5 Protein-Packed Grilled Salad Recipes

These next-level grilled salads will get you all fired up for mealtime.
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Few kitchen creations provide more health-boosting benefits than a salad. But usually, salads are about as exciting as folding laundry, and a mound of spinach bathed in gloppy bottled dressing is hardly an #epicmeal. These salad recipes are a far cry from rabbit food, using fresh market produce, clean, healthy protein and the flame-licked goodness of your backyard grill. Grab your tongs, get grilling and make some main-dish meals worthy of Instagram status.  

Salmon Potato Salad

Salmon is a great source of protein and may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Curried Salmon Potato Salad

Hands-on time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

This summer picnic staple gets an upgrade with grill-roasted potatoes, crisp veggies, buttery salmon and a spicy yogurt dressing.

Body benefits: Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in salmon have been found to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and decrease the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. And a recent study in the journal BMJ suggests that people with high levels of omega-3s in their blood may be more likely to age without health problems and live longer than those who go without.

Pro tip: Parboil your potatoes until they are slightly soft before grilling. This ensures the outsides don’t burn to a crisp before the spuds are cooked through in the middle. Also, let them cool post-grill and pre-dressing to prevent soupy salad.

Ingredients

1. lb baby potatoes

3 tsp canola or grapeseed oil, divided

1 lb center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets

salt and pepper, to taste

1 large carrot, sliced into matchsticks

1 medium cucumber, sliced into halfmoons

2 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

½ cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup sliced unsalted roasted almonds

Dressing

¾ cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tbsp grated or finely minced ginger

zest of 1 lime

juice of ½ lime

2 tsp curry powder

¼ tsp cayenne

¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. To parboil: Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are just barely fork-tender, then drain. When cool enough to handle, slice into halves or quarters, then toss with 2 teaspoons oil and a couple of pinches salt.
  2. Place a high-sided grill basket on the grill grate and preheat to medium. Add potatoes and heat until cooked through and crispy, about 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Remove from grill and place potatoes in a large bowl to cool to room temperature.
  3. Brush skin side of salmon with 1 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper (to taste). Place salmon on grill skin-side down, close lid and heat until fish is just barely cooked through in the center, about 8 minutes. Remove and let rest 5 minutes, then gently break flesh into 1-inch chunks.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together dressing ingredients until well-combined. Add carrots, cucumbers and scallions to bowl with potatoes. Gently stir in yogurt dressing. Sprinkle in cilantro and almonds. Place potato salad on plates and top with chunks of salmon.

A high-sided grill basket is ideal for cooking veggies that might otherwise fall through the grill grate and turn into charred bits of black. Use it for bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, mushrooms and more.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 452, fat 23 g, carbs 33 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 5 g, protein 31 g, sodium 379 mg

Grilled Tofu

Turn tofu strategically while cooking to produce various grill patterns.

Tofu Steak Salad

Hands-on time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

When seared over an open flame, tofu transforms from meh to meaty. The intense heat of grilling also brings out the sweetness of the red peppers and zucchini, while an herby dressing brightens up the whole meal.

Body benefits: A large JAMA Internal Medicine study found that people who replaced some of their dietary animal-based protein with plant-based protein like tofu experienced lower rates of premature death, particularly from heart disease.

Pro tip: Pressing out the excess water from tofu means a better sear on the grill or frying pan. Translation: a whole lot more flavor.

Grilled vegetables

Grilled vegetables make a great addition to any homemade salad.

Ingredients

2 blocks (2 lb) extra-firm tofu

oil, for brushing

½ tsp chili powder

¼ tsp salt, plus more, to taste

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and quartered

2 small zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise

8 cups baby greens

4 tbsp pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Dressing

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

½ cup fresh mint

½ cup fresh basil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp honey

2 tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Heat grill to medium-high and grease grill grates. Line a cutting board with a few layers of paper towels. Place tofu on top and cover with more paper towels. Use another cutting board or flat object on top and press down gently to extract excess liquid from tofu. Remove tofu and discard towels.
  2. Turn tofu blocks on their sides and slice in half lengthwise. Lightly brush with oil and season with chili powder and ¼ teaspoon salt. Grill until golden and grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from grill and slice each piece in half.
  3. Brush peppers and zucchini with oil and lightly season with salt (to taste). Grill until tender and slightly charred, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from grill. When cool enough to handle, slice peppers into strips and zucchini into half-moons. Add dressing ingredients to a blender cup and blend until smooth. Divide greens among serving plates and top with grilled vegetables and tofu steaks. Drizzle with herb dressing and scatter on pumpkin seeds.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 485, fat 34 g, carbs 15 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 4 g, protein 31 g, sodium 416 mg

Chicken peach salad

These recipes are not set in stone — add other items such as raspberries and walnuts for a flavorful nutrition punch!

Chicken Peach Salad

Hands-on time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Peaches go great on the grill and add a fresh, sweet element to salads. The chicken packs a solid punch of protein, while cheese-stuffed Peppadew peppers accent with a total flavor bomb.

Body benefits: Turn up the heat on your meals and stay stuffed for longer: Research suggests that foods from the chili pepper family such as Peppadews can bolster satiety, putting the brakes on mindless eating.

