If there is such a thing as a comfort food salad then this Garden Salad would be it. It’s the old school classic salad of my childhood (and maybe yours too) that goes with pretty much every meal, and never gets old! Today I have the perfect formula of veggies (including iceberg lettuce, cukes and tomato wedges), cheese, croutons and a delicious homemade Italian vinaigrette to pour over it. 

overhead of a turquoise painted salad bowl with garden salad in it, two salad tongs and hands on the tongs

What is Garden Salad?

Garden salad is a a type of tossed green salad made with lettuce (usually a blend including mostly iceberg lettuce.) As the name implies it also has garden fresh veggies including carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Often garden salads include croutons and cheese. 

In my mind Garden Salad pulls up a very specific salad from my memory. One that is served in a wooden salad bowl with a slightly sweet dressing (or perhaps blue cheese or ranch dressing.)

I wasn’t sure if I was the only one with this idea so a few weeks ago I polled folks on instagram about what ingredients were included in a “Garden Salad” in their households and I got a variety of answers. [Including mention of Bac-o’s, which I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade!] But there were a lot of similarities to what I think of! So I have pulled together the best of the most commonly mentioned ingredients, and came up with this recipe to share with you today. 

two bowls of salad and the salad bowl. a hand taking one of the bowls out.

 

Ingredients For The Dressing

Today I included ingredients and instructions for a dressing too. It is very classically Italian dressing flavored. Of course, you can use whatever kind of dressing you happen to have on hand, or you can make another dressing from scratch. I have dozens of  salad dressings here on the blog to choose from. 

  • Garlic: The taste of the fresh garlic in this dressing makes all the difference. To make it less biting, chop it finely and then make a paste with the salt.
  • Kosher salt: For the garlic and salt paste I find it easiest to use a coarse kosher salt. It helps to break apart the garlic and make it into a paste quickly. If you want to substitute table salt, you’ll just want to make sure you read this. 
  • Olive oil: Use your favorite extra-virgin olive oil. 
  • Red wine vinegar: for the acidic element in this dressing, I like the flavor of red wine vinegar. If you do not have it, you can substitute lemon, rice vinegar or white vinegar. I don’t recommend cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar. You can read more about what type of vinegars I recommend stocking here. 
  • Sugar: I am a big fan of natural sugars when possible, but in this case I used white table salad. In case you want to use a natural sugar, you can use agave which has a neutral flavor. If you want to make this recipe sugar-free simply skip the sugar. If you are used to a sugar-free diet, your palate likely won’t miss it! 
  • Dijon mustard: To help emulsify the salad dressing, I used a little Dijon. It makes the dressing stay blended together and it adds a peppy flavor too. 
  • Mrs. Dash or salt free seasoning blend: You’re going to have to trust me on this one, but Mrs. Dash seasoning is the key to this dressing my friends. It really adds a savory and lemony note to the dressing that I absolutely adore. I have been making this dressing over and over again! I like the Mrs. Dash original blend best. If you want to sub in another salt free blend that’s okay too, but look for one that has lemon in the ingredients if possible.
  • Dried oregano: I love the way that the oregano adds to the flavors in this dressing. It reminds me of Greek salad and I love the way it tastes with the onion and croutons. 

Vegetables To Include In The Salad

You can always mix these veggies up depending on the season, and what you happen to have. 

  • Salad greens blend (preferably with iceberg): To me, garden salad needs to have that distinctive crunch of iceberg lettuce. Feel free to buy bagged salad mix, or make your own blend using your favorite lettuce. The last time I made this salad I used chopped iceberg and mixed baby greens and arugula from my garden and it took on a more gourmet attitude, but it was still delicious. 
  • Carrots: Some of the folks I polled mentioned their carrots were julienne cut. I opted to shred mine with a box grater since that was easiest. But if you prefer the look and texture of julienne, you can buy them pre-cut or cut them yourself with a mandoline. 
  • Bell pepper: For additional color and variety I also added in a bell pepper. Feel free to cut it into rings if you prefer the look of them. Use whichever color you like best. 
  • Tomato: At this time of year, tomatoes are still great so I used a fresh slicing tomato. In months that it is harder to find goo tomatoes, you can use cherry tomatoes (I like the cherry tomatoes on the vine.) 
  • Cucumber: I like to peel the cucumber skin off in strips to give the cucumber rounds a striped look along the edges. 
  • Red onion: You only need a little bit of the onion, as it can be overpowering to the other tastes in the mix if you use too much. I like to cut it into larger slices (French cut) so that if someone doesn’t like onions, they can easily pull them out of the salad. 
  • Cheddar cheese: Here in Vermont, we have white cheddar, but I really love the look of orange cheese in this recipe so I found a yellow cheddar to use. Either way, look for a sharp cheddar cheese for the best flavor. 
  • Croutons: You can make your own homemade croutons or you can buy them too. You’ll need 1 1/2 cups. 
  • Pepperoncini: these are optional. I know a lot of people associate garden salad with pepperoncini because of the Olive Garden unlimited salad bowl so I included them in here. Feel free to omit them if you don’t like them. 

veggies and pepperoncini in the salad tossed with dressing.

