Vegetables for lunch or dinner are not for everyone. In fact, some people dread them because of their apparent blandness. Well, they don’t always have to taste plain! They can be exciting and full of flavors as well. And no, we’re not talking about your usual butter lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. The key to a health-packed and flavorful salad is variation and combination. If you’re running out of ideas or just starting to find healthy foods to eat, then these healthy salad toppings will get you out of your salad rut!
50 Salad Toppings to Try
Salads are versatile and are usually a summer favorite because of how light they are. That said, their versatility provides more room to explore different toppings depending on the occasion.
What’s more, being able to add your favorite toppings allows for a well-balanced meal that you don’t feel bad about eating. Here are some ideas on what to put in your salad:
Let’s begin with crunchy, leafy greens. Leafy greens are almost present in any salad recipe you can find. The following are some of the more popular yet healthy choices of this famous topping:
The first thing that pops into mind when you think about salad is lettuce. After all, it is one of the basic salad toppings or ingredients that you can use. Now, there are different kinds of lettuce but the more popular choices are iceberg and romaine. Crisphead, loose-leaf, and butter lettuce are also welcome additions.
Besides lettuce, one of the basic fixings of a salad is spinach. They are loved for their mild, slightly sweet taste that is refreshing in any dish they are added to. Remember though that the sort you are looking for is the milder, younger leaves that can be eaten raw. The older leaves are more reserved for dishes that need cooking.
One of the healthiest and most nutrient-dense leafy greens, kale is often labeled as a superfood. Like lettuce, it comes in different types with varying colors, shapes, and textures. Flavor-wise, they add a stronger, more prominent earthy taste than spinach. All in all, kale offers a more filling serving. If you’re making a light salad, you can opt for young kale which is thinner and has a milder taste.
Arugula is known for its distinctive heat and peppery taste that adds a spicy kick to your salads. Its bitter but tart and bright flavor also stands out fully in dressings. This trait makes it one of the perfect ingredients to add if you don’t want to drown in the dressing’s flavor.
Young, baby arugula is mild and delicate, while the mature sort is spicier. Still, both varieties can be added to salad depending on your preferences!
Besides the standard green color of lettuce, there are a bunch of colorful and tasty vegetables that put the wow into your salad. They add a pop of color, texture, and flavor which all plays a vital role in creating a scrumptious (but healthy) salad that is neither boring nor bland.
Check out the vegetable salad toppings you can try below!
Mild-tasting, light, and refreshing
, are all of the qualities that many look for in their salad toppings. Now, cucumbers also come in different varieties and types. English cucumber is one of the most common types that is often used in salads. Besides its sweet and delicate taste, this topping is also sought after for its crunchy bite.
Sweet potatoes in your salad? Why not? Roasted sweet potatoes are your best friend if you want your salad to have a heartier serving than your usual light salad. We recommend trying roasted sweet potatoes instead of the boiled version. Roasting it gives it a crispy, caramelized exterior that brings out its savory taste.
On top of sweet potatoes, potatoes are another hearty salad topping you can use. Compared to the former which is sweet, this topping leans more on the creamy and savory side. Its flavor is also more versatile, which is why it pairs well with almost any topping on this list.
The perfect steak meal would probably include a side of either mashed potatoes or asparagus cooked in butter and herbs. However, asparagus is also the perfect ingredient for salad. As a topping, asparagus adds texture and flavor comparable to broccoli.
This peppery vegetable is a pretty addition to your plate of salad. Depending on the type, some variants have pink, purple, or red skin. Aside from its visually appealing appearance, many go for radish because of its crunchy bite that adds texture to your otherwise boring salad.
Step up your salad recipes with corn salsa! You get the best of both worlds with its colorful appearance and flavorful combination of onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime, and chili powder. For a fresh summer taste, use the sweet corn variant. It’s sweeter than some types and gives your salad a refreshing sweet taste.
Beets are gifted with a rich flavor profile. Depending on the type of beet and how you prepare it, it can taste earthy and sweet with a hint of floral flavor notes. Roasting it will bring out its savory taste and eating it raw adds crunch and texture to any dish. You can also try to pickle it and add it to your salad. Whichever way you prepare it, this topping will brighten your salad bowl.
Many know this ingredient as a pizza topping or as an additional morsel for a charcuterie board. However, you would find that olives are also one of the best salad toppings.
In fact, almost all types are welcome, with kalamata being one of the perfect contenders. It’s black, salty, and tangy, while some types are sweet. All in all, they instantly stand out when added to salads.
Whole grains are another important component of a salad. They are good sources of fiber and nutrients like Vitamin B and iron. They are also very filling which makes them huge energy boosters! Below are whole grain salad toppings you can try.
In salad bowls, only cooked (cooled down, but not cold) brown rice is allowed. Since they can be seasoned however you like, they have unquestionable versatility. In a salad, they make a heartier serving that is loaded with nutrients. You can also alternate with different kinds of rice such as white or basmati rice.
Quinoa is a healthier alternative to rice. As a matter of fact, a cup of quinoa provides about twice the protein and five grams more fiber than white rice. It is also rich in vitamin B and minerals. That said, if you want to eat less but feel full, adding quinoa to your diet is the answer! No idea how? You can start with this Southwestern quinoa salad.
