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8 Healthy Salad Ingredients That Perk Up Your Meal

Experiment with one of these chef- and nutritionist-approved ingredients to make your basic salad more interesting.


Parsley instead of lettuce

“Too many Americans think of parsley as no more than a garnish. Italians know better. They put it in and on just about everything, and not just a delicate little sprinkle here and there. Parsley is a rich source of many vitamins including B12, K and A. Just a half a cup provides more than half of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. This salad is a tasty demonstration of the ability of parsley to command the center of the plate, or at least to stand side by side with a simpatico partner; in this case, celery. Toss it with some lemon juice, olive oil, walnuts and a tiny bit of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you will see just what a star it can be.”
—Sara Moulton, host of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” on PBS

Parsley and Celery Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Walnuts
(Adapted from “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners,” Simon and Schuster, 2010)


½ cup walnuts
6 medium celery stalks
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread out the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and let the walnuts cool to room temperature. Coarsely chop the walnuts (about 1/3 cup). Meanwhile, very thinly slice the celery crosswise (about 3 cups) and shave the cheese (about 1/3 cup). In a large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the salt until the salt has dissolved; gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. Add the celery, parsley, cheese, and toasted walnuts to the dressing and toss until combined. Makes about 4 servings.


Tabasco sauce in your vinaigrette

“Tabasco is perfect in vinaigrettes because it adds complexity, heat and acid—all things that make vinaigrettes sing.”
—Vivian Howard, chef at Chef and The Farmer and star of the PBS show “A Chef’s Life”

Cucumber Salad with Tabasco Honey Vinaigrette

1 English Cucumber

2 nice pinches kosher salt

2 scallions

2 Tbsp. mint

2 tsp. Tabasco Original Red Sauce

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. honey

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutrally flavored oil)


Split the cucumber length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Slice it into 1/8-inch thick half moons. Transfer the cucumber slices to a bowl and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. Slice the scallions on a very thin bias and add these slices along with the mint leaves that have been roughly torn into small pieces. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the Tabasco, lemon juice, rice vinegar, honey and grapeseed oil. Add a pinch of salt to the vinaigrette and pour it over the cucumber. Toss everything to combine, and serve it immediately. Serves 4.


Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) on top

“Pepitas add a chewy crunch and a delicious, subtly sweet, nutty flavor.  They are rich in magnesium, protein, iron, and zinc, and contain a broad range of phenolic antioxidants, making them helpful in the fight against diabetes and cancer. Pepitas are one of the best plant sources of omega-3 fats.”

—Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, registered dietitians, personal trainers, and authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure

Grapefruit, Avocado and Kale Salad with Pepitas


1 head of Lacinato kale, tough stems removed from the leaves
1 grapefruit peeled, segmented and chopped into small pieces
1/2 avocado, cubed small
1 tablespoon pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

For dressing:

1 minced shallot
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
Pinch fresh cracked black pepper


Remove the stems from the kale leaves. Cut the leaves into bite sized pieces. In a small bowl whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the kale, toss to coat the leaves and let sit 10 minutes or until the kale begins to wilt. Add grapefruit, avocado and pumpkin seeds. Toss and serve.


Chickpeas as croutons

“[Smoky Chickpea Croutons recipe] has become one of our favorite salads toppings. Chickpeas alone are great on salad, but this version brings them to the next level. It combines the health benefits of the chickpea, the crunch of the crouton without the bread, and the smokiness of bacon without the bad fat! This topping keeps salad gluten free and adds a punch of delicious, smoky, crunchy flavor. It’s three favorite salad toppings rolled into one!”
—Fancy Girl Table, a full-service artisan catering and event design company that focus on local, organic, sustainable menus

Smoky Chickpea Croutons


2  15-ounce cans cooked chickpeas 

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoon smoked paprika


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Drain the chickpeas well. Place the chickpeas on double paper towels and with another paper towel blot them dry. Remove any loose skin that may have separated. When totally dry, and to a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, until very crisp, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool. Add to your favorite salad and store leftovers in an airtight container.


Romaine, grilled for flavor

“Romaine is such a typical salad ingredient, but when you grill it, it adds a great depth of flavor to your dish.  It gets charred and a bit tender, and is a great addition to salads.  I like to serve mine with some grilled asparagus and romesco, and top it with a farm egg.”
—Chef Jamie Bisonnette, James Beard nominated chef behind Boston restaurants Coppa and Toro, winner of Food Network’s show “Chopped”

Grilled Romaine Salad with Asparagus, Romesco and Farm Egg


1 head romaine lettuce

6 jumbo asparagus

2 farm eggs

3 tablespoons Romesco (recipe below)

1/4 cup baby pea greens

2 tablespoons almonds, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon red onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil as needed


Cut the romaine in half lengthwise, and season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Grill the romaine until lightly charred, but still raw in the interior. Season the asparagus with salt, pepper, and olive oil and grill until tender.  Fry egg sunny side up in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cut the core from the romaine, and slice the asparagus.  Arrange on a plate with the onions and almonds.  Drizzle with the romesco on the vegetables and on the plate.  Top with fried egg. Serves 2-4

For Romesco:


1 Spanish onion, julienne
4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

4 dried Cascabel chili, seeds intact

5 roma tomatoes, chopped seeds in

3/4 cup almonds, toasted

1 1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar 

Salt and pepper to taste


Cook onions in 1 cup olive oil until translucent.  Add garlic and cook until tender.  Add peppers, and cover with a lid, cooking until completely tender.  Add tomatoes and stew for 45 minute on low heat with a lid.  Add almonds, cook 10 minutes.  Puree in blender, adding more olive oil and seasoning with Esplette and cabernet vinegar to taste. Serves 6-8.


Sweet potatoes instead of greens

“Shake up your daily salad routine by substituting traditional greens for sweet potatoes. They are naturally low glycemic and packed with fiber to keep you full, longer.  One medium sweet potato has almost four times the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), which is important for healthy skin, immune function, and good eye health and vision.  Sweet potatoes are also a good source of antioxidants, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.”
—Mandi Knowles, RD, corporate dietitian at Nutrisystem

Get the recipe: Ginger Apple and Sweet Potato Salad


Tuna as a topping

“Canned tuna is a fabulous and nutritious way to jazz up an ordinary salad. The tuna elevates the flavor of your favorite greens and veggies and means a hearty and easy homemade lunch or dinner is just minutes away.”
—Kelsey Nixon, host of “Kelsey’s Essentials” on Cooking Channel and Food Network 

Get the recipe: Artichoke & Bean Salad with Tuna


Fennel, roasted for sweetness

“I love adding cooked vegetables in my salads, served either warm or cold. At the Meatball Shop we often use roasted fennel as a way to add richness and sweetness to a salad without adding sweeteners or fat.”
—Daniel Holzman, co-owner and chef of The Meatball Shop, fast-casual restaurant with five New York City locations

Originally Published in Reader's Digest