20 Make-Ahead Salad Toppers for Quick Lunches and Dinners
For a lot of people, salad is one of those foods that’s hard to get enthused about. That’s because they’re doing it wrong. The best salads don’t merely focus on taste—a truly good salad, one that you can actually get excited about, is all about texture. Think about it: Simply stuffing uniform leaves into your mouth may be healthy, but it’s also dull and likely won’t fill you up. For a truly satisfying salad, you need toppings, like chewy skirt steak, crisp pickled veggies, or crunchy roasted chickpeas. These make-ahead salad toppers won’t just make your salads more interesting and filling, but they’ll also make meal planning a breeze.
Pan-Seared Skirt Steak + Chimichurri
Traditionally used as fajita meat, skirt steak is gaining popularity these days as a stand-alone meat. It’s my preferred cut of beef because it offers great flavor, tenderness, and affordability.
I like to pan-sear this all-in-one cut over really high heat in my cast-iron skillet to create a nice char on the outside of the meat (open a window or turn on the fan in the kitchen). Instead of wasting time on a marinade, I prefer to reverse the process by slicing the meat thin and pouring all of the chimichurri sauce over the meat prior to serving. Trust me, it’s a real showstopper when it comes to entertaining. Even better, this chimichurri sauce is super versatile. It also goes well on pork, chicken, and firm cuts of fish, such as shark and swordfish.
Chicken Salad with Olive Vinaigrette
You can substitute 2 cups cooked chicken or turkey breast for vacuum-packed chicken.
Roasted Kale and Chickpea Snack Mix
This fiber-filled, gluten-free snack mix is great sprinkled over salads to give them a little spicy crunch.
Buffalo Chicken Salad
When you need an instant party, tailgate, or even a basic weekday meal prep winner, this Buffalo Chicken Salad has your back. It couldn’t be easier to mix up, and you’ll love the bright tang that Buffalo sauce, a squeeze of lemon, and crumbles of blue cheese add to creamy chicken salad. We love serving this Buffalo Chicken Salad on slider buns for easy entertaining, but you could just easily serve as lettuce wraps or with sturdy crackers.
Tuna Poke with Mango and Avocado
Find fresh or frozen wakame seaweed at Asian markets. You can also use fresh or frozen premixed seaweed salad. The tuna and avocado make this dish a potassium powerhouse. Serve atop brown rice, if you like.
Quick Refrigerator Pickles
Brining vegetables in the refrigerator means you can enjoy crisp-tender pickles without the special equipment, processes, or lengthy curing times of canning.
Kung Pao Chicken Salad
Creamy chicken salad gets a major punch of personality with this wow-worthy, kung pao makeover. Featuring all of the flavors you know and love about kung pao chicken, the incredible savory-sweet dressing only gets tastier as it sits, so feel free to prep your chicken salad in advance and allow it some time to chill in the refrigerator. Kewpie mayonnaise is a Japanese brand of mayo that’s slightly sweeter than the standard U.S. supermarket standbys (like Hellman’s or Duke’s) and has a distinct savory richness—and it’s definitely worth seeking out. That, and the spicy chile crisp (don’t worry, it’s not as spicy as it looks in the jar), can be found at most Asian markets or ordered online.
Firecracker Grilled Salmon
From the Kitchen of Amy Clarke, Fairfax, VA, the-savvy-kitchen.com
"Perfect for family or company, this recipe is rich in flavor but light enough to keep your waistline in check."
Red Onion Pickles with Peppercorns
These may be the most versatile pickles you can make. "They're a natural for sandwiches, and of course burgers, but they're also great with smoked fish," says chef Renee Erickson, owner of several Seattle restaurants and of Boat Street Pickle company. You can use this brine for asparagus, fennel, shallots, garlic, celery, ramps, or chard stems.
Crispy Roasted Chickpeas
Cooked dried chickpeas have a firmer texture and better flavor than canned, so it's worth the time to make a lot. Choose plump-looking dried beans--they'll cook faster than more shriveled ones. Use these chickpeas in soups, salads, and pastas--anyplace you'd use canned chickpeas.