Protein and fiber-packed, farro can be a nice addition to your salad once it is dressed with your favorite condiments. Overall, farro has a nutty taste with a subtle cinnamon flavor. Its texture is soft and chewy — a nice contrast to other crunchy salad toppings.
Barley is often associated with bread, cereal, and barley-based drinks such as beer, whisky, and malted milk. But they are also used as whole grains in salads, providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Like farro, barley also provides a chewy bite and a nutty flavor that goes well with salad recipes.
Skipping meat doesn’t always mean it’s beneficial to your health and diet. On the contrary, you are not eating a well-balanced meal. With that in mind, here are healthy meat choices you can add to your salad that won’t risk your diet, such as below.
For some, salad is merely a side dish. Added protein such as chicken will make it more filling. A simple boiled or poached chicken will do. But besides boiling your meat, roasting it will provide a crispy texture. It also allows caramelization which gives it more flavor.
Turkey is a fancy substitute for chicken and is a good source of protein. However, it requires more effort to cook than chicken because the fatty skin prevents spices from penetrating the meat. To have a flavorful turkey, you have to brine it. With that, this topping is best when you have leftovers or already cooked turkey slices from the deli.
Deli ham is one of the most consumed deli meat in the United States. It is mostly added to sandwiches and salads where it adds a savory flavor and a hint of sweetness. The sweet and savory flavor is accompanied by a satisfying texture that many look out for.
Many would frown when you add bacon to your salad because they are deemed unhealthy. However, for keto-dieters, a bacon-topped salad is a good addition to their list of keto lunch ideas because it’s high in fat.
Still, if you’re not too keen on following the high-fat, low-carb diet, you can always try vegan-friendly bacon instead. You’ll still be able to get your salty fix — just without the guilt.
Salmons are full of healthy fats. The good thing about using it is that it’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids! What’s more, salmon fillets are also very easy to prepare.
Season and arrange on a tray and bake in just 12 to 15 minutes. Then, you can add it as a delicious, seafood salad topping. Salmon too expensive? You can try using steelhead trout instead.
Nuts and Seeds
In addition to vegetables, meats, and whole grains, nuts and seeds are also well-loved salad toppings. They add texture, crunchiness, and a burst of flavors. Browse the short list below for crunchy salad options.
Croutons are not the only crunchy ingredients that you can add to your salads. Throw in some pumpkin seeds too! Generally, they taste sweet like squash but they can taste whatever flavor you season them with.
When you add them to your salad, roast them in the pan first. This amplifies their nutty and crunchy texture.
Many consider sesame seeds as a garnish for many stir-fry recipes. But sesame seeds are also a great flavor booster for salads. They add a nutty flavor and a satisfying crunch when eaten whole.
If you’re considering what nuts to add, cashews should be at the top of the list. Like lettuce, deli ham, and tomatoes, cashews are a popular salad topping. They have a strong nutty taste but have a creamy and rich texture that compares to peanuts. Overall, cashews contribute flavor as well as texture to a salad bowl.
Trailing just behind cashews are almonds. They are often marked for their strong nutty taste with a subtle sweetness that works well with desserts. In salad recipes, almonds add a woody and earthy flavor you wouldn’t want to miss!
Green, slightly sweet, and salty. Pistachios are considered nuts but they’re actually seeds of the pistachio tree. They are great as a snack, but they are also great sprinkled over lettuce and arugula salads. But aside from using it as a solid topping, you can also convert it to a creamy pistachio dressing!
Walnuts are not as famous as a salad topping, especially right next to cashews, almonds, and pistachios. Nevertheless, they make a great substitute for almonds. The nut is mild and tangy but the skin can be slightly bitter.
If you can’t stomach the strong bitter taste, then you can just remove its skin! Put the walnuts at the center of a towel, cover with the ends of the towel, and massage. They are then ready to be chopped and sprinkled on your tasty salad!
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are affordable substitutes for expensive proteins such as turkey and salmon. Browse the list below for some of the popular beans you can add to your salad.
Protein-packed, black beans are the perfect addition to your salad. They have a soft texture, and despite their seemingly tough black appearance, they have a creamy and mild taste. If you want a topping that will not easily dominate your salad’s flavor, try black beans!
While black beans have a soft texture and mild, creamy taste, kidney beans have a meaty and dense texture. It also has a slightly sweet flavor that can balance the tart flavor of some dressings. If you wish to mask the strong sour taste of dressings, you can add this instead of black beans.
Garbanzo beans or chickpeas have a mild taste which enables them to absorb any flavor from other ingredients. But overall, they have a mild earthy and nutty taste with a slightly grainy but creamy texture that’s just perfect for salads!
If you are familiar with Japanese cuisine then you’re probably familiar with edamame. Edamame is a sort of green soybean that’s more commonly eaten as a side dish or as a snack. With its buttery taste and sweet and nutty flavor, edamame relies on a little salt to enhance its flavors. Salad dressings are just fine too!
