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The Ultimate Guide To Salad Toppings

Salad is a versatile and easy meal option. Whether you’re making a side salad or a snack or creating a meal, your salad toppings are the hero of your dish.

Did we mention that salads are versatile? Leafy greens, cous cous, pasta, potato, peas, fruit – they all serve as the base for many flavorful salads. For the purpose of this article, we’re really going to focus on toppings to build on a base of lettuce whether it’s a salad for one or something grander like DIY salad bar topping ideas. And the options are endless! You can make salads loaded with healthy and nutrient dense veggies and proteins, but you can also have fun with your salads with crunchy fried onions, tortilla strips, bacon bits, and even fried cheese.

Let’s dive in and look at all the salad toppings ideas out there, from the ultra healthy, to the just for fun. But first, let’s look at those leafy greens to see what type of base you want to start with.

The Ultimate Guide To Salad Toppings

Types Of Lettuce

Arugula – This salad green has long leaves and does not grow in head form like other lettuces. Rather, it grows with each leaf splaying from the root. They leaves are soft in texture and peppery to the taste and are often included in mixed-greens packages of lettuce.

Butterhead Lettuce – This lettuce grows in small round heads and the leaves are soft and buttery. May often be mixed into the mixed-green packaged lettuce or be purchased as a head on its own. This is sometimes used for “lettuce cup” recipes.

Green-Leaf Lettuce – A loose leaf lettuce that is slightly softer in texture than iceberg lettuce, but still stands up well to a variety of toppings.

Iceberg Lettuce – Iceberg lettuce is a crisp and crunchy leafy green that stands up well to heavier toppings and dressings. It is the base for the popular wedge salad and many chopped salads.

Red-Leaf Lettuce – A loose leaf lettuce that is slightly softer than iceberg and a variant of green leaf lettuce, a bit peppery in flavor and adds a pop of color to your salad.

Romaine Lettuce – This lettuce is elongated in shape, but still maintains a crispy leaf and is often the base of the popular Caesar Salad.

Other Leafy Greens Used For Salads

  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage or Cole Slaw Mix
  • Chard
  • Chicories
  • Collards
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Frisee
  • Kale
  • Mesclun
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radicchio
  • Spinach
  • Watercress

Herbs To Mix In To Salads

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Best Salad Toppings

Vegetable Salad Toppings

Vegetables are the most used toppings for salad, and there is a great variety to choose from. Remember that you can add even more variety to your salads by mixing it up with veggies that are roasted, grilled, smoked, pickled, marinated, and raw.

  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Avocado
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus – raw or grilled
  • Beets -raw or pickled
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli/broccolini
  • Brussel’s Sprouts
  • Carrots – shredded, sliced, marinated, pickled
  • Cauliflower
  • Chile Peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Garlic
  • Leek
  • Mushrooms
  • Jalapeno, Serrano, Anaheim chiles
  • Jicama
  • Onion – red, white, green, pearl, shallot
  • Pepperoncini or yellow banana peppers
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Radishes
  • Okra
  • Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Snow Peas
  • Parsnips
  • Squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti, yellow)
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

Fruit for Salad Toppings

Don’t be afraid to add fruit to your salads! They add a great pop of freshness and some much needed sweetness. Use fresh, raw, grilled, even dried or dehydrated.

  • Acai
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Currants
  • Dates
  • Eggplant
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Mango
  • Nectarines
  • Olives – Black, green, kalamata, etc.
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Passion Fruit
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Persimmon
  • Pineapple
  • Plums
  • Pomegranate Arils
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tamarind
  • Tangerines
  • Watermelon

Legumes Salad Toppings

Legumes are beans – and they are a great source of protein and add a nice crunch to your salad.

  • Black Beans
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Broad Beans
  • Butter Beans
  • Cannellini Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • English Peas
  • Great Northern Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Lentils
  • Mung Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Red Beans
  • Soybeans/Edamame

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds add a nice crunch to your salad and can be enjoyed in many different ways. Add them whole, sliced, or crushed, raw or roasted, plain or salted. You can even toss candied nuts into the mix!

  • Almonds – whole, slivered, raw, roasted
  • Cashews
  • Coconut – flakes, shredded
  • Macadamia
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pine Nuts
  • Pistachio
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds\Pepitas
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Walnuts

Cheese Salad Toppings

Who doesn’t love a little cheese on their salad? Add shredded, cubes, dollops, or even chunks of fried cheese.

  • Blue Cheese
  • Buffalo Mozzarella/Fresh Mozzarella
  • Cheddar
  • Cotija
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Feta
  • Jack/Pepper Jack
  • Goat Cheese
  • Gorgonzola
  • Gouda
  • Gruyere
  • Manchego
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino
  • Queso Fresco
  • Ricotta
  • Swiss
  • Fried Cheese

Proteins Salad Toppings

Your protein choices are wide open! Choose one for a healthy foundation like grilled chicken or fish, or toss in a variety like the Chef’s Salad with ham, turkey, bacon, and eggs. You can really pack a protein punch here!

  • Chicken – Baked, Rotisserie, Grilled, Smoked
  • Steak/Beef – Sirloin, Carne Asada, shredded beef, brisket, tri tip, ground beef
  • Turkey – shredded, sliced, roasted, ground turkey
  • Ham – Leftover ham or buy the ham steaks and cube it
  • Crab Meat – Fresh or imitation crab both work
  • Crab Cakes
  • Salmon – grilled, patties
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Tuna – grilled, seared, or canned
  • Halibut
  • Pulled Pork or Carnitas
  • Bacon – Cooked strips, chopped/crumbled, or candied
  • Eggs – Especially hardboiled, but poached are great too!
  • Lunch Meat – Any lunch meat slices will do!
  • Meatballs – beef, pork, chicken, or turkey
  • Sausage – slice sausage or crumbled
  • Tofu – add as is or crisp it up by pan frying or air frying it first
  • Tempeh – Plant based protein that can be cooked and tossed into salads
  • Pepperoni
  • Salami
  • Tilapia

Grains Salad Toppings

While these may not be the first thing you think of adding to your green salad, you can add whole grains to make a hearty complete meal that adds an extra dose of nutritional value.

  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice/Brown Rice/Wild Rice

Miscellaneous Salad Toppings

Some healthy, some not so much, but who said your salad can’t be fun now and then? Try mixing some of these into your next salad.

  • Bee Pollen
  • Croutons
  • Couscous
  • Crunchy Chow Mein Noodles
  • Dried/Dehydrated fruit
  • Dried Seaweed or nori strips
  • Everything Bagel Seasoning
  • Edible Flowers
  • French Fried Onions
  • Granola
  • Hearts Of Palm
  • Capers
  • Hot Honey/Regular Honey
  • Kimchi
  • Cooked pasta
  • Pickles
  • Pita chips
  • Potato Chips/Doritos
  • Salsa
  • Tortilla Strips/Tortilla Chips
  • Wasabi Peas
  • Wonton Strips/Chips
  • Ramen Noodles

Dressings For Salad Toppings

Here’s a list of the most common dressings and sauces used to top salads. Pick your favorite, or get creative and mix up your own!

  • Peanut Sauce
  • Raspberry Vinaigrette
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Russion Dressing
  • Tahini Sauce
  • Thousand Island
  • Tzatziki Sauce
  • Hot Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Cole Slaw Dressing
  • BBQ Sauce

Try Some Of Our Favorite Salad Recipes!

Here are some of our favorite salads, with a variety of toppings and styles to choose from.

Heidi Deal
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