(Not) Recipes

How to Make a Great Smoothie Without a Recipe

March  9, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: If you have a blender and enough energy to press the "on" button, you can make a smoothie. And if you have a little creativity and some inspiration, you can make a smoothie that is great-tasting and wholly satisfying, too.

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A good smoothie is a thing of beauty. It’s a bright and cheerful reminder that spring is coming even though you’re still wearing your wool socks. More importantly, you can make it while you are still half asleep, tuck it in your bag, and sip it during your morning commute. If you can plug in a blender, you can whip up breakfast. 

Not every combination of ingredients, however, makes a great smoothie. It requires a balance of ingredients: a little bit of sweet fruit, some nuts or protein powder for substance, and enough liquid to blend together smoothly.  

Here’s how to make a perfect smoothie every time: 

1. Pick your greens
. Smoothies are a great way to pack in even more vegetables. If you’re feeling bold, go for heartier greens like chard or kale. If you like your smoothies a little milder, opt for spinach, which is more sweet than bitter. Add some arugula for a bright, peppery flavor. A good rule of thumb is to stick to just 1 or 2 cups of roughly chopped or torn greens; otherwise, you might end up feeling like you’re sipping blended grass. 

2.  Chill out. Since ice can make your smoothie watery, use frozen fruit in its place -- it lowers the temperature while adding flavor and sweetness. It's not news that frozen bananas are surprisingly creamy -- they'll make your smoothie taste a bit more like a milkshake. Start with using half a frozen banana -- they tend to overpower most other flavors in your mix. If you’re dreaming about lying on a beach instead of piling on sweaters, substitute a handful of frozen chopped mango or pineapple for a taste of the tropics. Adding a few spoonfuls of berries is another great way to pretend summer is a bit closer. For a single smoothie, use about 1 cup of fruit total.

3. Get nutty. Nut butter is to smoothies what hot fudge is to sundaes -- not necessary but always a good idea. Nuts add protein and fat, making your smoothie filling enough to get you through the morning. A tablespoon of almond butter is subtle enough to match most fruits and greens, while peanut butter is perfect when you’re in the mood for something sweeter and more powerful.

4. Add some liquid. To blend your smoothies, you’ll need some liquid. Nut milks like almond or hemp are a bit lighter, but you can also use regular milk, too. If your goal is to rehydrate, substitute in some coconut water or orange juice. You’ll just need enough to liquefy the ingredients in your blender, which is usually about 1 cup. Feel free to mix and match liquids and to try adding yogurt for extra protein and tang. 

5. Mix it up. Smoothies can be more than just frozen fruits and milk. You can add in lime juice, roasted sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, pomegranate juice, or even avocado. They're also perfect for sneaking healthy but less than delicious super foods into your diet. Try adding a spoonful of flaxseeds, chia seeds, or even spirulina powder. If you need a heftier smoothie, add a scoop of protein powder. You can try flavoring your smoothie with freshly grated ginger or turmeric and ground spices like cinnamon or cardamom, and if you're looking for a sweeter drink, add honey, dates, agave nectar, maple syrup, or fruit preserves.

6. Blend it. Put all of your ingredients in the blender and let it go until you have a smooth mixture. Greens need some extra time, so this will likely take at least a minute depending on the speed of your blender. If the smoothie isn’t coming together, add more liquid and give it a stir (remembering to taste for sweetness and flavor, as adding more milk will dilute your mixture).

7. Drink up. Pour your drink into a tall glass, insert a straw, and get your day started!

Need some smoothie inspiration? Here are a few of our favorite combinations:

  • Roasted sweet potatoes + dates + tahini + caradamom + almond milk
  • Frozen pineapple + spinach + mint + coconut water
  • Avocado + lime + kale + soy milk
  • Berries + chia seeds + coconut milk


What's your favorite smoothie combination? Share with us in the comments below! 

Photos by James Ransom 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tita
  • Cinnamin
  • mary
  • Dalene Russell
    Dalene Russell
  • lisa
Hillary Pollak

Written by: Hillary Pollak


Tita March 6, 2016
blueberries fresh and frozen, banana, yogurt, rice milk, powdered hemp, and occasionally fresh OJ. Strawberries and melon when in season, honey if I need it sweet.
Cinnamin March 6, 2016
Im from India so bananas are available year-round. I like using bananas and watermelon when it's in season; I can make a dairy-free smoothie without nut milk. I also add an inch-long piece of lemon, pith and seeds removed. I like blending it in as opposed to squeezing the juice in- bolder brighter flavour.

Spinach, mint, banana, grapes, ginger, lemon, a single date. Water. Blend!!
mary July 21, 2015
Low fat cottage cheese plus ice cubes, vanilla extract, fruit on hand and milk or OJ for liquid.....excellent!!
Dalene R. March 15, 2015
Try frozen blackberries, spinach, a few strawberries, fresh ginger and a heaped spoon of cocoa powder with homemade kefir as the liquid - tastes like a collision of a salad and dessert.
lisa March 10, 2015
There are recipes for smoothies?!?
ariel A. March 10, 2015
I've found that placing the greens in the blender first (closest to the blades) helps prevent chunks of spinach from throwing off your smoothie's zen. You can even blend them up with your liquid before adding everything else!
Tiyana M. March 9, 2015
These our great ideas to add to my Shakeology! Thank you!
Chrissie G. March 9, 2015
i love adding a few drops of vanilla to a smoothie. it makes it taste more like a milk shake.