This is one of the base recipes as seen in our Whole Life Meal Plan. Are you trying to eat more vegetables, but just can’t stand salads? No offense, but you’re probably making them wrong (most people are!). The key to building a flavorful, satisfying salad is all about ratios. That’s why we created this simple green salad base recipe; to teach you the correct ratios of ingredients so that you end up with a delicious and nourishing salad every time!
Must Know Cooking Skills
For recipe success, learn how to:
Culinary Tips for the Best Green Salad Recipe
If you’re trying to eat more salads throughout the week, prep ingredients ahead of time for easy day-of preparation. Diced fresh vegetables, roasted vegetables, cooked protein, drained and rinsed beans, cooked whole grains, toasted nuts and seeds, chopped herbs, and pre-made vinaigrettes can make tossing together a nourishing and filling green salad a snap! Keep reading for more about the best green salad ingredients.
Learn more about plant-based meal prep in this article.
Drying the greens after washing ensures a crisp salad. Consider purchasing a salad spinner to complete this task if you don’t already have one.
There are lots of types of salad greens you can use. For better texture, lightly chop or shred the leafy greens first. No one likes the feeling of choking on spinach stems! In fact, dice or slice all of your ingredients into bite size pieces for easier eating.
Consider blanching stronger flavored hearty greens like curly kale and brussels sprouts to soften the flavor, add a hint of sweetness, and provide a pop of color.
If prepping the day before and using a lighter leafy green (i.e. baby spinach, arugula, romaine), do not add the dressing to the salad or it will get soggy. If using a heartier green, like curly kale, skip the blanching step and allow it to sit overnight in the dressing to soften.
Toast nuts and seeds for the best flavor.
Feel free to create a composed salad (all of the ingredients spaced out separately), or toss it all together.
Simple Green Ingredients Substitutions
- Leafy Greens: use any leafy green, or a combination of several. Arugula, butterhead, baby kale, lacinato kale, red or green leaf lettuce, mizuna, romaine, spinach, and watercress are all great options. While iceberg lettuce technically works, it’s not as nutrient-rich or flavorful as other options. Brussels sprouts, curly kale, and cabbage are heartier and have stronger flavors, so they often do better when blanched and/or allowed time to sit in the dressing before eating. Curly kale also softens when massaged. Consider the final texture and flavor you are trying to achieve.
- Protein: choose animal proteins, plant proteins, or a combination! Hard cooked eggs, canned or cooked fish, diced or shredded chicken, or cooked turkey meatballs or burgers are all great animal protein options. Drained and rinsed beans, hummus, cooked or fresh tofu, tempeh, or shelled edamame are all great plant-based options.
- Vegetables: use fresh, thawed from frozen, canned, pickled, or cooked vegetables. Choose just one or use a combination. Aim for a variety of colors and textures. Bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, onion, red cabbage, sweet potato, tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit…), and zucchini are just some options. Use your imagination and ingredients you have available!
- Fruit: use fresh or dried. Apples, avocado, berries, figs, oranges, peaches, pears, and pomegranate are all especially great on salads. If using dried fruit, limit to 2 Tablespoons. Dried apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, dates, figs, and raisins are all delicious. Chop larger fruits into bite-sized pieces for easier eating.
- Toasted Nuts or Seeds: use sliced, slivered, or chopped almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts. If using seeds, choose pumpkin, sunflower, or hemp seeds. If raw, toast before adding for best flavor. We don’t recommend using flax seeds or chia seeds on a green salad, as they can be hard to eat.
- Dressing/Vinaigrette: use a store bought variety with ingredients that you recognize, or make your own! Keep in mind the flavor profile you are trying to achieve. Apple cider, balsamic, strawberry, and red wine vinaigrettes are some of our favorites.
We love getting our oil and vinegar from Enzo’s Table. Click on the picture below to try out dozens of different oils, vinegars, and more!
Optional Ingredient Substitutions
- Whole Grain: use cooked brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, millet, or quinoa. If using starchy vegetables, like potatoes or corn, feel free to leave out.
- Cheese: we recommend using strongly flavored cheeses because just a little bit goes a long way in elevating your salad. Asiago, blue, feta, goat, gorgonzola, and parmesan are some of our favorites. If making a vegan green salad, feel free to leave out or substitute with nutritional yeast for a similar cheesy flavor.
- Fresh Herbs: basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme are all delicious in salads. When choosing herbs, keep in mind the flavor profile you are trying to achieve. If you don’t have fresh herbs available, feel free to leave out. We don’t recommend using fresh rosemary, as it is hard and best used in cooking. While dried herbs can offer some nutritional benefits, they taste best after cooking, so we don’t recommend using them in a green salad. If you do want to use them, add a sprinkle – not the full 2 Tablespoons – to the dressing.