Cheeses are one of the important components of a salad. They add a creaminess that can balance out the overwhelming green or earthy flavor of some ingredients and toppings. Check out what best cheeses you can use below:
Feta is a cheese made from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk that has been aged for two to six months. Milky, tangy, and mildly acidic, it’s often used as a table cheese in salads, pastries, and pizzas. Additionally, its crumbly texture suits most salad recipes like this strawberry spinach salad or an authentic Greek salad garnished with herbs and a splash of olive oil.
Cottage cheese resembles another well-loved cheese: ricotta! Its versatility in the kitchen allows it to explore savory dishes as well as dessert recipes. That said, it’s also one of the favorite salad toppings on this list because of the mild and creamy flavor that easily fits any salad you add it on.
Now, who could ever forget good old Parmesan? It’s more known as an ingredient for carbonara or the crowd-favorite chicken Parmesan but it can also be used as a salad topping. Parmesan has a complex flavor profile under its belt: rich, tangy, nutty, sharp, bold, but fruity. It also has a gritty mouthfeel that adds texture to a bland salad!
Cheddar is a widely popular cheese around the world because it melts nicely. It also has a flavor that caters to most dishes. Now, for salads, cheddar is loved because it’s a sort of semi-hard cheese that adds texture and umami flavor.
Fruits add a burst of freshness and sweet and tart flavor to savory and overly sour salads. Besides their flavor, fruits also contrast nicely with leafy vegetables and crunchy nuts. Here are some of the fresh and dried fruits you can add:
Avocado makes any dish bright and special. This goes the same for salads. It pairs well with juicy tomatoes and light and flavorful dressing with cilantro garnish. If you want to pair it with a protein-packed ingredient, salmon will do. If you don’t have any idea how to, you can start with this salmon avocado salad recipe to help guide you!
Fruits with bursting sweet and tangy flavors such as tomatoes are a nice addition to nearly any salad. They make it interesting by adding a pop of color and flavor. Now, the fresh sort is good, but dried tomatoes offer something else entirely! They have an intense sweet-tart flavor that’s stronger than the former. Add it to summer salads to enhance their flavor!
Next to avocado and tomatoes, butternut squash might look ordinary. However, butternut squash has alluring qualities that you might like. They are sweet, moist, and nutty. You can also say that they resemble sweet potatoes in flavor as well as texture. So if you like sweet potatoes, you might like this one as an alternative.
Many detest and can’t stand raisins. But they are actually one of the creative ways to add variety, texture, and flavor to your salad without drowning it in dressings. Depending on the type, raisins can be soft, sweet, tangy, and sometimes juicy.
Fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and even dried cranberries add a sweet flavor to earthy salads. Because they are bursting with juices, they pair nicely with toasted nuts. They are also a good texture contrast to leafy greens and crunchy salad toppings.
Don’t forget fresh herbs! They are well-known as a garnish for pasta and pizza, but fresh herbs in salads make them extra refreshing and delicious! Here are just some that you can add to your salad recipes:
One of the best herbs you can use is basil. They are sweet and savory with subtle notes of mint. Overall, it goes well with tomato (as seen in the well-loved pizza) but it also works with chicken and avocado, like in this basil and chicken salad.
Adding mint to salad might be a new idea for some. But substituting between some herbs is actually quite easy. It brings the tangy flavors to a halt and offers freshness when the ingredients get too overwhelming. But be careful when using mint. Don’t go overboard or your salad will get too minty.
Does your salad have a strong earthy taste? In many recipes, parsley flavors any dish the way a lemon does: it brightens any dish. So if your salad has a strong earthy taste, one way to brighten it up is by using parsley.
Chives have a flavor that is very similar to leeks. They taste oniony and slightly sweet. They’re related to onions, after all. That said, chives are good flavor enhancers if you want to add an oniony taste to your salad without the strong bite of the real sort.
We won’t dare forget a section dedicated to salad dressings! Try these tasty dressings on your salad to prevent it from being too dry:
A balsamic vinaigrette dressing is one of the staple salad dressings. It envelops your salad with a bold, sweet, but tangy flavor.
Just as the name implies, this is a mixture of honey and mustard. It also has virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar. A typical honey mustard salad dressing tastes warm with a well-rounded sweetness from the honey.
Nutty, savory, and a little sweet with a smooth and creamy texture, sesame ginger dressing is exactly what you need if you want a salad with pronounced nuttiness. This dressing also has ginger’s surprising spice and kick.
Other Salad Toppings
It’s nearly last on our list of salad toppings, but croutons are one of the popular toppings that could easily stand beside lettuce, tomato, and cheese. These are a go-to if you want to add texture and flavor. Though you can add it to most salads, croutons are a known ingredient for chicken caesar salad.
Eggs are a cheap source of protein. You can use hard-boiled eggs, soft-boiled, and poached eggs. Whichever sort you add, eggs instantly make a salad hearty.
Looking for an out-of-the-box salad topping? Add your favorite ramen noodles! Chow mein noodles work too. Since noodles are a starchy food, adding this will make your salad belly-filling. If you want it light, keep it fresh and classic; although there’s nothing wrong with being adventurous every now and then!
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