Muffuletta Salad

When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes take us to a food market in Reading, Pennsylvania (I think?) — stalls of butchers, produce vendors, prepared foods — and my two favorite stands were the bulk foods (sesame sticks!) and the Italian deli where we’d buy perfectly-spicy and just-greasy-enough, sliced pepperoni and brightly-colored giardiniera salad.

Traditional giardiniera salad is made from pickled cauliflower, carrots, and celery, and it’s got an astringent, but not unpleasant, vinegar sting. The giardiniera from the Italian deli wasn’t like that. This giardiniera was tinged with olive oil, making the vegetables simultaneously slinky and crisp. In fact, both the pepperoni and giardiniera salad — packed in heavy-gauge plastic bags and wrapped with twist ties— made the tips of my fingers shiny as I reached into the bags on the way home to grab nibbles when I thought no one was looking.

The last time I bought pickles at the grocery store, I saw a jar of Mezzetta Giardiniera Salad on the top shelf, and as my hand reached out to grab it and add it to my cart, I thought, Why am I not making this myself?!

Back at home, I researched recipes and realized that the long-ago giardiniera salad wasn’t really giardiniera after all. It was more like a cousin to the relish used in muffuletta sandwiches.

So here’s my take on a Muffuletta Salad: crisp-tender cauliflower, carrots, and celery tossed in a simple, flavorful vinaigrette that’s spiked with the briny bite of olives and finished off with the hot-sweet balance of both pickled banana peppers and roasted red bells.

A few things to consider:


I used a roasted red bell pepper from a jar because I was out of fresh red peppers (from perfecting my ajvar recipe… coming soon!), but you can replace the jarred pepper with fresh if you like. Not sure how to roast a red bell pepper? Here’s a video that shows you how, and another one that shows you how to peel it.


I cut my vegetables pretty small — maybe 1/2-inch dice — to make a sort of chunky relish, but you could also keep the pieces large to make it more like pickles on an antipasto platter.


There are plenty of tasty ways to enjoy this salad. You can pile it next to a piece of grilled meat… toss it into a bowl with other salad fixings… roll it in slices of Applegate Farms Italian cold cuts… or mix it into a can of oil-packed tuna for a luscious, quicker-than-quick, one-bowl dinner. Or, you know, put it in a plastic bag and eat it with your fingers in the backseat of the car… just for old times’ sake.

Muffuletta Salad

Serves 4-6| Prep 15 minutes | Cook 20 minutes | Whole30 compliant

  • 1/2 head cauliflower, coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)

  • 2 medium carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 1 anchovy fillet, minced (or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste)

  • 1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped

  • 1/3 cup pitted black olives, chopped

  • 1 roasted red bell pepper (from a jar or freshly roasted), chopped

  • 1/4 cup jarred, sliced banana peppers, drained and chopped


Steam the cauliflower, carrot, and celery until just tender, about 12-14 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, use a whisk or fork to mix the vinegar, anchovy, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper until combined, then drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.


When the veggies are just the way you want them, drain excess water and add the hot vegetables to the dressing in the bowl. Toss with two wooden spoons until coated evenly. Add the olives and peppers, tossing again with  the wooden spoons until combined. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Place in a covered container in the fridge until cool, then adjust seasonings again. Serve chilled.

Note: This tastes even better with age. It’s delicious when you make it and mind-blowingly yummy the second and third days. Believe it. Should the leftovers last long enough for you to grow weary of eating it as a salad, heat it in a non-stick skillet, then drizzle it with a little more extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle it with a handful of chopped parsley, and serve it as a hot side dish.

Buon appetito!

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  • meaghan says:

    Have you been able to find banana peppers that don’t have some sort of weird coloring or preservative added to them? Everything I’ve seen has at least 3 things I can’t pronounce plus yellow #5. This recipe looks delish though!

    • Mel says:

      To tell you the truth… I forgot to check the label. BAD MEL!

      If you can’t find clean pickled at the store, you can substitute fresh. Either steam them with the cauliflower/carrots/celery, or use them raw.

  • This looks amazing! I’ve got banana peppers growing in the garden. Will fresh peppers work, or do I need the tanginess from the pickled ones?

    • Mel says:

      I think fresh would work great! Either steam them with the cauliflower/carrots/celery, or use them raw. You might need to add a little extra vinegar if you want extra zing, but you should be good to go!

  • Barbi says:

    OMG…..I am going to the store right NOW!!!!!

  • Heidi says:

    Saw this post while at the grocery store, decided to get the few missing ingredients and make this aft. WOW WOW YUM!

    Can not wait for dinner – pairing with some chicken legs.

    And this quantity will last me the rest of the week – perfect, thanks muchly

  • MBeougher says:

    Do you think this would work without the cauliflower? Or a substitute? It sounds yummy, but my husband has an allergy to cauliflower and all its relatives (broccoli, cabbage, kale, to varying degrees, but cauliflower and broccoli are the worst)

    • Mel says:

      Bummer! That must be hard and annoying for you guys!

