Easy Summer Salad Builder

We’re all looking for easy no-cook meals to have on a hot day or to take with us camping or to the beach. A summer salad travels well, doesn’t take up a lot of space in your cooler, and will fill you up for a day of fun in the sun.

Minimal prep required

What I like most about these salads is that they don’t require too much prep. All you have to do is cook some grains or noodles ahead of time. Most of the ingredients in this salad builder don’t require chopping. Use ready-to-serve ingredients, to make these salads quick to assemble and easy to prepare.

Maximize cooler space

Since these summer salads use mostly non-perishable ingredients, you will only need to store the grains or pasta and a few vegetables in your cooler. Assembling these salads once you arrive at your destination prevents you from having to store a full container in your cooler. I like to use silicone food storage bags like these ones from Zero Waste Mvmt, to reduce waste while camping. They also store flat, don’t take up a lot of space in your cooler, and can be washed out and used for another purpose while you’re traveling. Use the discount code TBL10 to get 10% off your order.

Picky eater & allergy-friendly

One of the biggest challenges when camping or weekend meal planning with other families is accommodating everyone’s likes and dietary restrictions. By assembling your salads on-site, you can serve all the components deconstructed or buffet-style and everyone can customize their salad.

Store-bought shortcuts

Using jarred or canned ingredients prevent you from having to use precious cooler space, especially when you will be living out of a cooler for a weekend. Homemade dressings like these ones are easy to whip up before you go and can be stored in mason jars in your cooler. Using store-bought dressings works just as well.

Summer salad ideas

Here are a few combinations you can try for inspiration:

  1. Pasta, olives, sundried tomatoes, bocconcini, fresh basil, balsamic vinaigrette
  2. Quinoa, shredded carrots, dried blueberries, edamame, honey mustard dressing
  3. Rice noodles, snow peas, shredded carrots, peanuts, sesame ginger dressing
  4. Quinoa, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, black olives, feta, greek dressing
  5. Quinoa, black beans, corn, red pepper, cilantro, chipotle lime dressing

Other summer salads for at home

Salads with lettuce have a shorter shelf-life, especially once you add the dressing. They’re not ideal for camping or the beach, but they are great for a quick no-cook meal if you’re enjoying the heat at home. Try this Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad or this Waldorf Salad with Tarragon Dressing.

Summer Salad Builder

Waldorf Salad with Creamy Tarragon Vinaigrette

This salad is the perfect combination of sweet, tangy, and salty. The fresh tarragon adds a subtle licorice flavor to the vinaigrette that is creamy and dairy-free.

a bowl of green salad with creamy dressing on the side
Use any fresh greens, tart apples and sweet grapes for this salad.

Choosing your greens

This salad makes great use of fresh greens and herbs. I used a combination of green leaf lettuce and endive fresh from the garden for this one, but romaine, kale, and spring mix would also work well here.

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Tart & tangy

The dressing is quite tangy, so you really need the sweetness of the grapes and candied walnuts to balance out the flavors. I used a tart Granny Smith apple but a sweet red apple would be delicious in this salad too.

Variations and substitutions

If tarragon isn’t your thing, fresh dill or basil would be great in this salad as well. You could also substitute the apples and grapes for mandarin oranges or peaches. Instead of the walnuts, you could use pecans or almonds.

In a pinch, you could use white vinegar, but I love the added flavor of the apple cider vinegar to complement the fruit. A white wine vinegar would also pair well with these ingredients.

If you’re adding hard-boiled eggs or chicken to the salad, you can also serve it in a wrap or a pita for a substantial lunch option.

Other great salads

There are many delicious dressings you could whip up using basic pantry ingredients, like this Poppy Seed Dressing or these 5 salad dressings. The combinations are endless.

Another lunch option with several variations is this Asian Grilled Chicken Salad – Three Ways, a spin-off of a recipe from manitobachicken.ca

Waldorf Salad w/Creamy Tarragon Vinaigrette

This salad is the perfect combination of sweet, tangy and salty.

Course Salad
Keyword creamy dressing, salad dressing, tarragon, waldorf
Prep Time 15 minutes
Author SL

Ingredients

Salad ingredients

  • mixed greens
  • diced apple
  • sliced celery
  • grapes
  • cold grilled or shredded chicken (optional)
  • hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Sweet & Salty Walnuts

  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • sea salt

Creamy Tarragon Vinaigrette

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon (or one tsp. dry tarragon) Can substitute tarragon for dill

Instructions

Salad

  1. Cook chicken and hard-boiled eggs, if using. (This can be done the day before.)

  2. Wash & chop salad ingredients.

Sweet & Salty Walnuts

  1. Toast walnuts in a skillet over medium-high heat until you start to smell them, tossing frequently.

  2. Sprinkle with sugar.

  3. Add water and toss until the water evaporates and the walnuts are coated.

  4. Pour walnuts onto a piece of parchment paper or a plate and sprinkle with sea salt while the walnuts are still sticky. Let cool.

Creamy Tarragon Dressing

  1. In the cup for an immersion blender, add all dressing ingredients.

  2. Blend. Dressing will be very thick.

Recipe Notes

This dressing makes about 1 1/2 cups.  Store in a mason jar for up to one week in the fridge. To extend the shelf life of the dressing, use dried herbs instead of fresh. 

Poppy Seed Dressing

Making salad dressing at home is quick and inexpensive. Most dressings use basic pantry ingredients that you most likely already have on hand. I love this dressing because it’s creamy without adding mayonnaise or dairy.

This dressing goes particularly well on salads that contain fruit. Here are some ideas:

  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • peaches or nectarines
  • mangoes
  • apples

I also love adding a candied nut or seed like pecans, walnuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds for a sweet and salty crunch. Toasting and candying nuts takes only a few minutes.

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How to Candy Nuts and Seeds

  • Toast the nuts or seeds (1 cup) in a skillet over medium heat, tossing constantly so they don’t burn.
  • Add a bit of butter to coat. (2 Tbsp)
  • Add brown sugar. (2 Tbsp)
  • Toss until nuts are coated and sugar is melted.
  • Pour out onto parchment paper, spreading out the nuts in one layer.
  • Sprinkle with Jay’s Spice or salt.
  • Let cool before topping your salad.

Poppy Seed Dressing

A creamy dressing without the dairy that uses pantry ingredients.

Course Salad, sauce
Cuisine American
Keyword dressing, poppyseed, salad dressing
Prep Time 5 minutes
Author SL

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 tsp. onion flakes
  • 1 tsp. poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in the cup for an immersion blender or a blender.

  2. Blend until creamy.

Recipe Notes

Serve over salad containing fresh fruit and candied nuts. 

Prep strategies

As always, I recommend making a double batch to use for the week or making a few dressings at a time and storing them in mason jars. For five more salad dressings using pantry staples, click here.