This recipe goes with: Sumac Hummus, Saffron Tomato Chickpeas.
The Best Chicken Salad Recipe Ever
This 20-minute chicken salad recipe is creamy, flavorful, and packed full of healthy veggies and protein-rich meat. To make our easy chicken salad recipe, we lightened up the typical mayonnaise base by adding in 1/2 cup of low-fat, plain Greek yogurt, but you can use one full cup of mayonnaise if you'd like. Use store-bought Rotisserie chicken to save even more time on busy evenings. Serve with crunchy, buttery crackers or on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato.
For the late-night munchies, try Edamame Crunch. This snack packs in 8g of protein in a half-cup serving. Try this staff favorite sautéed or roasted, too.
Because we love a classic niçoise salad, we decided to transform it into a rich and vibrant “salsa” of sorts, so that we could top anything we wanted to give it a niçoise twist. Featuring all of the traditional elements (minus the fish)—boiled potatoes, chopped haricots verts, olives, and hard-cooked eggs—tossed in a flavorful lemon and herb dressing, this summery topper would be perfect spooned over grilled fish, scooped onto tostadas with shrimp or lobster, served with tortilla chips for snacking, or simply spooned over your favorite greens (adding canned tuna, if you like) for an instant salad niçoise. For a fun twist on taco night, layer slices of seared ahi tuna steaks and the salsa into warm corn tortillas to create “tuna niçoise tacos,” as pictured in the photo above.
Grilled Chile-Lime Flank Steak
Cilantro stems shouldn’t be cast aside; they pack more flavor than cilantro leaves in many ways and are ideal in marinades. You could also stir them into chicken soup or puree for chimichurri. Skirt steak comes from the bottom rib plate of the cow, right next to the flank steak. Both cuts are great for grilling over high heat since they aren’t thick or tough; you want to achieve a good char in the short time it takes the meat to cook. Serve the steak on its own tonight, and then slice leftovers for tacos or fajitas tomorrow.
Creamy Tarragon Chicken Salad
A combo of yogurt and mayo gives a traditional chicken salad more zip. We like the richness of white and dark meat, but you can use all one type. Serve with Steamed Sugar Snap Peas.
Spicy Pickled Green and Yellow Beans
In the summer months, many home cooks love to pack their pantry shelves (and gift their friends and neighbors) with jars of pickled seasonal vegetables and fruit, knowing that in the coming winter months, they can open a jar and enjoy the tastes and smells of summer produce. While not as long-lasting, refrigerator pickles are a quick and easy way to preserve the season, as well. Plus, you don’t have to go to the time and trouble of processing the pickles in a water bath. This recipe starts with a Master Pickle Brine, a quick, 4-ingredient brine that can be used for anything you may want to pickle. Trim the ends from your green and yellow beans and divide them between your pickling jars. Add the tarragon sprigs and jalapeño chile. To make the brine, combine the rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and salt with 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan, then add the Tablespoon of fennel seeds. Stir the mixture until it boils, and keep it boiling until the sugar dissolves. Move the saucepan off the heat and let the brine cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully pour it into the pickling jars. Cover with a lid, seal tightly, and chill at least 2 days. This will give the brine and flavors enough time to work into the beans and create a delicious pickle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Curried Chicken Salad
If you think chicken salad can’t be improved, you need to give our Curried Chicken Salad a try. Every bite is filled with something delicious, sweet, and crunchy. There’s a lot of textural interest going on, and all kinds of flavor: Tanginess from the yogurt, sweetness from the apricot jam, complexity from the curry powder, and a zing from the ginger. Plus, it’s super simple (All you have to do is stir and sit!) and it makes the perfect lunch, whether it’s stuffed into a wrap, laid atop a bed of greens, or spread into a sandwich. Feel free to add any stir-ins you like, such as raisins, nuts, or fresh fruit. Feel free to roast your own chicken (2 breasts will also do the trick) instead of buying a rotisserie at the store.