Fresh, easy, versatile Tossed Garden Salad is the perfect side salad to any meal – with the best dressing!
This chopped Garden Salad features a hypnotic blend of crisp, nutritious veggies and the classic, nostalgic holy trinity of zesty homemade ranch, buttery cheese and garlic-herb croutons. It’s the elevated salad of your youth (or at least mine) guaranteed to have everyone begging for “more salad please!” This Garden Salad is completely customizable depending on the season and your likes/dislikes and can even be made into a main dish with the addition of any protein, (chicken, shrimp, salmon, etc.). Serve this chopped salad with everything from Tuscan Chicken and Lasagna, to French Dip Sandwiches, Burgers, Cajun Chicken, etc.
HOW TO MAKE garden salad VIDEo
Ingredients in a Garden Salad
I love making homemade Garden Salad because although the ingredients are simple, the final product is an exciting symphony of satisfying textures and flavors. Plus, this is an easy recipe to customize and tweak as needed to suit your tastes, dietary restrictions, or use up any vegetables you have on hand. For a classic Garden Salad, here’s what you’ll need (full recipe with measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):
The Salad Dressing Ingredients
Making ranch dressing at home is ridiculously quick and easy, requires just a handful of ingredients and will make each and every bite of your Garden Salad sing with fresh, creamy, zingy notes. You will need:
How to Make a Garden Salad
The beauty of a Garden Salad is that it takes minimal time and effort to prepare, but it’s bursting with flavors and textures galore! This chopped salad recipe comes together in three simple steps (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):
Step 1: Make the Ranch Dressing
- Simply whisk together the dressing ingredients.
- Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors mingle.
- Meanwhile, prep the rest of the salad ingredients.
Step 2: Make the Croutons
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Cube the bread and then add to a large baking sheet.
- Drizzle the bread with olive oil, sprinkle with seasonings, and toss to coat.
- Bake until golden and crispy. Keep an eye on the croutons in the last few minutes so they don’t burn.
Step 3: Assemble the Salad
- While the dressing chills and the croutons bake, chop the remaining veggies for the salad. If you haven’t already done so, cook and crumble the bacon.
- Then, add the lettuce, spinach mix, and remaining ingredients to a serving bowl and toss to mix.
- You can either add the desired amount of dressing to the salad if you don’t expect leftovers or dress individual servings.
- Make ahead: I’ve detailed full make ahead instructions below, so get giddy because you can prepare all the ingredients ahead except for the chopped avocado.
- Customize ingredients. The salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies, seeds and cheese. To keep the optimal balance, I recommend that if you swap out an ingredient, replace it with something with a similar flavor profile and texture.
- Use perfectly ripe avocados: Make sure you use a ripe avocado but not overly ripe or it will turn to mush. To tell if an avocado is ripe, squeeze it gently. A ripe avocado should yield slightly to pressure but not feel overly soft. If your avocado ripens before you are ready to use it, it can be stored in the refrigerator which will dramatically slow down the ripening process.
- For the freshest vegetables: Most vegetables do best (like cucumbers) if kept whole for as long as possible and only chopped when needed. Chopped carrots and celery, however, can be submerge in cool water in the refrigerator for ultimate fresh crispiness.
- Use crusty, day-old bread for the croutons: I recommend day-old bread because it’s so much easier to slice! It doesn’t smoosh with every cut and creates more even croutons.
- Cube the croutons small: Cubing the bread into small pieces makes for crispier croutons and more explosions of crunch in the chopped salad.
- Bake the croutons until crispy: Depending on the bread, size of the croutons, and actual oven temperature, your croutons may take more or less time to bake. Make sure to bake them until just crispy and then they will continue to crisp up as they cool after baking.
- Chill the dressing: Chilling the dressing melds and marries all of the flavors together so it tastes exponentially better. To ensure you have sufficient chilling time, always make the dressing before you begin prepping the salad ingredients. If you only have 30 minutes, pop the dressing in the freezer, then transfer it to the refrigerator after 30 minutes.