Pro tip: The intense heat of grilling can quickly turn chicken breasts into shoe leather. Thigh meat is much more forgiving and better retains its juiciness.

grilled peaches

Grilled peaches

Ingredients

¾ cup quinoa

16 whole Peppadew peppers

2 oz soft goat cheese

1 lb boneless chicken thighs

salt and black pepper, to taste

4 peaches, pitted and halved

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups packed arugula

Dressing

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Directions

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Set aside. Using a small spoon, stuff Peppadew peppers with goat cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Heat a grill to medium and grease grill grates. Season chicken with salt and black pepper (to taste). Grill 5 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 165 F. Let cool 5 minutes and then slice.
  3. Brush peaches with oil and lightly season with salt (to taste). Grill 3 minutes per side, or until tender and grill marks appear. Remove, and when cool enough to handle, gently remove skins and slice into wedges.
  4. Divide arugula among plates and top with equal amounts of quinoa, stuff ed peppers, peaches and chicken. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Drizzle over salads.

Peppadew (aka piquante) peppers usually come jarred in brine or loose in the deli section. Can’t find Peppadews? Roasted red peppers or mini bell peppers are worthy subs.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 456, fat 19 g, carbs 42 g, fiber 6 g, sugar 18 g, protein 32 g, sodium 396 mg

Mediterranean Romaine Wedge Salad

Hands-on time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 4 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Grilling imbues romaine lettuce with an unexpected flavor nuance and tender texture, and the chickpea salad delivers bright, crunchy flavors to complete the mouthwatering meal.

Body benefits: This salad provides a payload of dietary fiber, which is good news for your ticker: A recent study published in The Lancet found that people who consumed at least 25 grams of fiber daily greatly reduced the risk for early death from heart disease and diabetes.

Pro tip: Not just for dipping, hummus is perfect for creating a creamy dressing that plays by the nutritional rules.

Ingredients

2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 small cucumber, chopped

1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped

⅓ cup sliced Kalamata olives

2 green onions, sliced

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 heads romaine lettuce

olive oil, for brushing

salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

½ cup chopped parsley

Dressing

½ cup plain hummus

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Directions

  1. In a bowl, toss together chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, olives, green onions and balsamic vinegar.
  2. Heat grill to medium. Slice romaine heads lengthwise and lightly brush with oil. Place cut-side down on grill and cook, turning once, until charred and slightly wilted, about 2 minutes per side.
  3. Whisk together dressing ingredients, adding hot water if needed to thin, until a pourable consistency is achieved. Transfer lettuce to serving plates. Season with salt and pepper (to taste). Top with chickpea salad and drizzle on hummus dressing. Sprinkle on feta and parsley.

For extra protein, top salad with high-quality tinned sardines or chunks of smoked salmon.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 372, fat 17 g, carbs 43 g, fiber 16 g, sugar 9 g, protein 16 g, sodium 560 mg

Cheeseburger Salad

Hands-on time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 8 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

This deconstructed riff on a grilling classic ups the nutritional ante with a payload of veggies. And adding chopped mushrooms to your meat gives lean ground beef some much-needed moisture and adds unexpected umami.

Body benefits: A study in the Journal of Food Science found that swapping meat for mushrooms resulted in a meal with fewer calories, cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium. It also boosted nutrient content, adding more vitamin D, potassium and B vitamins.

Pro tip: Massaging raw onion with a trio of acid, sugar and salt decreases its overpowering bite.

Ingredients

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt, divided

4 oz cremini mushrooms, stems removed

¾ lb lean ground beef

1 tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp black pepper

8 cups salad greens, such as mesclun, red leaf or baby spinach

4 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 cup sliced pickles

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Dressing

½ cup light mayonnaise

2 tbsp red wine vinegar or pickle juice

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 garlic clove, grated or finely minced

1 tsp paprika

Directions

  1. Place onions, lemon juice, sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl. With your hands, massage onions until tender and pink, about 2 minutes. Chill until ready to use.
  2. Finely chop mushrooms or grind in a food processor until roughly the consistency of ground beef. Gently combine mushrooms, beef, oil, black pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Shape into 4 patties.
  3. Heat a grill to medium and grease grates. Cook burgers 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until internal temperature registers 165 F. Remove from grill, let rest 5 minutes and cut into 1-inch bites.
  4. Divide greens among serving plates. Top evenly with burger bites, tomatoes, onions, pickles and cheese. Stir together dressing ingredients and divide between salads.

Replace ground beef with other lean ground meat such as pork, chicken or even bison. Reduce the fat and calories in this recipe by using low-fat or fat-free cheddar cheese.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 484, fat 32 g, carbs 21 g, fiber 6 g, sugar 9 g, protein 29 g, sodium 840 mg

Colorful salad

Mix and match ingredients you have at home to create a nutritional and flavorful salad.

The Make-Your-Own Salad Matrix

Crafting a superfood salad does not have to be complicated. Mix and match any of the items in each of the following categories to design your own, and remember — the more colors you incorporate, the bigger the nutritional punch!

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Dress It Up

Commercially produced dressings often contain chemicals and additives that ruin your good-green intentions. Ditch the store-bought stuff for more flavorful and healthy DIY options, such as these two go-anywhere dressings.

Balsamic Orange Vinaigrette 

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

zest and juice of 1 medium orange

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp honey

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp grated or finely minced fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

⅛ tsp red pepper flakes

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Add all ingredients except olive oil to a blender cup and blend until thoroughly combined. With the machine running on low, slowly drizzle olive oil through the top tube until emulsified.

French Dressing

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp salt

⅓ cup neutral-flavored oil, such as grapeseed or canola

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except oil until well-combined. Whisking constantly, add oil in a steady stream until incorporated.