Garden Salad

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 SandwichesBurgersCajun Chicken, etc.

Salads are the perfect side for every occasion! Some of our favorites include: Caesar Salad, Apple Salad, Strawberry Spinach, Grilled Corn Salad, and Outback Copycat Wedge Salad, and Southwest Salad.

HOW TO MAKE garden salad VIDEo

top view showing how to make garden salad by adding tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, croutons, cheese, avocados and bacon to a large salad bowl
adding garden salad ingredients to a bowl and garnishing with parsley

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): 

  • Greens:  I like to use a spring salad mix because it makes your life easier – no chopping lettuce!  More importantly, it offers varying flavors and texture with different greens such as tender baby lettuce, spinach, Romaine, red and green oak leaf, chard, arugula, endive, radicchio, etc. – all packaged for you!
  • Cherry tomatoes: Go for ripe yet firm tomatoes for the sweetest flavor and best texture. Cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape tomatoes, so aim for cherry if you can.
  • Carrots: Peel and thinly slice the carrots or grate the carrots.
  • Cucumber: I prefer using English cucumber in my salads as the skin is more tender and the flesh is crisp but not watery.
  • Red onion: Provides a sharp bite of flavor that pairs well with the creamy dressing. If you don’t love the flavor of red onion, you can submerge the onion slices in cold water for 10 minutes, drain, then pat dry to remove the sharp bite.
  • Pepperoncini: Optional, but highly recommended to bring the chopped salad to life with its tangy zip of heat. Pepperoncini are sold at your grocery store next to the sandwich condiments such as pickles, banana peppers and jarred roasted red bell peppers. You can purchase them whole or in rings and then chop them.
  • Avocados: Creamy avocado balances out the slightly spicy pepperoncini. If you don’t like avocados or have them on hand, just omit them.
  • Bacon: Use any bacon you’d like, but I recommend thick-cut bacon that’s been cooked until crisp and then crumbled.   It is hearty enough to stand up to the dressing without immediately becoming soggy.  The best way to cook bacon is low and slow over medium-low heat in a cast iron skillet so the fat has time to render and the bacon can crisp up. It’s also super easy, hands-off to bake!
  • Sunflower seeds: Roasted and salted sunflower seeds are a hidden gem that you’ll crave in every bite.
  • Cheese:  I went with Gouda because it tastes divine with its mild, buttery sweetness but you may also use cheddar.  Feel free to cube or shred the cheese.  Just be sure to buy a block and cube or shred it yourself for the best texture. 
  • Croutons: While you can pick up some seasoned, store-bought croutons, homemade croutons are so easy to make, and so worth the couple extra minutes. You can use any crusty bread to make homemade croutons, but I especially like sourdough, although French bread and artisan bread will also work. Just toss the cubed bread with some olive oil and seasonings and toast while you prep the veggies.
showing how to make garden salad by drizzling the ranch dressing over the salad

Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Greens: Any combination of greens can be used such as Romaine, spinach, iceberg, mixed greens, arugula, Bibb lettuce, or butter lettuce.
  • Pepperoncini: May be omitted, if desired. 
  • Sunflower seeds: Another toasted salted seed or nut can be used instead. 
  • Cheddar cheese: Can be swapped with another flavorful cheese.
  • Croutons: Any seasoned, store-bought croutons will also work. 
  • Ranch dressing: Any dressing — homemade or store-bought — will work in this Garden Salad recipe. I often use my Italian Dressing as well.