- Make the ranch dressing perfect for YOU! The most accurate taste test comes by dipping a lettuce leaf in dressing as opposed to a spoon. Add extra herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper, etc. to suit your personal tastes.
- Scale the Garden Salad recipe up or down: This recipe is easy to double for a crowd or cut it in half for lunches or a small group. Use the sliding scale that appears when you hover over the servings to scale the recipe as needed.
Recipe Variations to Try
There is no right or wrong when it comes to making Garden Salad, but try to include a type of cheese and nut! Here are just a few ideas to try:
What to Serve with a Garden Salad
Garden Salad pairs well with any of your favorite proteins, pastas, soups, pizzas or sandwiches. Here are just a few ideas:
- Looking for a side to your favorite protein? Serve with Crazy Tender Pot Roast, Garlic Butter Pork Tenderloin, Barbecue Ribs, Lemon Garlic Chicken and Potatoes, Oven Fried Chicken and everything in between!
- Need a side for your Italian dinner? Serve with Chicken Florentine, Spaghetti Bolognese, Lasagna, White Chicken Lasagna, Manicotti, Chicken Parmesan, Baked Penne, Million Dollar Mac or Shrimp Fettuccine, etc.
- Need a side for your sandwiches? Serve with French Dips, Philly Cheese Steaks, Brisket Sandwiches, Italian Beef Sandwiches, and BBQ Chicken Sandwiches.
- Need a side for your soups? Serve with Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Stew, Chicken Pot Pie Soup, Crockpot Chili, Tomato Basil Soup, etc.
- Need a side for your pizzas? Serve with Margherita Pizza, Barbecue Chicken Pizza, Philly Cheese Steak Pizza, Gyro Pizza, Pulled Pork Pizza, etc.
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- 1 10 oz. package spinach spring mix (or your favorite lettuce)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 English cucumber, halved and sliced
- 2 ears sweet corn, (optional)
- 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 pepperoncini, chopped (optional)
- 1-2 avocados, sliced or chopped
- 4-6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
- 1/2 cup toasted salted sunflower seeds
- 3/4 cup shredded or cubed Gouda or cheddar cheese
- Dressing: Whisk dressing ingredients together per recipe (<<click here). Best if chilled 1 hour before using. Ranch Dressing will last up to 1 week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Croutons: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray or use a nonstick baking mat. Add cubed bread to the baking sheet and drizzled with olive oil then sprinkle with spices; toss until evenly coated. Spread bread into an even layer and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until golden, stirring halfway through.
- Assemble: Add the lettuce to a large serving bowl then top with remaining salad ingredients; serve the bacon, avocado and croutons on the side if expecting leftovers. Either toss the salad with desired amount of dressing (only if not expecting leftovers) or dress individual servings.
Tips and Tricks
- Customize ingredients: The salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can omit, add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies, seeds and cheese. See the post for tons of ideas!
- Make it a meal: add chicken (rotisserie chicken, marinated chicken, Italian chicken, lemon basil chicken, balsamic chicken, cilantro lime chicken, salmon, grilled shrimp, pan seared shrimp, steak, pork, etc..
- Shortcuts: Use store-bought lettuce, your favorite store-bought dressing, pre-cooked bacon or bacon bits.
Make Ahead/Meal Prep
- Prep the veggies up to 3 days in advance: Chop or slice them as instructed, then store in separate airtight containers/bags with a paper towel. I’ll often place the plastic bags on top of the lettuce in a big salad bowl and cover; when it’s time to dress the salad, all I have to do is dump the bags out. This works great when transporting the salad!
- Cook the bacon up to 3 days in advance: Cook until crispy (either on the stove or in the oven), crumble or chop, and then store in the fridge. Note that the bacon will lose its crispness once chilled.
- Make the dressing up to 1 week in advance: Store in an airtight container in the fridge. You may need to add a splash of milk to thin when ready to use.
- Make the croutons up to 1 week in advance: Make the croutons, let them cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container. If you use a sealable bag, make sure to squeeze out excess air. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week.
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