Simple Side Salad

Nearly any main dish can be paired with a simple salad. A plate of leafy greens dotted with a few other vegetables and a house dressing. The perfecter starter and the ideal way to get those veggies into your day.

side salad on a white plate with text overlay


For a long time I held off on creating this post, because well, is there really just “one” side salad recipe? No! In fact, any salad recipe can really be scaled down to a starter salad. But it seems people do look for a small leafy green salad or ways to make them a little more interesting. So here we are, talking about all things salad!

Easy Side Salad

These go-with-everything salads are designed to be somewhat basic, so here I’m providing with the bones and then I challenge you to take it to the next level. So many fun variations from cheese, to dressing and even the type of lettuce you pick. There really isn’t a true best side salad recipe.

I try to incorporate these elements into my side salads: texture, color, zing, sweetness. Texture generally means something crunchy. Color is either all one color for a mono salad or all sorts of colors for a rainbow. Zing is something acidic or spicy to balance it all our. Sweetness comes from the veggies themselves, candied nuts or fruit.

two undressed side salads with a red striped linen and veggies

Ingredients for Side Salad

I am a firm believer of using what you have on-hand, so modify this how you choose.

  • Spring mix lettuces – This is a blend of baby lettuce, spinach, romaine and radicchio.
  • Cherry tomatoes– Grab one with a lot of colors. They are sweet, but don’t have a ton of pulp so you don’t have to worry about them mushing up other items.
  • Bell Pepper– We had green, but feel free to use red, orange or yellow.
  • Cucumber– English cucumbers have the thinnest skin, so they are easy to shew and don’t require peeling.
  • Red onion- I use red onion purely for aesthetics, use whatever variety you enjoy.
  • Shredded Carrots- Or chop them up.
  • Croutons– These crunchies aren’t croutons at all. They were leftover cheese crackers from a charcuterie board.
  • Candied Pecans– Both sweet and crunch!
  • Garlic balsamic vinaigrette– One of the most basic of salad dressings.
  • Flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper– This includes Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper. You might want to allow your guests/diners to season their own salad.

How to Make a Side Salad

Prepare this easy green salad for your main course in just minutes and then customize it with our suggestions below.

  1. Evenly divide the lettuce onto 4 small plates. Top with the tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, red onion and croutons.
  2. Drizzle dressing over each salad, tossing well to evenly coat.
  3. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and/or ground pepper or allow your guests to do so. Serve immediately to prevent browning.
close up of a side salad plate with fresh salad

When Should I Salt My Salad?

Not all salads need to be salted, some will have enough in the toppings and dressing. I suggest not salting until after you’ve tasted it unless you’ve made a salad a million times before and are certain it needs it.

In that case, dressing the salad, tossing well and then salt. If you salt before dressing, it will pool up or fall to the bottom. Having something tacky on there (dressing) gives it something to stick to.

Why is it Best to Tear Lettuce

Hand torn lettuce isn’t just sound fancy, it actually serves a purpose. Tearing lettuce by hand allows it to break along natural points, preserving cells and preventing browning. This is overall the best choice and will keep your leafy greens looking snazzy longer.

Cutting lettuce using a sharp knife is sometimes what is needed to get the job done and that is fine, but now the same cells will be ruptured mid cell and start to brown within 2 hours of chopping.

angle of side salad with a gold fork

What is the Best Type of Lettuce for a Salad?

I’m not sure there is really an answer to that. There are over 100 varieties of lettuce out there, each with their own unique texture, flavor, appearance and sometimes even smell. Don’t feel like you need to pick just one, have fun and use a couple.

  • Romaine
  • Iceberg
  • Kale
  • Spinach or baby spinach
  • Radicchio
  • Red leaf
  • Arugula
  • Bibb
  • Butter (Butterhead)
  • Endive
  • Boston
  • Cress
  • Cabbage

What is The Healthiest Type of Lettuce?

Many beleive that Romaine is the more nutrient dense lettuce. With most of it being made of water, there is little room for much else. However, spinach is a close second and offers more flavor.

In my eyes, the best simple green salad has multiple types of salad greens, so mix them up.

overhead of a dressed side salad

What are the Best Side Salad Toppings?

A matter of personal preference and the tone of the meal will dictate the best toppings for salad. A Greek meal might warrant olives, pepperoncini and feta cheese while grilled chicken begs for roasted red peppers, hot dog croutons and sunflower seeds. think of bright flavors and of course, mind your own taste preference.

