Vegan Panzanella Salad


Summer is the best time of year in Chicago! We have a multitude of parks that host free movies and live music all summer long. One of my favorite summer activities is packing a picnic and sitting on the lawn of Grant Park. The backdrop of the city skyline combined with fresh air, the sounds of a full orchestra, friends and family, and delicious food makes for a perfect evening! Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads to bring on a picnic. I love French bread, fresh herbs, and really good olive oil. All of the fresh ingredients along with the red wine vinaigrette make this salad really tasty. You can use 1 day old, crusty French bread or toast fresh bread in the oven to make sure it doesn’t get too soggy once it’s in the salad. The bread should have a chewy (not soggy) consistency once it absorbs the dressing. I used vegan mozzarella by Follow Your Heart that I found at Whole Foods but you could also use extra firm tofu as a substitute. The capers add salty flavor and the bright, multi-colored heirloom tomatoes are just bursting with sweet flavor. There are several variations of this salad. You could add red and yellow peppers for tangy crispness. There’s also a version that adds arugula for a spicy kick. I think this dish is really satisfying and often have it as a light meal. It goes really well with most white wines or even rose. This recipe is so simple and super easy to assemble. If you make it, let me know how it turns out! Tag your picture with @thefriendlyepicurean on Instagram and Facebook or Pin It on Pinterest!


Fresh, simple ingredients!

Vegan Panzanella Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 (6oz) French demi baguette, cut into 1.5 inch pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 1 lb grape heirloom tomoatoes, halved
  • 4 Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 (10oz) package vegan mozzarella cheese, cut into 1 inch pieces (such as Follow Your Heart brand)
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs capers
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  • For the dressing:
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 300F. Cut bread into 1.5 inch cubes and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 300F for about 13-15 minutes. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool. Next, make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl toss bread with dressing and combine well. Let bread absorb dressing for about 5 minutes. Next, add tomatoes, cucumbers, vegan mozzarella, onion, capers, basil, and oregano and combine well. Salad is best if consumed within 24 hours.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per 1/6 of Vegan Panzanella: 307 cal



Watercress and Arugula Salad (with video)



Spring is a great time to try new things. This week, I signed up for Core Power Yoga. I’m terrible at yoga and much prefer pilates but one of my good friends talked me into trying it again… wish me luck! I also decided to try some new ingredients this week. I eat a lot of salad and get bored with it easily. Browsing through the produce aisle at the grocery store gave me the inspiration to put this salad together. I saw some really fresh looking watercress and dill. Both of these sounded delicious. I like my salad to have a variety of textures and colors. I also like to have more “toppings” compared to greens. By toppings I mean fresh vegetables, herbs, legumes, nuts, and maybe even some fresh fruit. It’s so easy to buy great, vegan salad dressing at the grocery store but there’s something really satisfying about making your own at home. Salad dressing is so easy to make and the leftover dressing can be easily stored to be used throughout the week. The dressing for this salad is surprisingly simple yet tasty. Using high quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vingar will makes this dressing even better. The video below shows how to put this meal together easily. I like to wash and prep all of my vegetables the day I bring them home. Otherwise, I lose motivation to prepare them during the week. Making a salad every day is so easy when everything is ready to go when you’re ready to eat. I’m a huge fan of how the French serve meals at cafes – greens are included with everything. I try to eat greens at least once a day, every day, whether they’re in a smoothie, salad, or sauteed with vegan protein. I hope you love this salad as much as I do! Be sure to tag @thefriendlyepicurean if you make it and don’t forget to watch the 1 minute how-to video below!

Watercress and Arugula Salad

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


    For the salad:
  • 2 cups (about 5oz) watercress (thick stems removed)
  • 6 cups (1, 5oz package)  baby arugula
  • 1, 16oz package mini heirloom tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 4 to 6 small radishes, sliced
  • 1 medium sized cucumber, sliced
  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegan ricotta cheese (such as Kite Hill brand)
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/4 fresh dill weed (thick stems removed)
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the dressing:
In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and black pepper.
Prepare the salad:
In a large bowl, toss arugula and watercress with about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup dressing depending on preference. Top with tomatoes, radishes, cucumber, edamame, avocado, vegan ricotta cheese, pistachios, and dill weed. Serve immediately. May store extra dressing in an airtight container for 5 to 7 days. Makes 1 cup dressing. Makes about 8 cups salad.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per cup: 222 cal
  • Approximate calories per 1/6 salad: 295 cal


Spicy Zucchini, Squash, (vegan) Ricotta, and Mint Salad – with Wine Pairing by Chef Fabio Viviani

I’m a Chicagaon and live in a neighborhood where new restaurants open almost every week. My neighborhood, River North, has every type of restaurant and bar you can think of including a very popular neighborhood restaurant called Siena Tavern. Siena Tavern is well known for it’s amazing food and bustling bar scene. It’s also well known for its very own celebrity chef Fabio Viviani. I’ve been a fan of Fabio since his days on Top Chef and really enjoy his Chicago restaurants. I reached out to Fabio recently and he was kind enough to send me a plant based recipe and wine pairing. For this recipe, Fabio recommends his No. 4 Signature White Blend. This white blend is refreshing with fruity overtones but not overly acidic. His wines can be found at and also at Whole Foods in Chicago. This dish is really great for the end of summer and the wine complements it perfectly. It can be served as an appetizer or side dish. It’s herby, bright, colorful, and has a spicy kick to it. So thanks to Fabio for sharing his recipe and wine!

Fabio says “This salad is super refreshing and perfect for a cool summer night. Because the zucchini squares are cooked, they keep the temperature of the dish a little warm”.


Chef Fabio Viviani


Spicy Zucchini, Squash, (vegan) Ricotta, and Mint Salad by Chef Fabio Viviani

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Paired with Fabio Viviani Wine: No.4 Signature White Blend
By: Chef Fabio Viviani


  • 4 medium yellow zucchini squash
  • 4 medium green zucchini
  • 3 Belgian endives
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for dressing the salad
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, washed, dried, stems removed
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, washed, dried, stems removed
  • 1 pound arugula, well washed and dried
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups vegan ricotta cheese (such as Kite Hill)


  1. Wash and cut each zucchini lengthwise in half, remove the seeds with a spoon, cut the halves into quarters, then cut each quarter into strips about ½ inch wide. Coarsely chop the endives.
  2. In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the zucchini and the endive and stir quickly. Season with salt and pepper. When the zucchinis are cooked but still firm, 3 to 4 minutes, transfer the mixture to a large plate to cool.
  4. Roughly chop the mint and basil, place in the large bowl, and add the zucchini, arugula and jalapeno. Toss well and season with lemon juice and olive oil. Dollop the (vegan) ricotta over the top of the salad and serve.

Nutrition Information:

  • Approximate calories per serving: 202 cal (if using 2 tbs olive oil and 8 oz. package of Kite Hill Ricotta Cheese).

Credit: From Fabio’s American Home Kitchen by Fabio Viviani; published by Hachette Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group. Copyright ©2014 FV Legacy, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. Page 10-11.

Recipe adapted to be plant based with permission.