Salads are a simple, no-brainer healthy lunch, but it’s because they’re so quick to throw together that it can be easy to fall into the salad trap. There’s nothing quite as lame as eating the same bowl of greens every day.
Not only is having the same salad, well, boring, but it also means you aren’t getting as wide of a range of nutrients as you could be. Here, healthy foodies and recipe creators share some great salad ingredient ideas that they think deserve way more love. Experiment with their suggestions and you’ll have nine completely new lunch ideas.
9 delicious salad ingredient ideas straight from healthy foodies
“Jimaca is so, completely underrated!” Dora’s Table creator and vegan Mexican food blogger Dora Stone says. If you’ve never had jimaca before, it’s a root vegetable native to Mexico that’s also often called a Mexican yam or Mexican turnip. “It’s fresh, crunchy, slightly sweet, but savory,” she says. While it’s extremely versatile, Stone says it pairs especially well with salads that contain citrus, like grapefruit or lime.
Olives may be small, but they’re bursting with flavor and are a salad fave of Jessica In The Kitchen creator, Jessica Hylton-Leckie. Plus, there’s so many to choose from: Spanish, stuffed, kalamata… “They’re juicy, brine-y and last so long in your fridge so you’ll always have some on deck,” Hylton-Leckie says. (You can also buy ’em canned and store them in your pantry.)
3. Crunchy chickpeas
“I love using crunchy chickpeas in salads—they add a ton of fiber, protein, and the flavor bomb-quality of croutons, while still being gluten-free and super easy to make at home,” Healthier Together cookbook author Liz Moody says. She makes hers by seasoning them with cumin, coriander, and chili powder and then roasting them in the oven. (You can use any combination of spices you desire, of course.) Then, they’re ready to have on hand to be worked into any salad you’re making. “Cook them with no oil first, then add your oil and seasonings in the last five to 10 minutes. If you add oil at the beginning, the layer of fat prevents the moisture from evaporating out of the chickpeas, and you’ll never get crispy results.”
4. Homemade croutons
Crunchy chickpeas can definitely work in place of croutons, but sometimes, you just want the real thing. Healthyish creator Sarah Thomas-Drawbaugh loves making her own. “I love making them with halloumi cheese,” she says, referring to the salty goat cheese originally from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. “Small cubes of delicious cheese, breaded and lightly fried to golden brown perfection.” You can also try blogger Rachel Mansfield’s easy garlic croutons—a perfect topper to a Caesar or kale salad.
5. Pigeon peas
Looking for salad ingredient ideas involving legumes? Try the humble pigeon pea. “Pigeon peas are normally used in rice dishes but I like to add them to my salads when I want to change up the ingredients I use,” Rican Vegan founder Desiree Rodriguez says. She says that when they’re cooked, they have the same texture of beans, which work as a substitute when you want to add something with a bit more mild taste to your salad. Plus, they’re a surprisingly good source of protein!
6. Green onions
Green onions are a go-to ingredient in stir-fries and scallion pancakes, but they’re often left out of the salad bowl. My Korean Kitchen creator Sue Pressey says she especially loves them in her Korean spicy green onion salad. “It’s seasoned with a spicy, sweet, and tangy soy sauce dressing, so it’s delicious,” she says, adding that it’s the perfect side for Korean barbecue.
7. Napa cabbage
“Usually associated with kimchi, when sliced thin, fresh napa cabbage is a wonderfully light, crunchy and slightly sweet ingredient to a salad,” says Jinjoo Lee, the founder of Korean cooking blog Kimchimari. It’s ready in minutes and doesn’t require days of fermentation the way kimchi does. After seasoning it (Lee uses Korean chili powder, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, guk ganjang, and sea salt), the cabbage works as the base of your salad—just add whatever other veggies you love on top, or enjoy as is.
8. Freshly ground pepper
Hot tip from Effortless Vegan author Sarah Nevins: salads need seasoning, too. “As far as underrated salad ingredients go, black pepper is definitely up there,” she says. “While it’s found in many recipes, I think people often skip it because they take for granted what it adds to an overall dish. I always make sure to finish off a salad with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper for an extra pop of fire and flavor.” Nevins adds that black pepper goes well with pretty much everything and makes the whole dish taste more interesting. “Just make sure you’re using fresh pepper from a pepper grinder, as pre-ground pepper can taste dusty as it loses its flavor over time,” she says.
Sam Kass—cookbook author and former White House chef to the Obamas—also recommends seasoning salads, and he favors one super powerful anti-inflammatory spice to do so: turmeric. It adds great flavor and color to any dressing—making it a worthy addition to any salad. He also offers up another invaluable salad tip: roast your veggies to vary the texture. It changes the entire dish completely.
Recipe ideas for salad dressings
1. If you like it spicy: Charred jalapeño tahini sauce
“Keep in mind, each jalapeño is different, so use with caution,” Richard Rae, executive executive chef at vegetarian restaurant The Butcher’s Daughter, previously told Well+Good. “I suggest adding one jalapeño and tasting the sauce for potency before adding the second.” You can char jalepeños by using a pair of tongs to heat them directly over the flame on a stovetop burner, or by putting them on a sheet pan and broiling them on high for a minute or two.
1 cup tahini
2 jalapeños (charred)
1 tsp cumin seed (toasted)
1 tsp coriander (toasted)
1 bunch cilantro
2 sprigs mint
1/4 cup lime juice
1. Place all in a blender and purée till smooth.
2. Season with salt and pepper.
2. If you want something sour: Spanish Romesco sauce
“Vinegar or acid of any sort, such as citrus, is a great way to add some bitter or sour notes that play with flavors on your tongue,” Chef Rae says. He especially loves this sauce on veggies (raw or roasted) and proteins. “I tend to make it a little more vinegar-based, just out of preference,” he says.
2 red bell peppers (charred)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup blanched almonds
4 Tbsp of sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp of olive oil
1/2 bunch parsley
1. Add all the ingredients into a mixer and pulse until the consistency is a purée. You still want to see bits of almonds.
3. If you like salt and umami: Vegan fish sauce
“Just by being naturally from the ocean, nori and kombu seaweed add a great salty note, but literally in the most healthy way you can add salt,” Chef Rae says. “Plus, you get the great nutritional value of the seaweed as well.” One of his favorite ways to use this easy sauce recipe is by adding extra garlic, red chili flakes, and green onion and using it as a dipping sauce.
1 1/2 cups shredded seaweed, (nori)
1/2 sheet of kombu seaweed
6 cups filtered water
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 cup of soy sauce
1 Tbsp miso
1. Combine the nori, kombu seaweed, garlic, peppercorns, and water in a large sauce pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
2. Strain the liquid and return it to pot. Add the soy sauce and reduce until slightly thickened.
3. Once it has reached a thicker consistency, add the miso and stir until it has dissolved.
4. If you like things sweet: Fermented garlic honey
Chef Rae says he loves drizzling this simple sauce on veggies to add sweetness. “Be aware that the fresher the garlic and the more pure the honey, the better the ferment and taste,” he says.
1. Add the garlic cloves to a clean sterile jar and add enough honey to the jar to cover the cloves. Let this sit and ferment for a few weeks, periodically releasing the gases from the jar to let the fermentation process to continue.
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