This is the longest list of salad topping ideas out there- a great way to get started.

  • Tomatoes- beefsteak or grape
  • Onion- sweet or red
  • Scallions (green onions)
  • Bell pepper
  • Seeds
  • Nuts- almonds, pistachios, peanuts, pecans
  • Pickled red onion
  • Cucumber
  • Pickled Asparagus
  • Pepperoncini
  • Cured Meats- pepperoni, prosciutto
  • Bacon
  • Olives
  • Microgreens
  • Pea shoots
  • Protein
  • Fresh herbs
  • Hearts of palm
  • Cheese- shredded or crumbled
  • Dried Fruit- cranberry, cherry or currants
  • Fresh fruit
  • Beans- chickpeas, pinto, black, navy
  • Croutons, tortilla strips, pita chips
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cauliflwoer
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Candied Walnuts
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Hot peppers
  • Bean sprouts
  • Edible flowers
  • Avocado
  • Artichoke hearts
angle view of a side salad with salt and pepper

Best Salad Dressing for a Side Salad

Really any type of dressing from creamy to a vinegarette can be drizzled over a simple green salad. I try to pair mine with the meal being served so the dishes flow and don’t have competing flavors. Here are great homemade salad dressings to try.

hand pouring dressing over a small salad

Storage & Make Ahead

How Long Will Salad Keep For?

The moment the lettuce and veggies are chopped, it will start to degrade, some faster than others. This rate increase significantly the moment it is dressed (tossed in salad dressing).

I would aim to do this right before serving or within 2 hours of prepping your delicious salad.

How to Make Salad in Advance

This doesn’t mean that you can’t make a salad in advance. Choose vegetables that don’t oxidize fast (like avocados), hand tear the lettuce and prep everything in separate containers. Assemble the salad right before serving.

If you need to assemble the salad before then, line the bottom with paper towels to catch any residual moisture and prevent other items from getting soggy. Remove and dress right before serving.

Can you Freeze Salad?

We do not recommend freezing salad. Most lettuces, in particular, is mostly water and will thaw as a soggy mess.

collage of side salad images for pinterest

Best Salad Recipes

pear salad on a plate

Pear Salad Recipe with Candied Walnuts

Pear Salad with Candied Walnuts is the perfect winter salad for dinner parties and holidays. Honey Balsamic Dressing and tart goat cheese make the best salad recipe!
See The Recipe!
Beet goat cheese salads in two bowls with dressing

Beet Goat Cheese Salad

Dress this beet goat cheese salad with a simple orange vinaigrette. Easy enough for a weeknight supper, but fancy enough for a dinner party.
See The Recipe!
cobb salad on a green placemat

Cobb Salad

With egg, bacon, tomato, onion, avocado and blue cheese, a Classic Cobb Salad recipe can't be beat! This recipe also has the BEST homemade dressing!
See The Recipe!
overhead close up of a dressed side salad
overhead of a dressed side salad

Simple Side Salad Recipe

5 from 5 votes
A small plate full of leafy greens, crunchy and sweet toppings with over 20 salad dressing ideas. The perfect start to any meal
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 4 cups springs mix lettuces
  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes , halved
  • 1/2 green bell pepper , cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup cucumber , cut thin and halved
  • 2 red onions slices , thin and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon carrot , shredded
  • croutons
  • 2 tablespoons candied pecans
  • 4 tablespoons garlic balsamic vinaigrette
  • flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper , optional


  • Evenly divide the lettuce onto 4 small plates. Top with the tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, red onion, croutons, carrots and pecans.
  • Drizzle dressing over each salad, tossing well to evenly coat.
  • Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and/or ground pepper. Serve immediately.
  • If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was the comments or star ratings.


Calories: 61 kcal, Carbohydrates: 2 g, Protein: 0.3 g, Fat: 6 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.01 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.003 g, Sodium: 137 mg, Potassium: 58 mg, Fiber: 0.4 g, Sugar: 1 g, Vitamin A: 107 IU, Vitamin C: 14 mg, Calcium: 5 mg, Iron: 0.1 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 61
Course: Appetizer, Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: green salad, leafy green salad, side salad
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Chef Jessica Anne Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal, Mashed and more!

Read More About Jessica

5 from 5 votes

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Recipe Rating

Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    I love a good side salad like this because you can get so much flavor without being weighed down. The candied pecans are a nice touch!

  2. 5 stars
    Perfect side salad to have on hand for a weeknight dinner. Gotta have a veggie side and sometimes a salad is the perfect solution!