11 Not-Boring Proteins to Give Your Salads a Boost

Think: crispy tofu, flaky-tender salmon, grilled seitan, and more.

June 26, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Styling By Alexis Anthony.

We've partnered with Eat Smart to share a few of our favorite protein-packed additions to their Sweet Kale Chopped Salad Kit—a crunchy-fresh blend of greens and superfood vegetables, toppings (like pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries), and a creamy, sweet poppyseed dressing to top things off.

Once you've had a good salad, it's almost impossible to go back to those of the bland-and-boring variety (think: limp greens, flavorless dressing, and maybe a few shredded carrots and sliced cherry tomatoes).

Luckily, making an excellent salad with all the flavor and texture you could ever want isn't much harder than making a "bad" one. All you need is a solid salad base, like the Eat Smart Sweet Kale Chopped Salad Kit (kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, for starters), a few toppings (like seeds for crunch and dried fruit for sweetness), and a killer dressing (something creamy is always a win in our book).

And to make it super satisfying, you'll want a protein in there, too—which is why we're sharing 11 of our salad-ready favorites. We're talking vegan-friendly tempeh crumbles, the most perfect roast salmon recipe you ever did make, and more. Bring these into the mix and your salads will never be the same.

1. Garlic & Herb-Marinated Chicken Thighs

An overnight marinade of garlic, dried herbs, and lemon zest and juice render these chicken thighs extra tender before they hit the grill (or cast-iron pan). Slice them into strips for an easy salad topper, or cut them into cubes and toss in when you add the dressing.

2. Salt & Pepper Tofu

Give your salad an extra-crispy kick with a batch of this salt and pepper tofu that's ready in 20 minutes flat—all you need to do is pat it dry, give it a starchy coating, and fry it up.

3. Perfect Roast Salmon

Salmon + salad is a no-brainer, and this "perfect" roasted version is as foolproof as it gets. Douse it in a healthy squeeze of lemon before you transfer to the salad for an extra dash of brightness.

4. Herby Falafel

These speedy fried falafel are filled with all the good stuff—chickpeas, loads of fresh herbs, zingy garlic, and punchy spices. We'd happily welcome them in any salad bowl.

5. Marinated Steak

This tender flank steak cozies up to simple seasoning (just salt and pepper) and umami-rich Caesar dressing before a quick stint on the grill. Serve it thinly sliced atop a salad for a meaty protein boost.

6. Simple Grilled Seitan

Here, seitan—a vegan meat substitute made from wheat gluten—gets the "ginger-soy-lime treatment" before grilling (you can also use a grill pan on the stove). The result is a juicy, savory protein you'll want to eat on everything, salads included.

7. Momofuku's Soy Sauce Eggs

Momofuku's soy sauce-marinated eggs are one of our most popular recipes of all time, in part because they're so darn versatile. "They are perfect on their own as a snack, or on an English muffin (eggs Benny setup), in pasta, or cut up and mixed into a salad," says Milk Bar founder, Christina Tosi.

8. Spicy Shrimp

Buttery grilled shrimp with a spicy Sriracha kick? Yeah, we'll take that on a salad any day of the week.

9. Savory Tempeh Crumbles

"Once you get the hang of making the crumbles," writes food blogger and cookbook author, Gena Hamshaw, you can customize the seasoning to work with whatever dish (ahem, salad) you're planning to add them to.

10. One-Skillet Smoky Turmeric Chicken With Crispy Chickpeas

Think of this as a two-for-one special—it comes with turmeric-spiced chicken breasts and crispy chickpeas, all in the same recipe.

11. Split Pea "Meatballs" with Pistachio Yogurt

We bet even diehard fans of classic meatballs will have more than a few kind words for this vegetarian version made with split peas, herbs, rice, and more. Consider letting a few hang out on top of your next salad (you won't be disappointed).

What's your go-to summer salad? Tell us in the comments below!

In partnership with Eat Smart, we're highlighting protein-packed +1s for their Sweet Kale Chopped Salad Kit—a superhero salad that comes with everything you need for a satisfying meal, from the greens to the dressing. We're also teaming up with them for a very-special giveaway: Enter here to win a prize pack of salad-making essentials from the Food52 Shop (psst: You've got until July 20!).

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Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.

1 Comment

HalfPint June 29, 2020
During the hot months, I like to make Viet-style noodle salads, especially with shrimp which requires little prep or cook time.