Side Dishes

Copycat Olive Garden Salad

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

The Olive Garden holds a special place in my heart. Many years ago during high school that was the preferred dinner spot for my friends and I. We would get all dressed up, as a joke to ourselves that this was our “fancy” dinner spot, wait the hour at the crowded restaurant to be seated and then stuff our faces with salad, breadsticks and pasta. Of course, it was always someone’s birthday so we could get the free chocolate cake and we would rotate through the group as to whose turn it was to be “celebrated.”

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

These days I don’t eat there that often, but whenever I do all the nostalgia of those days comes rushing back. Their unlimited salad isn’t just about nostalgia, though, it’s actually just really good. So back in 2009 when Food Network Magazine published their copycat version of the Olive Garden salad I made it right away.

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

The salad is simple: romaine lettuce mix with shredded carrots, croutons, Parmesan cheese, olives and pepperoncinis (both of which I leave out). What makes the salad special is the light, tangy and subtly creamy Italian dressing.

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

I was surprised when I checked out the ingredient list for their copycat version of the salad dressing. Most of it seemed like fairly normal items you would expect: olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt. But then I saw the secret – Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip? Yes, I know, but it totally makes this dressing taste just like you’re sitting at Olive Garden. I had never used Miracle Whip before, but I discovered it is a sauce similar to mayonnaise except it has added sugar, paprika, garlic powder and other spices. It also has this zippy tanginess to it, which helps the dressing achieve both the tangy and creamy qualities while still looking like your regular Italian dressing.

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Since then I’ve made this salad countless times and I’m finally sharing it with you all!

Copycat Olive Garden Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Copycat Olive Garden Salad
 
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
for the dressing
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Miracle Whip
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
for the salad
  • 1 10-ounce bag American salad blend (romaine blend with shredded carrots and cabbage)
  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, quartered
  • 4 pepperoncinis, optional
  • 2 tablespoons sliced black olives, optional
  • ½ cup croutons
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Directions
for the dressing
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. If too thick add 1 additional tablespoon olive oil.
for the salad
  1. Add the salad blend to a large salad bowl then top with the remaining ingredients. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to combine before serving.

 Recipe slightly adapted from June/July 2009 issue of Food Network Magazine.

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Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

I never thought a warm avocado sounded appetizing, much less crave-worthy. Then a few years ago I got fish tacos at Border Cafe, which came served alongside a grilled avocado stuffed with mango salsa, and I was a complete convert. As in, every time we’ve gone to Border Cafe since, which is often, I get the same dish just so I can have the grilled avocado with mango salsa. Okay, okay, the fish tacos are really awesome as well, but the grilled avocado is the real draw.

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

After years of having it at the restaurant I realized I needed to try making it at home. I mean, it’s literally just half an avocado that has been grilled and topped with citrus-packed mango salsa. I say “just” as though it isn’t the most magical combination you never knew you needed in your life until that first bite – which it is! My version doesn’t taste exactly like the original, especially since we all know I’m not a fan of spicy foods, but the essence of it is the same.

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

I wanted a bit of crunch in the salsa since mango and avocado are both creamy so I added jicama. Even though jicama looks kind of like a potato, it’s crispy, juicy and a little sweet like an apple. It added the perfect textural element to the salsa. I also added classic Mexican flavors like lime juice, lime zest, cilantro and jalapeño.

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

The punchy and sweet salsa spooned up with a big bite of the warm, grilled avocado is all you need in a summer meal. I’m not sure exactly what is so good about a grilled avocado, but the top gets a little charred while the inside stays creamy as always. Make sure you are using fully ripe avocados for this dish; no hard avocados allowed!

