This is one of the base recipes as seen in our Whole Life Meal Plan. Are you trying to eat more vegetables, but you just don’t think side salads are satisfying? The key to building flavorful, satisfying side salads is all about ratios. We created this simple side salad base recipe to teach you the correct ratios of ingredients so that you end up with delicious and nourishing salads every time!
Must Know Cooking Skills
For recipe success, learn how to:
Culinary Tips for the Best Simple Side 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 and fruits, roasted vegetables, drained and rinsed beans, toasted nuts and seeds, chopped herbs, and pre-made vinaigrettes can make tossing together a flavorful side salad a snap! Keep reading for more about the best green salad ingredients.
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.
Toast nuts and seeds for the best flavor.
If preparing the side salad for more than one person, multiply the ingredients by your desired yield, toss all the ingredients together, then portion onto separate plates for easier serving.
If you have picky eaters, allow individuals to add toppings to their taste.
- 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.
- Vegetables: use fresh, thawed from frozen, canned, pickled, sauteed, or roasted 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, 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 1 Tablespoon. 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 favorite simple salad dressings.
Optional Ingredient Substitutions
- 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. 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 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 small sprinkle to the dressing.
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!
Want to turn this side salad into a full meal? Check out our simple green salad base recipe!
Equipment Recommendations for this Easy 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
- 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 side salad recipe is to include lots of colorful fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, as seen in this recipe!
Colorful Fruits, Vegetables, & Herbs
Fruits, leafy green veggies, herbs, and other vegetables are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases. It’s important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as each color provides different benefits!
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.
Side Salad Serving Suggestions
Make a full meal by serving this simple side salad with roasted sweet potatoes and simple turkey meatballs, with a filling salmon burger, or alongside Moroccan baked fish and roasted potatoes and carrots.
Salad Storage Tips
If preparing in advance, leave the dressing off until ready to serve. 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 Side Salad Base Recipe
- 2 cups loosely packed leafy greens
- ¼ cup vegetables (fresh, cooked, and/or pickled)
- 2 Tablespoons diced fresh fruit (or 1 Tablespoon dried)
- 1 Tablespoon toasted nuts or seeds
- 1 Tablespoon crumbled or shredded cheese (optional)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (optional)
- 1-2 Tablespoons dressing or vinaigrette
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Place all ingredients in a medium bowl or on your dinner plate. Have fun composing artistically or toss to combine. Enjoy!