There’s a time in every cook’s life when they discover ripe, juicy strawberries paired with spicy, freshly ground black pepper. The combination might sound peculiar at first to the uninitiated, but the wow factor holds true. While the dynamic duo is often used in sweet preparations, strawberry and black pepper thrive together in savory dishes too. In this recipe, strawberries are macerated in vinegar, salt, and a touch of honey to pull out their natural juices, creating a fruity base for a punchy sweet vinaigrette.
The real stars of this show are the big cubes of breaded and pan-fried feta, which turn into creamy-meets-crunchy, mouthwatering nuggets of joy in every bite. Try to buy feta stored in its brine (it’s more flavorful than the vacuum-sealed stuff) and give it a good pat dry to ensure the panko breading preserves its crispy-crunchy texture. —Elena Besser
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lb. strawberries, hulled, halved, quartered if large
Tbsp. white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
tsp. honey or sugar
tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more
Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more
cup all-purpose flour
oz. feta, preferably Bulgarian or French, patted dry, cut into 12 cubes (1″–1½”)
cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
heads of Little Gem lettuce or 2 romaine hearts, cores removed, leaves separated, torn if large
Combine 1 lb. strawberries, hulled, halved, quartered if large, 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp. honey or sugar, ½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt, and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper in a large bowl and toss to coat. Using a potato masher or a fork, gently press down on berries to soften them a bit. Set aside.
Beat 2 large eggs in a shallow bowl to blend. Place 1 cup panko in another shallow bowl. Whisk ½ cup all-purpose flour and 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper in a third shallow bowl.
Working in batches, dredge 8 oz. feta, preferably Bulgarian or French, patted dry, cut into 12 cubes (1″–1½”), in flour, shaking off excess, then dip into eggs, letting excess drip back into bowl. Dredge in panko mixture, pressing firmly to adhere. Place breaded feta on a plate or rimmed baking sheet.
Drizzle ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil into reserved berry mixture, whisking until emulsified. Add 4 heads of Little Gem lettuce or 2 romaine hearts, cores removed, leaves separated, torn if large, and ½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt and toss to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Heat remaining ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Carefully add breaded feta to pan and cook, turning cubes every minute or so, until golden on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to paper towels and immediately season with salt and remaining 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper.
Divide salad among plates or shallow bowls and arrange 3 feta croutons on top of each. Drizzle any vinaigrette remaining in bowl over.