
I hope you enjoy this welcome-to-Summer salad as much as I do!
If you want more opportunities to work with strawberries this season, join us for Hands On Grillin' with Dad on Father's Day and learn how to make Wood-Fired Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler on Sunday, June 20 at 11am on our outdoor patio at Lincoln Square. If you are fully vaccinated, masks are no longer required in outdoor grilling classes.
We'll also teach you how to make Strawberry-Vanilla Refrigerator Jam in our new virtual class: Homemade Refrigerator Jams, Jellies and Pickles Workshop on Saturday, July 3 at 2pm CST. You'll make all of this in just two hours so make some room in your fridge:
- Strawberry-Vanilla Refrigerator Jam
- Refrigerator Pickled Dilly Green Beans
- Red and Green Hot Pepper Refrigerator Jelly
We also love using strawberries in seasonal cocktails, so don't miss our new virtual cocktail class: Most Refreshing Summer Cocktails, Ever on Saturday, July 17 at 5pm CST featuring:
- Gosh Garden Daiquiri with Rum, Homemade Rhubarb Juice and Basil Syrup
- Summer Fragola with Tequila and Strawberry Syrup