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

These Grilled Avocados Stuffed with Mango Salsa could be served with all sorts of dishes, particularly any type of grilled fish, tacos or grilled steak, pork or chicken. I know I basically just named all the proteins, but avocado and mango go with so many of them! I served them with something a little unique, which I will be sharing with you all next week. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa  |  Lemon & Mocha

Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Mango Salsa
 
Yield: 4 stuffed avocado halves
Ingredients
  • 1 finely diced ripe mango, about 1¼ cup
  • ⅓ cup peeled and diced jicama
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped (use parsley if you don’t like cilantro)
  • ½ jalapeño, seeds removed and finely chopped (leave seeds if you like spicy food)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Zest from ½ lime
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 avocados, halved and pits removed
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
Directions
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the mango, jicama, red onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, lime zest and salt. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.
  2. Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Lightly brush the flesh of the avocado halves with olive oil then grill, flesh side down, for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately fill with the mango salsa and serve.

 

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

Do you ever eat something and immediately start craving it again after the meal is over? This happens to me often, but with a salad? Very unlike me, I know, but I got completely hooked on the fresh lightness of this Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette.

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

Diane made a version last summer for her mom’s, my Nina’s, birthday. We had a big cookout at Nina’s house and for some reason I kept getting drawn to additional servings of Diane’s salad. Maybe it was the zesty dressing, maybe it was the salty feta cheese or maybe it was just that it felt heartier than a normal, plain salad because of the quinoa. Either way, about a week later I set out to try and recreate my version of it. It’s actually a fairly basic salad, but everything together makes for a satisfying summer side dish.

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

I like using a mix of spinach leaves and spring mix greens. You can usually buy this already combined in one package at the grocery store; my store calls it the 50/50 mix. Then we add on some quinoa, which adds protein and great texture. Tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions are next, along with some creamy avocado and crumbled feta cheese. Now, onto the simple roasted garlic and lemon vinaigrette. I say simple because it’s just olive oil, roasted garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and honey blended together.

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

Although the recipe only calls for one clove of garlic, you have a couple options. You can follow the instructions below to just roast a single clove, which will do the trick for this recipe and take less time. But, if you have more time then you can follow the additional directions for a whole bulb of roasted garlic – perfect for slathering on warm, crusty bread or tossing into a pasta dish.

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

Vinaigrettes are especially easy to adjust to your personal preferences so feel free to play around with the lemon and garlic amounts until you find your perfect version. Enjoy!

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette  |  Lemon & Mocha

Quinoa Spinach and Greens Salad with a Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette
 
Yield: 4-6 servings
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup uncooked quinoa (or 2 cups cooked)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
  • 1½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 clove garlic, roasted (see note)
  • 6 cups spinach and spring mix (either 6 cups total of the 50/50 blend or 3 cups of each)
  • ½ pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 scallions, sliced
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • ⅓ cup feta crumbles, plus more if desired
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Combine ⅔ cup uncooked quinoa with 1⅓ cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool; the quinoa should be cooked and the water should be absorbed.
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon and honey. Mash and chop up the roasted garlic clove and whisk into the dressing. Alternatively, you could blend everything together in a blender. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a mixing bowl, toss together the spinach and spring mix, cooked quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber and scallions. When ready to serve, add the avocado, feta, dressing and toss to combine. Add more feta on top if desired.
Notes
To roast 1 clove of garlic: Place unpeeled clove of garlic on a small square of aluminum foil. Lightly drizzle with olive oil then wrap up in the foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Let cool then peel/pop out of the clove of garlic.
To roast a bulb of garlic: Cut the top off the head of garlic so that almost all the cloves are exposed. Place the head of garlic in a little square of aluminum foil and curve up the sides. Lightly drizzle the garlic with olive oil then season with salt and pepper. Seal up the foil to make a little packet. Roast for 35 minutes then let cool. Once it's cool enough to handle, squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves.

 

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

I’ve been sharing a lot of appetizer and dessert recipes lately, but I have a whole bundle of dinner recipes that I cannot wait to post here on Lemon & Mocha. Matt and I have definitely been living the good life with our meals the last couple of weeks! I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen and I’m sharing the very best ones with you all this month.

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

One of these dishes is this Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad. I can’t get enough of fresh fruit all summer long, but one that I look forward to the most are juicy, sweet peaches. Last year summer had passed by and I had only managed to share one peach recipe on the blog – these Raspberry Peach Turnovers with a Fresh Raspberry Glaze. So I immediately started brainstorming peach recipe ideas for this summer.