      I think without the cauliflower it will work better in larger pieces — more like traditional giardiniera — than as a relish. Here’s what you might try…

      – skip the cauliflower
      – double the carrots and celery
      – cut the carrots and celery in 1-inch chunks; instead of chopping the olives, just cut them in half or even leave them whole; don’t chop the banana pepper rings
      – steam the carrots and celery until tender, then follow the rest of the instructions

  • Graciela Garcia says:

    I love Melissa’s ideas. I just bought her Well fed book and I am loving it. I am running to the market to get cauliflower.

  • Monique says:

    I finally got around to making this yesterday and it was so good I couldn’t wait to let it cool down completely before diving in to a huge bowl with some leftover cold steak on the side. I can’t wait to see how good it is after it has marinated overnight!

    *waiting impatiently for Well Fed 2* 😉

    • Mel says:

      WOOT! Glad you like it! I just had some for breakfast. Or, more accurately, shoved some in my mouth like an animal while I was stir-frying collard greens and leftover turkey meatballs 🙂

      • Monique says:

        Ha ha! I ate the whole yield in less than two days — including for breakfast and lunch! Going to be picking up more cauliflower so I can make it again tomorrow. 😀

  • Brenda says:

    Thank you for this recipe! I made this tonight (well, an approximation of it – I used hotter peppers, sun dried tomatoes, and added broccoli and onions to the mix) and the whole family gobbled it up! Even my olive-hating husband cleaned his plate. I served it over lettuce with sliced chicken and salami and it was PERFECT, but I’m sure a vegan version with chickpeas would be just as satisfying. I’m making this again and again!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Hmmmm, I wonder if you mean the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia? Either way, this sounds delicious!

  • Unimaginative says:

    This is fanTAStic. I was mixing it with my hands and licking off my fingers, like an uncivilized person.

    I found Bick’s banana peppers with no dyes listed, the only questionable ingredients are calcium chloride and polysorbate 90. But that’s in Canada, and I’m pretty sure Red & Yellow #2 are illegal here.

    Mmm, mmm, mmm. I was SO missing muffaletta, and now I don’t have to. This salad is EVEN BETTER, because you don’t have to chew through tough bread.

    • Mel says:

      Right on! I’m glad you like it. I finished a batch a few days ago, and I’m thinking about making another one this weekend. Can’t get enough right now.

  • Kelly says:

    Hi Mel. Do you think cabbage would work in this salad? I have an overload of cabbage from my CSA and am looking for more ways to prepare it. Thanks. Can’t wait to get Well Fed II.

    • Mel says:

      Sure! You might try thinly slicing it, then lightly steam it — you might have to steam the carrots/celery separately from the cabbage because the cabbage won’t take quite as long to get tender.

  • Gaby says:

    I just had this salad (been sitting in my fridge for almost 48 hrs) with diced nitrate-free ham… delicious! Can’t wait to have it again.

  • Cathy Hudson says:

    Wow! Beautiful salad both in looks and taste, refreshing!

  • Diane says:

    Was linked to this recipe from Sustainable Dish. Realize I’m late to the dance, but Reading,PA (where I live) has a notable and renowned farmers market, Fairgrounds Farmers Market. Reading Terminal in Philly is awesome too, but with the close proximity of farms, Amish and Mennonite communities selling at our markets, organic, free-range and grass fed are the norms. I’m consider myself lucky to be less than 5 minutes from this market.

  • Jessica says:

    Melissa, you often mention reheating food in a skillet. Just wondering if you intentionally limit microwave use?

    • I use the microwave to ‘bake’ sweet potatoes and reheat my zucchini soup, but I generally don’t like what it does to the texture of food, so when I reheat foods that aren’t surrounded by liquid — like in soups — I usually use a skillet and some water to steam reheat.

  • Tanya says:

    LOVE this salad!!! But this morning, I discovered another way to love it…mix a can of tuna into it! SO yummy, almost has a nicoise feel to it then. Thanks for an awesome recipe!!

  • Judi hannaford says:

    I’m invited to my nieces wedding shower the fare will consist of wine and cheese and bread and cake ! Needless to say I will not be partaking in any of that . I’m going to make this instead and share it with everybody after I get my own helping that is

  • Anna says:

    Really, really, really good. My family is skeptical of the whole Paleo thing but loved this recipe. I made it for my SIL when she was in her 1st trimester and craving sour/tangy flavors. Everyone enjoyed it, and I plan to make again and top with tuna for lunch, what a great idea!

  • Sheree says:

    I just realized…I never commented on this recipe! But I make it frequently and TOTALLY love it! It’s absolutely delicious!! 🙂 I will be honest, though – I don’t use the anchovies. I’m not really a fan of them. I tried it once and felt that it really didn’t make a difference for me. So I just keep making it and 86 those suckers! AWESOME recipe…again! But that’s what I expect from you 🙂 Thank you!