Build the Best Vegan Salad

March 28, 2018

Yes, salads are simple, but there’s an art to designing the perfect bite. We’ve got the ultimate guide to turning up the volume on this vegan meal with build-your-own tips and recipes for a satisfying bowl every time.

Vegan Salad Ingredients

Just like pulling together a great outfit, there’s an order to creating a delicious salad. Start with a base of greens or grains, layer on some protein, and accessorize different textures and flavors to add depth. Finish it off with a perfectly paired dressing for a delicious bite every time!

Layer with lettuce

Whether your grab a head of butter or romaine lettuce, or a bag of spinach or mixed greens, you really can’t go wrong. Just be sure the leaves are fresh and washed and dried before you toss. Looking for something filling? Toss in a cooked grain like quinoa or barley, or add grilled tofu on top.

With a base ready to go, consider the dressing. Tender leaves like little gem or arugula won’t be weighed down with a lighter dressing, while sturdy options like kale and romaine can hold up to thicker pours. It’s all about balance!

Go for grains

Adding a scoop of your favorite grain is a great way to boost any salad course. It’s also a vegan pantry staple that’s easy to make. Just cook a big batch on Sunday to add to meals throughout the week!

  • Barley: Pearled barley’s chewy texture and delicate flavor easily absorbs flavorful dressings. You’ll know it’s cooked when the husk opens and the grains have tripled on volume. To cook, just combine 1 cup rinsed barley with 3 cups water in a stock pot. Bring to a boil, then cook between 25 and 40 minutes until tender.
  • Bulgur: Sometimes called cracked wheat, bulgur is a type of whole wheat durum grain. It’s popular in Indian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisines (you’ve probably enjoyed it in tabbouleh, a popular dish stateside, too!) Its fast cooking time makes it a winning addition to soups, salads, and even homemade bread.
  • Farro: Similar to barley, farro is an ancient grain that originated in the Mediterranean. It’s light brown in color with a visible bran on the outside of each grain, which are chewy and a hint nutty.

Craving crunch

An amazing salad is all about texture. To balance creamier fare like smooth tomatoes, tender lettuce, and even the dressing, make every bite more satisfying by adding one or two of these crisp additions.

  • Crackers: In a pinch, you can always crumble up crackers. An herb-infused, gluten-free option will satisfy you need for crunch without the grains.
  • Nuts: These crunchy morsels will not only liven up your lunches, but they offer extra nutrition, too. Case in point: Each quarter cup serving of raw almonds delivers 7 grams of protein. But go nuts! Try cashews, toasted pine nuts, or pecans.
  • Seeds: From pumpkin to sunflower, sprinkling on a handful of these small but mighty seeds is always a good idea.
  • Pita chips: Trusty pita chips can star in anything Mediterranean inspired (like spinach with garbanzo beans, tomatoes, olives, and artichokes), and can help scoop a dollop of hummus if you add it alongside.
  • Veggies: Here’s your chance to add a pop of color to the plate! Try halved cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers, jicama, or cubed celery.

Pack on protein

Salads have a reputation of leaving you less than satiated, but the right boost of protein can change all that.

  • Beans: Drain a can of beans and you’ve got just what you need to make it a meal. Chickpeas are mild in flavor, and cannellini beans are extra creamy.
  • Chia Seeds: Don’t underestimate these tiny seeds. A 2-tablespoon serving offers 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, so keep a jar in arms reach.
  • Hemp Hearts: Scatter 3 tablespoons of hemp hearts in your big bowl and you’ll add 10 grams of protein to your meal.
  • Quinoa: Whether you opt for black, white, or red, having a batch of cooked quinoa on hand will make salad prep a breeze. Plus, there’s 5 grams of protein in a ¼ cup serving.

Make Your Own Vegan Salad Dressing

Next up? Dressing! If you’d like to make your own (it’s super easy!) here are four go-to recipes to keep in your back pocket.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

Here’s a vegan and Paleo-friendly ranch that gets oh so creamy thanks to soaked, raw cashews. A little tang comes from apple cider vinegar, and plenty of herbs brightens up every bite.

Carrot-Ginger Dressing

Bust out the blender for this zippy dressing made with fresh carrots and Asian flavors like sesame oil, rice vinegar, and coconut aminos.

Avocado-Lime Dressing

There’s more to an avocado than guacamole! Mix it up with robust flavors like lime juice, onion powder, cayenne, and cilantro for a Tex-Mex inspired way to dress up lettuce.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Sweeten the pot with a pretty-in-pink vinaigrette. It’s completely pantry friendly—just stock up on raspberry jam, sherry vinegar, Dijon, and coconut oil.

Bottled Dressings

When time’s not on your side and you need to throw together a no-cook vegan meal, it’s smart to have a bottle or two of tried-and-true dressings in the fridge.

Primal Kitchen Ranch Dressing With Avocado Oil

A favorite childhood dressing, vegan style! This bottle is made with avocado oil and apple cider vinegar, and spiced with garlic powder, onion powder, and dried parsley.

Organicville French Dressing

This tomato-based option is full of flavor thanks to celery seed, onion powder, and white vinegar. A touch of agave nectar adds just the right amount of sweetness.

Primal Kitchen Greek Vinaigrette With Avocado Oil

Go Greek with a bold vinaigrette that’s ready to impress. Oregano (both in dried and oil form) is the star, with apple cider vinegar, avocado oil, coriander, and black pepper in supporting roles.

Annie’s Organic Goddess Dressing

Eat like a goddess with this creamy, tahini-based dressing. Just shake it up and pour on big flavors like lemon, chives, and soy sauce.

Vegan Salad Recipes

You’ll be a pro at building a healthy vegan salad in no time, but if you need a little inspiration, check out these recipes. Make ‘em once, then swap in other ingredients to make them your own!

Nutty Sesame Carrot Noodles

This trusty side can double as a main just by layering tofu on top. The carrot ribbons hold up to sesame oil, ginger, and nut butter for the right blend of sweet and savory flavors.

Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad

This salad is almost too beautiful to eat, but when hunger calls, you’ll love every bite of fresh zucchini, tender quinoa, and chewy cranberries.

Green Bean and Hazelnut Salad

Talk about crazy for crunch! Green beans and hazelnuts make the perfect pair. Nix the ricotta to keep it vegan, and pack it for lunch all week. Just add quinoa or barley to make it even heartier.

Tomato Olive Oil Salad

Enjoy this salad as-is, or toss all the ingredients with your favorite greens. Spinach or shredded kale would be a great addition to turn it into a satisfying meal.

Watercress Grapefruit Salad

Watercress is so delicate that it needs a light dressing to match. This one’s made with just four ingredients—fresh ginger, lime juice, salt, and coconut oil.

Brussels Sprout Slaw

Build a better salad with Brussels sprouts. That’s right, we’re in love with this wintery slaw. To keep it vegan, nix the Parm and use maple syrup in the dressing instead of honey.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.


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