How To Make This Recipe

Make The Dressing

First you’ll want to make the dressing. You can do this ahead of time too, and just shake it up again before you pour it over the salad.

Garlic Salt Paste

  • Start by making a paste with the garlic and salt. This is a technique you’ll see me use over and over again here on Healthy Seasonal Recipes because I don’t like to have raw garlic in big chunks. The salt paste makes it break down into such a fine consistency that it almost melts into the dressing. 
  • To make the paste chop the garlic first, then sprinkle on the salt.
  • Then press down hard with the side of your chef’s knife using a smearing motion to grind the salt into the garlic. It takes a little while (almost a minute) to get the right consistency. But you’ll know that you’ve gotten the right texture when your garlic seems wet, you won’t see any individual pieces and the texture is a little slippery. 

Mix it in a Jar

Add the garlic salt paste into a jar ( I use a half pint canning jar.) It’s convenient to use because you can shake the dressing to combine it instead of using a blender or whisk. 

After you add the garlic salt paste, then add the remaining ingredients. Top with the lid and then shake the jar like crazy. You just want to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the mustard breaks up into the dressing. 

Make Ahead Notes

This dressing can be made up to 1 week ahead. Keep it in the refrigerator. The olive oil in the dressing will become solidified after a day or two. To make it liquid again, simply let it sit at room temperature or set it in a dish of warm water and shake it every minute or two. Shake it well before serving.

Making and Serving The Salad

From here, you’ll obviously just combine the greens, veggies, cheese and croutons in the salad bowl. I like to use a big wooden bowl because this is a tossed salad and having enough room to toss the veggies together without them spilling out is helpful! 

Add The Dressing and Toss

This salad wilts fast because of all the veggies. So you’ll want to add the dressing and toss it just before you serve it.  

Make Ahead Notes

  • If you want to make this salad ahead of time do not add the croutons or tomatoes. 
  • Layer the greens, cucumbers, pepper, carrots and onion in the bowl.
  • I like to take a damp paper towel and lay it over the top of the salad and then loosely wrap it with plastic wrap and refrigerate the salad. 
  • Keep the dressing separate.
  • Cut the tomato and add it with the croutons and dressing just before tossing and serving. 

pouring dressign over the bowl of salad

Steps To Make This Recipe

More Classic Salad Dressings To Try With This Garden Salad Recipe

Thanks so much for reading. If you make this Garden Salad recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review

Happy Cooking!

~Katie

Print
Garden salad up close overhead

Garden Salad

  • Author: Katie
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 14 cups 1x
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This classic garden salad has all your favorite toppings including cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, croutons and cheddar cheese! Serve it tossed with this easy homemade Italian dressing for a 15 minute green side salad.


Scale

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar, optional

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash or salt free seasoning blend

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salad

12 ounces salad greens blend (preferably with iceberg)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded on a box grater

1 bell pepper, cut into rings or strips

1 large tomato, cut into wedges

½ medium cucumber, peeled and cut into rounds

¼ cup thinly sliced red onion

¾ cup shredded orange cheddar cheese (3 ounces)

1 ½ cup croutons, gluten-free if desired

8 pepperoncini, optional


Instructions

  1. Make Vinaigrette: Mash garlic and salt with the side of a knife on cutting board until it forms a paste. Scrape into a jar. Add in oil, vinegar, sugar Dijon, Mrs Dash and oregano. Close jar and shake well to combine.
  2. Make Salad: Add salad green to large salad bowl. Arrange carrots, bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese on top. Just before serving, drizzle on dressing and toss to coat. Add croutons and toss again. Serve immediately with pepperoncini if using.

Notes

Make Ahead Notes For The Dressing:

  1. This dressing can be made up to 1 week ahead. Keep it in the refrigerator.
  2. The olive oil in the dressing will become solidified after a day or two. To make it liquid again, simply let it sit at room temperature or set it in a dish of warm water and shake it every minute or two.
  3. Shake it well before serving.

Make Ahead Notes For The Salad

  1. If you want to make this salad ahead of time do not add the croutons or tomatoes.
  2. Layer the greens, cucumbers, pepper, carrots and onion in the bowl.
  3. I like to take a damp paper towel and lay it over the top of the salad and then loosely wrap it with plastic wrap and refrigerate the salad.
  4. Keep the dressing separate.
  5. Cut the tomato and add it with the croutons and dressing just before tossing and serving.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2 1/2 cups
  • Calories: 334
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fat: 16 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 11 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 2 g

Garden Salad