I used to really struggle to make salads at home. I was baffled by this since I love salads at restaurants and almost always order one as an entrée for lunch and oftentimes for dinner. But when I tried to make them, I didn’t know what to put on them, they were sad looking and, worse, often left me starving. So, when I say that I didn’t always know how to make a good salad, I mean it. But, it’s a skill that can be learned and I finally did.
The way I started to learn how to prepare better salads at home was paying attention to what I was drawn to on restaurant menus when looking at the salad selection. I noted what ingredients made me think, ooooh yes. And then I simply started buying those ingredients to keep at home.
I kept experimenting with combos, trying to recreate my favorite restaurant salads at home, and I noticed a theme emerged with my best combos. I needed something carby, something chewy, something crunchy, and something creamy. And a little sweetness always helped. The greens and protein didn’t really have much to do with it. They’re necessary, but it was more about everything else that made me really love any given salad.
There’s something something so refreshing and filling about eating a hearty salad, especially during the summer. These five healthy summer salad recipes are some of my favorites and make an easy lunch, quick dinner or colorful side dish. If you make any of these recipes, be sure to tag me on Instagram so I can see how it turned out and share to my feed!
5 Simple Summer Salads
Kale will always be one of my favorite bases for a salad. I love how hearty is is paired with the texture. I find that it goes really well with fruit and cheese too, which we all know is the best part of a salad! This kale salad with strawberries, dates, and pepitas has my favorite combo of salty, sweet, crunchy and chewy. And since the kale is so hearty, this salad has some staying power. My recipe calls for three cups of kale with has 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. The cheese in this salad, pecorino romano, is one of my favorite hard cheeses. It’s the perfect amount of saltiness. Adding crumbles of goat cheese on top of this salad is a delicious option if you don’t love Pecorino Romano as much as I do. I typically add grilled chicken on top of my salad since I usually have it on hand, but you could easily top this with plain chickpeas, shrimp, chicken salad, salmon cakes or serve it without any added protein.
Make sure to take the stalks off of your kale and massage it with a little olive oil– it’s SO much better this way!
If kale makes you nervous, this is a great option to start with! Spring is a perfect time to try this salad because kale and strawberries are in season and available at most farmers’ markets!
I wasn’t always on board with Cobb salads, much preferring sweeter combos over savory. (Give me apples, dried cherries and sweet potatoes on my salad all day!) But, Tommy always orders a Cobb salad when we hit a salad place… and I end up eating about half of it. A Cobb salad is a classic. I love how easy it is to throw together, and I find that I stay full for a LONG time because of the protein. There’s no “exact” way to make a Cobb salad but a traditional Cobb salad includes crisp salad greens, tomato, crispy bacon, hard boiled eggs, chicken, avocado, chives and blue cheese. You can take whatever liberties you want with yours, however! I sure did.
This salad has SO much flavor and Tommy loves it. If you prep hard-boiled eggs and cook the chicken in advance (or buy pre-cooked chicken at Trader Joe’s), it comes together very quickly for a fast lunch or weeknight dinner.
A rainbow chickpea salad SCREAMS summer to me. It’s perfect as a main salad with a protein added, or bring it to a party or gathering as a great side salad (much better than a basic potato salad, no hate!) . I joined a Pinterest Board of Recipes Worth Trying with my friends where we all regularly contribute tried and true recipes that we recommend and love. That is exactly how I came across the idea for a chopped chickpea salad. I tweaked the recipe I found on several ends and I like my version better. It’s delicious, healthy, and gluten-free! It reminds me of a greek salad because of the feta, but it’s a more summery take. Ohhh and red onion would make a nice kick.
It’s also probably the easiest salad to prepare EVER. All you do is prepare the ingredients and add them to a bowl. The best part? It gets better overnight. Let it sit for a few hours at least to let the flavors absorb and settle like you would for a pasta salad.
Another kale salad I’m obsessed with is this easy kale salad with oranges, pistachios and cherries. It’s just as good in the summer as it is in the winter, and it makes amazing leftovers. It has just enough sweetness from the oranges and cherries and a soft crunch from the pistachios. Plus, it doubles well to feed a crowd. The best way to serve this is a chopped salad so your guests don’t have to cut it on their plate.
Like I mentioned above, I love a hearty kale salad because it has great texture and staying power. I also LOVE that it doesn’t get soggy in the fridge (which is why it makes great leftovers). Kale can seem intimidating, but it’s truly not. You can buy it pre-chopped at the store to make things even simpler. The last dinner I took this salad to included two teenagers who both went back for seconds. That’s a winner in my book! Plus, it has just a few ingredients so it’s quick the pull together and can be made in advance.
This Mexican inspired salad is one of the oldest recipes on my blog – I first shared it back in 2012 and it’s still one of my go-to’s! It’s a great option for a potluck side dish (much more filling than bringing a fruit salad) or for a dinner at home. It’s super easy to pull together since it uses pantry staples and the fresh produce required is easy to find. You can also swap the veggies for anything you like more. I love this in the summer especially since sweet corn is in season and completes this salad. If you want to take it up a notch, grilled corn would be great too.
It gets even better after a few days which is a good thing since this recipe makes a LARGE batch. It’s one of those great dishes that you can keep in your fridge at all times. While it’s vegetarian and very filling as is (lots of fiber!!), it also pairs well with chicken or shrimp if you want to up the protein.
This is similar to cowboy or corn salads.
Make your own salad dressing
One of my favorite things about making salad dressing from home versus buying it from the store is that I can tailor it to whatever my salad has in it that day! And, of course, I love knowing exactly what’s in my salad dressing. Go take a look at the label on your store-bought salad dressings. Do you recognize all the ingredients?
- All you need for a simple vinaigrette salad dressing is:
- Oil, e.g. olive oil, avocado oil
- Acid, e.g. apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar
- Emulsifier, e.g. dijon mustard, tahini
- Seasonings, e.g. salt, pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, garlic, shallots, honey, maple syrup
Just start with an oil and an acid (my favorites are olive oil and lemon juice), then add in some seasonings you love, along with something to emulsify it. You can add in dijon mustard or tahini, really whatever flavors you already love and make it your own.
My all time favorite is this simple salad dressing recipe.
I hope these recipes help you spice up your salad game. There are SO many different ways to make salads, and you can find tons of recipes for salads that don’t even feel like salads online. Some of the best side dishes I’ve had are broccoli salads, tomato salad, chicken salad, you name it. The goal is to create something healthy that you love! I have a FREE e-book full of 30+ salad recipes you can download here.
Let me know if there are any salad recipes your family loves that I should try! Leave a note in the comments!