I recently busted out of a months-long salad rut with this delicious arugula and roasted pepper salad. It features spicy arugula, tangy roasted peppers, salty feta, toasty pine nuts, and a simple+easy homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It makes a great side salad that goes with just about any meal!
I’ve got one thing to thank our Covid-related supply chain issues for, and that’s my introduction to arugula as a salad green. I have historically been lukewarm on arugula salads, but I think that’s because I’ve been doing it all wrong! Assembling the perfect arugula salad requires a completely different approach from salads made with romaine or mixed baby greens. This arugula and roasted pepper salad has changed my mind completely.
Roasted Peppers: Summer in a Jar
Flavor balance makes this recipe work, and that started with the inspiration to pair arugula with jarred roasted peppers. They are predominantly tangy and sweet, and also slightly smoky. It’s a big enough flavor to stand up to arugula, which is a stronger-tasting green than, say, romaine. Peppers also add a bit of summery brightness, and I can’t wait to make this salad with bell peppers straight off the grill.
Roasted peppers are a condiment that a lot of foodies know well, but I think they should be in every home cook's repertoire. They are as versatile as they are delicious! I use them on salads, sandwiches, burgers, in hummus...you get the picture. I recently discovered these Red and Yellow Peppers from Cento, which are so good I’ve been going through a jar a week! Safeway’s Signature brand also has grilled bell peppers that I’ve used in this salad. They are more smoky than tangy, and just as yummy.
Whichever brand you use, be sure to drain them well and handle them gently before tossing them in your salad.
How to make a simple homemade vinaigrette
Sharing this arugula and grilled pepper salad recipe also gives me the opportunity to talk about homemade balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve made almost all of my own dressings for a decade now. I don’t remember why I started doing that, but I haven’t gone back to store-bought vinaigrette. I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s so easy!
Here are some tips for a perfect homemade vinaigrette:
- Make only as much as you need, directly in your salad bowl. I used to keep jars of vinaigrette in the refrigerator, but I’d end up with separated dressing and coagulated oil. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it wasn’t a perfect system either. Now I whip up a couple of tablespoons of vinaigrette directly in the bowl before I assemble the salad.
- Add an emulsifier. An emulsifier helps keep your vinaigrette from separating once you’ve whisked it together. Possible emulsifiers include a dab of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, roasted garlic, or a splash of honey or maple syrup. In this recipe, I use Dijon mustard. You need just a touch, which isn't enough to make the finished product taste mustard-y. I love the bit of extra creaminess and tang it gives the dressing, in addition to holding it together.
- Keep a whisk handy just for vinaigrette. I keep a whisk in the bin of oils and vinegars in my pantry, so it’s always available for dressing. I use a Scandinavian-style whisk that looks like this.
- A great balsamic vinegar is a game changer! I am really, really loving De Nigris vinegars right now. Their bold and fruity balsamic vinegar has a great balance, not too sharp and not too sweet. I find De Nigris vinegars at both my Cost Plus Worldmarket and at our local Safeway.
Dress your salad at the last possible moment
Arugula breaks down really quickly once it’s tossed with vinaigrette. I recommend tossing the vegetables in the dressing to marinate, then adding the arugula and feta at the last moment before you eat.
All of the ingredients for this dish can be prepared several hours or up to a day ahead of serving. Assemble and toss together just before your meal.
Arugula and Roasted Pepper Salad with Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 pinch Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 ½ tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped cucumber
- 1 cup julienned carrots
- ¾ cup jarred roasted bell peppers (red or yellow or both) cut into strips
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 handfuls arugula greens
- Add pine nuts to a cold skillet over medium heat. Stir every 20-30 seconds until you start to see some toasty color on the pine nuts, usually about 3 minutes. Once they begin toasting, stir every 10 seconds until they are lightly browned and smell nutty and toasty. Remove from the pan to a plate or bowl immediately and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Add balsamic vinegar, salt, and Dijon to the bowl you plan to toss the salad in. Whisk until the salt dissolves and the Dijon is fully incorporated. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking to form an emulsion, this should take 2-3 minutes. Keep whisking for 20-30 seconds after the emulsion comes together. This will help strengthen the emulsion and keep it from separating.
- Toss the dressing with the cucumbers and carrots so they marinate for a few minutes.
- Just before serving, add the arugula, roasted peppers, and feta, and toss with the vinaigrette, cucumbers, and carrots. Top with a few cranks of black pepper and the toasted pine nuts (I leave the pine nuts on the top so they don’t get lost on the bottom of the bowl).