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:

  • Sour cream:  Full fat or less fat sour cream provides the base of the homemade Ranch Dressing, with a little help from the mayo.  By using a majority of sour cream instead of mayonnaise, it keeps the dressing lighter and adds a delightful tanginess to the dressing.  
  • Mayonnaise: The mayonnaise adds the depth of creaminess and binds all of the ingredients together.  Even if you don’t like mayo, I don’t suggest skipping because otherwise your dressing will taste overly tangy and not taste like traditional ranch.  Please use real mayonnaise and not Miracle Whip. 
  • Lemon juice: ​​Lemon juice cuts through the creaminess of the dressing and highlights the rest of the flavors with its fresh, vibrant pop of citrus without tasting “lemony.”  Freshly-squeezed is always best but you may use bottled in a pinch.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Not every ranch recipe calls for Worcestershire, but just 1 teaspoon imparts that special, undiscernible “something-something” to the ranch dressing – it’s a game changer! Worcestershire boasts intense umami flavor from the anchovies (or vegan versions use soy sauce) mingled with tamarind and vinegar for sourness, molasses and sugar for sweetness, and dimension from the cloves, celery seed, and chili pepper extract.
  • Dijon mustardJust a teaspoon Dijon cuts through the richness of the dressing with a subtle depth of flavor without making the ranch dressing taste even remotely like mustard. 
  • Homemade ranch seasoning mix: The most important part!  A combination of parsley, dill, chives creates that classic ranch flavor. You can use fresh or dried, whatever is most convenient for you.
  • Milk: No need for buttermilk in this recipe! Just ¼ cup regular milk, or more as needed to thin the dressing to your liking. 
  • Seasonings: Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper are also crucial for the homemade ranch seasoning.

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. 
showing how to make garden salad by whisking all of the salad dressing ingredients together in a bowl

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.
showing how to make garden salad by toasting the cubed bread in the oven to make croutons

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.
showing how to make garden salad recipe by adding tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, avocados, croutons and cheese to a bowl
  • 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.

showing ingredients for garden salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocados, pepperoncini, red onion, croutons, cheddar cheese and bacon drizzled with ranch
  • Use a different type of lettuce: Mix and match your salad greens such as Romaine, iceberg, arugula, Bibb lettuce, etc. to change the flavor and texture of the Garden Salad. 
  • Add extra veggies/swap veggies: Ranch dressing and croutons pair well with any vegetable!  Swap in mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers etc.
  • Use different bacon: Use turkey bacon, pre cooked bacon or bacon-bits.
  • Use different seeds and/or nuts: Pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, almonds, or another kind of nut or seed will work.
  • Use a different dressing: Any of your favorite salad dressings or vinaigrettes will work in this recipe. Italian Dressing and Avocado Ranch are also go-to favorites of mine.
  • Use another cheese: I love Gouda or sharp cheese in my chopped Garden Salads, but shaved Parmesan, feta, blue cheese or another flavorful cheese would be tasty, just choose something that pairs well with tangy ranch. 
  • Add hardboiled eggs: Add eggs for a Cobb-salad flair.   
  • Add radishes: They are amazingly crunchy, spicy, crisp, and zesty.
  • Add beets:  You can roast your own beets (see this Beet Salad recipe for instructions) or add jarred pickled beets.
  • Add olives:  For a Mediterranean flair!  Kalamata olives are particularly wonderful known for their dark, rich, intensely fruity flavor.  Use pitted Kalamata olives and then halve them yourself because they are juicer and tend to hold together better than jarred sliced olives.
  • Add grains: This Garden Salad would be superb with the addition of cooked quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, farro or couscous for yet another layer of delectable texture.
  • Add chickpeas:  Add a nutty, earthy, creaminess and are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • Grill the greens: Grill hearts of Romaine to make a Grilled Garden Salad for a dimension of smoky charred YUM.
  • Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free bread to make the croutons and double check that your Worcestershire sauce is gluten free for the dressing. 
top view showing how to make garden salad recipe by topping with ranch dressing


garden salad in a bowl with tomatoes, croutons, cheese and bacon drizzled with ranch

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showing how to make garden salad recipe by adding tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, avocados, croutons and cheese to a bowl

Garden Salad

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.
Servings: 10 servings
Total Time: 37 mins
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 12 mins

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Ingredients

GARDEN SALAD

  • 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 (pick one)

HOMEMADE CROUTONS (OR STORE-BOUGHT)

  • 1/2 loaf (5 cups) sourdough or French bread, cubed (preferably day old)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp EACH dried basil, dried parsley, garlic powder, salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

Tips and Tricks

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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