Eat healthy in 20 minutes or less with these superfast, easy main-dish salad recipes. By: Text: Jason Horn and Cooking Light staff
This has all the elegant elements of a restaurant salad―fresh-toasted walnuts, soft-cooked eggs, crumbled bacon, tangy blue cheese, and crunchy pear―but it takes just 10 minutes or so to make. A teaspoon of bacon drippings in the tarragon-Dijon vinaigrette makes it extra rich-tasting and flavorful.
A tasty mixture of rice vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce does triple duty here as marinade, pan sauce, and dressing for this Asian-tinged salad. You can easily swap out the chicken for pork, beef, shrimp, or tofu. Serve with a starch like rice or noodles with peanut sauce.
Made from buckwheat, soba noodles have a totally different flavor from Italian pastas. They form a nice substantial base for this salad's mix of sweet carrot, herbal cilantro, hot chile, tart citrus, and salty soy sauce. It's versatile enough that the shrimp can easily swap out for any other protein―beef, chicken, pork, or tofu are all good.
This is a classic restaurant dish, served the classic way, and it's so popular for a reason. The creamy-tangy dressing with lots of fresh herbs (don't leave out the anchovy paste; it adds a great savory element) complements each of the salad ingredients―chicken, hard-boiled egg, avocado, romaine―in its own way. Not bad for 273 calories a serving.
Typical Cobb salads include chicken and hard-cooked eggs; this riff uses shrimp and corn.
Thick slices of steak might overpower some salads, but not here. Plenty of crunchy cabbage makes a nice counterpoint to the tender beef, while a dressing of lime and pungent fish sauce adds Asian flavors. For an interesting twist, roll the salad up in spring roll wrappers and use the dressing as a dipping sauce.
Main-dish salads with just greens can feel insubstantial at times, so this dish adds a base of orzo to fresh arugula, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and basil. Tangy goat cheese gives a luscious creaminess to each bite, and chopped chicken makes for a filling meal. Leave out the chicken and double the other ingredients for a picnic pasta salad that'll drive guests wild.
Opposites do attract: Smoky, salty bacon and crisp, fresh spinach are paired in salads all the time. What makes this recipe unique is its maple syrup-based dressing, which adds richness in addition to maple flavor, and tart apple pieces, which add another layer of taste. Add a baked potato for an easy dinner meal.
With fresh green beans, hearty garbanzos, and a smoky-creamy dressing, this Spanish tapas-style dish is unlike any other tuna salad you've tried. But it still takes less than 10 minutes to make and contains fewer than 400 calories per serving. High-quality tuna is a must; check European or Mediterranean markets for imported oil-packed tuna.
By including a variety of ingredients, salads are often a nutritional powerhouse: This recipe provides lots of antioxidants from the grapes, healthy fats and vitamin E from the sunflower seeds and grapeseed oil, and folate and vitamin A from the arugula. A sweet mustard vinaigrette dressing matches both the peppery bitterness of the greens and the sweet juiciness of the grapes. Try this salad topped with salmon or tuna for a healthful dinner.
With plenty of chicken, creamy avocado, bacon, and blue cheese, this is the classic entrée salad. Bottled Italian dressing cuts down on time (the whole recipe, including cooking the chicken, takes less than 15 minutes). But if you like, you can whip a quick low-fat vinaigrette for that homemade touch.
Melon and prosciutto are a classic pairing; Parmigiano-Reggiano (don't skimp―use the real stuff) pumps up their flavor with its deep savoriness. Make this salad the centerpiece of an antipasto meal by serving with bruschetta and an assortment of olives, cheeses, and slices of salami or ham.
Greens are a low-calorie, nutrient-packed food that are really versatile. This recipe backs up escarole with a hearty base of beans with sweet corn, lightly cooked zucchini, and meaty pancetta. Greens with a slight bitterness are best here, as the cooking softens their flavor―try dandelion, mustard, or turnip greens, broccoli rabe, or radicchio in place of escarole.
Starting with pre-cooked chicken (use leftovers or a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket), this recipe comes together as quickly as you can cut the veggies and whisk the dressing. The simple soy-ginger-honey vinaigrette makes this a lovely light dish for lunch or dinner, and it's completely guilt-free, with 172 calories and six grams of fat per serving.
In Thai cooking, strong flavors stand up to one another to create balance. This salad's pungent raw onion and fish sauce are matched by fiery Sriracha, with cooling mint and cilantro in the background. We save time by boiling the shrimp with the noodles; make the dressing while they cook and the whole dish takes 10 minutes or so.
With their creamy texture and subtle taste, chickpeas are a nice blank canvas to showcase stronger flavors. Here, raw red onion, tiny but piquant niçoise olives, and a red wine vinaigrette with lots of fresh herbs paint a picture of the south of France. Almost five grams of fiber per serving makes this a filling salad, but it only has 163 calories.
An easy-as-can-be preparation lets the ingredients speak for themselves here, so splurge on high-quality steaks and tomatoes. Beans and fresh tomato explode with flavor in a simple balsamic vinaigrette flavored with fresh herbs, while the steaks get a brief searing with only salt and pepper.
Thick, meaty, and filling red snapper is a good fish to feed a hungry family, but grouper and striped bass make excellent substitutes as well. The small size of the orzo lets it soak up the tart mustard vinaigrette easily―or you could try couscous or rice instead. Be sure to make extra dressing to pour over the fish.
Tomatoes, basil, and olive oil are the holy trinity of summer flavor. Add to them a generous helping of sweet corn and sautéed chicken with a unique warm-but-mellow spice rub and you've got a near-perfect simple meal. With a fresh fruit salad on the side, this is an excellent light dinner to eat alfresco.
The slightly sweet tenderness of barely-seared tuna matches the sweet-and-peppery crunch of radishes in this elegant salad. The unique dressing uses silken tofu for creamy texture without fat and has a pungent horseradish heat. If wild salmon is in season, it's great in this dish as well.
Chicken with kick, paired with a spicy pineapple dressing, makes this Cooking Light main-dish salad recipe one to add to your repetoire.
This recipe features a combination of scallops, crabmeat, and shrimp tossed in a blend of Thai-inspired flavors. You don't have to eat it with chopsticks, but we think you might just have more fun if you do.
With a full pound of crabmeat, this is a luxurious dish that captures the fresh flavors of summer. It's a great way to highlight heirloom tomatoes from your local farmer's market or, even better, your own garden. A cold soup like vichyssoise or cucumber soup (or gazpacho, if you're a real tomato lover) makes a perfect pairing.
This gorgeous salad makes for a fresh, light spring dinner; serve with crusty bread. You can substitute arugula for the watercress; it has a similar peppery flavor.
This light, quick main is perfect for warmer months. If you have 5 extra minutes, grill some vegetables to toss into the salad; try asparagus or red onion.
A bag of baby kale leaves saves the time of washing, stemming, and chopping larger leaves. Treat these small, tender leaves like baby spinach — as the base for salads or stirred into soups and stews at the end.
Because the lemon and basil flavors become even more vibrant with some time to marinate together, this five-ingredient salad makes the perfect to-go lunch. Pack it up the night before, and skip the cafeteria for a bright and luscious midday meal.