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

I have a few peach dessert recipes already here on Lemon & Mocha so my mind went the savory route and I got this idea in my head of a Greek quinoa salad with peaches in it. Of course since I thought of it after peak peach season was over I had to wait until this summer to test out of my creation.

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

The verdict? SO good. The ingredients are simple; quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta and a quick homemade Greek vinaigrette plus the sweet peach twist. This Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad doesn’t have to be a dinner dish as you could certainly serve it for lunch or as a side at a barbecue, but Matt and I had it along an incredible pork dish that I’ll be sharing on Wednesday and it was pure perfection!

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

What summer fruit do you look forward to the most?

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Summer Peach Greek Quinoa Salad
 
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa (or 3 cups cooked)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved (about 12-13)
  • ¼ red onion, minced
  • ½ English cucumber, small diced (about ⅔ cup)
  • 1 fresh peach, pitted and diced
  • ½ cup feta crumbles
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Combine 1 cup uncooked quinoa with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool; the quinoa should be cooked and the water should be absorbed.
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dried oregano and garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a mixing bowl, toss together the cooked quinoa, tomatoes, onion and cucumber. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Gently stir in the diced peach and feta crumbles. Add more feta if desired.

 

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Happy Friday! We’re only two weeks away from 4th of July, which is like the king of barbecue holidays, so I figured it was only fitting to share a backyard barbecue side dish. My pasta obsession I wrote about the other week also extends to pasta salad and it is an essentially part of a barbecue in my opinion. I have quite a few other pasta salad recipes posted on Lemon & Mocha and I will link to those at the bottom of the post.

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

I don’t know if I’ve discussed it here on the blog before, but I also love mayonnaise. Those of you who know me are probably nodding and rolling your eyes at that understatement since I actually more than love mayonnaise, but I won’t get into that right now. The important thing to know is that Matt doesn’t like mayonnaise so I’m always looking for ways to make dishes that are traditionally made with all mayo taste less mayo-y.

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

One of my favorite substitutions is to use nonfat plain Greek yogurt. It’s still creamy and rich without the mayo flavor. For this Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad, I have a 50/50 combination of mayonnaise and plain Greek yogurt. It keeps the pasta salad from tasting too heavy, which means you will want to go in for seconds! This pasta salad variation with crisp broccoli, sweet grapes, toasted pecans and salty bacon is actually a very popular one, but if you’ve never had it before I could definitely see how it could seem like an odd pairing. However, it all just works!

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

There’s a great balance of creamy, salty, sweetness and acidity, also due to the red wine vinegar and agave in the recipe. Most recipes call for sugar, but I used agave instead, mostly because I like the taste and how the liquid form blends well with the other ingredients in the pasta salad.

Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

If you like broccoli salads I would recommend reducing the amount of farfalle pasta and increasing the amount of broccoli florets. That is how I’m going to make it next time; there’s something about those tender-crisp broccoli florets covered in bacon crumbles and pecans that I can’t get enough of! Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

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Broccoli, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad
 
Yield: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 pound fresh broccoli florets
  • 8 ounces farfalle pasta
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup agave (or sugar), see note
  • ⅓ cup diced red onion
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toast the pecans by baking for 5 minutes, shaking the pan once while baking. Set aside to cool.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large mixing bowl with cold water and ice. Blanche the broccoli florets by boiling them for 30 seconds, removing the florets with a slotted spoon to the ice bath, then drain until completely dry. After removing the broccoli florets from the boiling water, add the farfalle pasta and cook until al dente. Drain until completely dry.
  3. In a large mixing bowl or serving dish, combine the blanched and dry broccoli florets, the cooked and dry farfalle pasta, mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, sugar, red onion, red wine vinegar and salt. Let chill for at least 3 hours. When ready to serve, toss with the toasted pecans, grapes and crumbled bacon.
Notes
Start with ¼ cup then increase up to ⅓ cup depending on taste preference.