Simple Green Salad Recipe Variations
Because this is a base recipe, the goal is for you to customize it to your taste! Add or remove ingredients based on what you have on hand and what your body is craving. When it comes to creating flavorful and unique salad recipes, the sky’s the limit!
When selecting ingredients, it can be helpful to think of a cuisine or flavor profile you are trying to achieve. Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Latin are just some cuisines to consider. Use your creativity and imagination!
To make a vegetarian salad recipe, simply use one of the plant-based protein options, such as tofu, tempeh, or beans. If you eat eggs and milk as part of your vegetarian diet, both hard-boiled eggs and cheese also offer protein and other beneficial nutrients.
Equipment Recommendations for this Basic Salad Recipe
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these tools for easy preparation!
- Whisk (if making your own vinaigrette)
- Salad Dressing Shaker Bottle
- Chef’s Knife
- Cutting Board
- Salad Spinner
- Bench Scraper
- Serving Bowl
- Storage Containers (for leftover prepped ingredients)
Is this a Healthy Salad Recipe?
Believe it or not, not all salads are healthy. Marshmallow salad anyone? Even “healthy” looking salad ingredients can have way too much fat, sugar, and salt (as is the case in most fast food salads). The key to building a healthy simple salad recipe is to include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, fiber-rich ingredients, and healthy fats, as seen in this recipe!
Leafy green veggies are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases.
Healthy salad recipes with protein can help you feel satisfied. No matter which protein option you choose, all provide health benefits!
Chicken and turkey are both lean protein sources. They are rich in B vitamins and minerals, such as iron. White meat is considered moderately protective or neutral on cancer risk. (1, 2) We recommend purchasing organic if it is within your budget.
Fish is a quality source of protein that is rich in vitamins and minerals. Fatty fish, like salmon, is high in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for heart and brain health.
Eggs provide high quality protein and can contribute omega-3 fatty acids to the diet if fortified or pasture raised. Eggs are rich in the mineral choline, which is important for cognitive development, metabolism, and liver function. (3) Although eggs contain dietary cholesterol, the effects of this intake may or may not significantly increase your blood cholesterol. (4)
Beans & Legumes
Beans are one of our favorite foods because they are packed with high quality nutrients. All of the world’s longest lived populations consume beans daily. Beans of all varieties contain plant-based protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients promote gut health, decrease risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and promote a healthy weight.
Fruits, Vegetables, & Herbs
Fruits, vegetables, and herbs provide fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. The phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are different from the ones found in animal protein, whole grains, and beans, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods from all of these food groups!
Whole grains, such as brown rice, farro, quinoa, and barley are good sources of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is important for digestion, satiety, stable blood sugar, good cholesterol, and healthy gut bacteria. Phytochemicals work as antioxidants to help fight off diseases and keep us well.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds of all varieties contain plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These nutrients help you feel satisfied between meals and can promote heart and brain health.
A healthy vinaigrette dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and vinegar or citrus adds flavor and nutrition to salads. The fats and oils in vinaigrette help your body absorb certain nutrients in the salad, so avoid fat-free varieties. For optimal nutrition, make the vinaigrette yourself using pantry staple ingredients.
Check out our Food as Medicine article to learn more about health benefits of different foods and ingredients.
Salad Serving Suggestions
If you use all or most of the toppings, this salad is a filling plant-forward meal on its own! You can also split the salad between 2-3 people for a nourishing side to another main course, such as cherry tomato pasta or homemade pizza.
Salad Storage Tips
If preparing in advance, leave the dressing off until ready to serve. Green salad dressing will wilt tender greens, making the stored salad quite unappetizing. However, if using heartier leafy greens, such as kale, cabbage, or brussels sprouts, you are fine to leave the dressing on for 3-4 days.
If you want to prepare the salad ahead of time but don’t want the greens to wilt, consider purchasing a salad container that has a separate dressing container.
Want Some Non-Leafy Salad Recipes?
Try out these favorites!
Simple Green Salad Base Recipe
- 3 cups loosely packed leafy greens (baby spinach, arugula, lacinato kale, etc.)
- 2-3 ounces protein (eggs, fish, chicken, tofu, tempeh) and/or ¼ cup beans
- ½-1 cup vegetables (fresh, cooked, and/or pickled)
- ½ cup fresh fruit (or 2 Tablespoons dried)
- ¼ cup cooked whole grain (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons crumbled or shredded cheese (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons toasted nuts or seeds
- 2 Tablespoons dressing or vinaigrette
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Have fun composing artistically or toss to combine. Enjoy!