By now, everyone knows that a big part of a healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables. It’s easy to pack these foods into crisp, refreshing salads in the summer, but when the weather starts turning chilly, most of us start craving warming and comforting foods.

Enter warm salads.

They’re salad plus comfort food. Making a warm salad couldn’t be easier either: It’s just mixing and matching warm or hot ingredients with fresh into one hearty meal.

Let’s take a look at what goes into building a warm salad.

Fresh brussel and kale sprouts flower, straight from garden on table.

Step 1: Build a Base

Lettuces are one of the most common greens associated with salads, but they aren’t the only ones available. While fresh green salads are perfect for summer, they’re less so when the weather starts to get chilly.

To build a warm base for your salad, choose leafy greens that can be lightly cooked or steamed. Then, either add these warm greens to your favorite fresh salad greens or use them alone.

Get creative, mix, and match until you find your favorite blend.

Good choices include:

  • Kale (any variety)
  • Collard Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Arugula
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Spinach

Step 2: Add Toppings

A salad without toppings isn’t a salad at all; it’s just a sad bowl of greens.

One of the great things about warm salads is not only tailoring the flavors to suit your tastes, but also the limitless variety of toppings available. Often I’ll use whatever leftovers I need to use up in the fridge.

Do you have roasted vegetables from last night’s dinner? Throw them in! A batch of roasted chickpeas? Toss them in! Caramelized onions can add a lovely depth of flavor to salads.

Toppings that can be warm or cold:

  • Cruciferous vegetables like turnips, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage
  • Plants such as green onions, cucumbers, radishes, bell peppers, peas, asparagus, zucchini, squash, or tomatoes
  • Fruits such as mandarin oranges, figs, or dried fruits such as cranberries, raisins, or blueberries
  • Seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, or flax and nuts like walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, or brazil nuts

Quick Tip: If I’m using leftover cooked vegetables, I like to mix in a few fresh vegetables along with them so that I have a balance of both crunchy and soft textures.

Cooked quinoa in bowl with cooking wooden spoon on dark rustic background.

Step 3: Choose a Complex Carbohydrate or Starch

If you’re eating a salad for a meal — warm or cold — adding a complex carbohydrate or starch to it will help keep your energy engines running at top speeds. Warm salads are the perfect vehicle for potatoes, whole grains, beans, legumes, or other type of starch.

A few nourishing choices are:

  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Farro
  • Freekeh
  • Lentils
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet Potato
  • Wheatberries
Plant food, vegan protein sources: Tofu, vegan milk, beans, lentils, nuts, spinach and seeds.

Step 4: Pick a Plant Protein

A nutritionally balanced warm salad includes a serving of protein. Luckily, there are plenty of plant options to choose from, and some even pull double nutrition-duty. Some are both a protein and a complex carbohydrate, for example, quinoa or beans.

Quality plant protein choices include:

  • Beans or Lentils
  • Edamame
  • Green Peas
  • Quinoa
  • Wheatberries
A blue pan full of chili-lime sunflower seeds sitting on a wooden table.

Step 5: Add Flair

One of my favorite not-so-secret secrets to eating healthy food is to add flair to keep meals interesting. Maybe you don’t like salads all that much, but you want to eat more vegetables.

Adding a small amount of tasty food will help keep your taste buds interested.

Try topping your salads with roasted nuts or spiced seeds- look for ones made without extra oils. Crumble toasted pita chips on top of your salad, or perhaps warmed capers or olives, or even sun-dried tomatoes — more limitless possibilities.

A jar of crema sitting on parchment paper on top of a black surface with greens in the background.

Step 6: Dress for Deliciousness

Another not-so-secret secret to eating healthy food is in the sauce — or, the dressing.

A delicious dressing or sauce can turn a boring salad of blandness into something crave-worthy. Beyond that, dressings are an excellent way to incorporate healthy fats into the meal. Look for dressings made from whole-foods such as tahini, avocado, or cashews.

A few delicious, mostly whole-food choices are:

Are You Ready to Make Your Own?

Did I convince you to try making a warm, hearty salad of your own?

I love hearing from you, so let me know about your kitchen adventures in the comments!