How to make the best vegan salad

Nutrition, Vegan
vegan salad

I regularly post salad pics on Instagram (@thrivingjane), and people often comment how tasty and interesting they look. So I wanted to write a blog about producing great vegan salads without a lot of effort and planning. This is a vegan salad recipe for people like me who want to eat well, but aren’t good at the planning.

There isn’t, of course, one vegan salad that is the best. It depends on your preferences, what you have available, now hungry you are. The perfect vegan salad will be different depending on how you answer these questions.

Before I start to make a salad, I ask myself a few questions:

  • What have I got available?
  • How hungry am I?
  • Do I want a chopped salad, a regular tossed salad or a salad of separated ingredients?

So, let’s look at each of these in turn.

What have I got available?

I’m not that organised when it comes to eating. For my salad I generally open the fridge door and see what’s there. I do occasionally cook extra rice or potatoes or quinoa for an evening meal so that I have something left over for the next day’s salad, but that’s as organised as I get!

Everything comes out from the fridge on to the workbench. As I cast my eyes round what is available, a combination will sometimes immediately jump out at me, but sometimes it gets built bit by bit. I don’t necessarily use everything I have available.

Cold veggies can be unappetising, but fried with some spices (cumin, coriander, chilli, curry powder) so they have crispy bits, they make a great addition to a salad. Either prepare these first and allow to cool or do them last and pile on top still sizzling for contrast and interest. You can top this topping with some black onion seeds or black sesame seeds to add extra interest and nutrition.

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Left over risotto crumbled up or cold pasta chopped can make interesting additions too.

I also try to keep some jars of salad ingredients available. For example, olives, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes make great additions to a salad and will keep for some time in a fridge.

How hungry am I?

What can I put in salad to fill me up?  If I’m really hungry, I want to make a grain the starting point of my salad. That’s where the rice or quinoa come in. If I don’t have them, it may be a salad with a hunk of bread or some corn chips or some crisps (potato chips).

What sort of salad do I want?

I often make a salad where each ingredient has its own place on the plate. These are brought together by a splash of olive oil and vinegar, some chilli jam or one of the many vegan salad dressings you can buy now. This is definitely the quickest way to make the salad. I go for lots of colour and try to put contrasting colours next to each other. This makes it really pleasing to the eye. Black olives next to the vibrant red of tomatoes, salad leaves next to some grated carrot. If my salad ingredients don’t give me these vibrant contrasting colours, I know I’m missing a vital component of healthy food, eating the rainbow.

A chopped salad takes more work but is great as a change. I usually use a bread knife (my chef skills are not great) and chop everything. I occasionally grate some things such as carrots and courgettes.

Then I just toss everything together and add some dressing. Chopped salads are great for when I want to take it with me. This one was made from ingredients I had in the fridge – some left over quinoa and risotto with tomatoes and red peppers topped with black onion seeds.

chopped vegan salad

The third option is to toss the salad without chopping, I generally don’t like this unless I’m just making a simple green salad. A salad with heavier ingredients doesn’t toss well.

 What can I put in my salad instead of meat?

So, as I’m vegan, I’m not going to put meat or fish or eggs or cheese in my salad, but there are lots of other things.

Sometimes it will be a burger, either homemade or bought, with the salad piled up by its side.

I might have lentils or beans – chickpeas or puy lentils are my favourites. I sometimes dress these with oil and vinegar, a bought salad dressing or a dollop of mayonnaise.

Gram flour pancakes or fried tofu will take the place of that burger sometimes.

I often have nuts in my salad, because I love them. Happily there is mounting evidence we should eat at least one portion of nuts a day.  I don’t usually chop them, even when I’m having a chopped salad! Almonds and cashew nuts work well. Salted peanuts (not strictly nuts) make a great addition too. And I adore walnuts with avocado or whole lentils.

I love seeds – they’re tasty and packed with nutrition. My favourites are sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I toast them, by adding them to a hot dry pan and cooking them quickly till they start popping. Then I might add some tamari or just leave them as they are.

vegan salad recipe

My hero salad ingredients

Some ingredients just lift a salad to a whole new level. For me there are three that I often turn to:

Mint – has to be fresh and chopped – sometimes mixed in with the salad and sometimes added on top.

Capers – particularly good with a chopped salad. You can buy these in jars, and they keep well in the fridge.

Preserved lemons – a personal favourite that I add to all sorts of things – they’re great will chilli! My partner John hates them, you may too, but do give them a try. Again, they come in jars. Take out a piece of lemon, wash to remove most of the salt and chop finely.

What is the best way to make a chopped salad?

There are two simple rules:

  1. Use lots of different ingredients and lots of different colours – not only are you getting a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but it’s also hugely appealing to the eye.
  2. Dont just chop! Yes, that’s right. If you chop everything, it’s quick, but everything tends to clump together. So better chop some (salad leaves, peppers, walnuts etc.), slice some (cumcumber, celery, baby tomatoes, etc.) and grate some (carrot, celeriac, courgette/zucchini, etc) and leave some whole (capers, beans, pumpkin seeds etc.). This increases the textures, so more intersting and more pleasing to look at.

See it’s simple!

I hope this has given you some ideas about how to make the best vegan salad – one you will enjoy and will feed you with the nutrients you need to live a vibrant life.