18 Easy Salads You Can Make with Pantry Ingredients
Never mind lettuce: As long as your pantry is stocked, you can be eating a salad tonight
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By now we’ve all gotten pretty good at cooking dinner with pantry ingredients, haven’t we? I’m still only hitting the grocery store twice a month. But as the weather gets warmer there are plenty of nights when I don’t feel like cooking. I want to eat a meal that’s cold, fresh, crunchy, easy: I want to eat salad. Even if the crisper doesn’t have much beyond carrots, celery, and cabbage, I can still pull it off. The key is to stop thinking of salad as something that needs lettuce, and to stock the pantry with ingredients that can work in both hot and cold dishes.
Jump ahead to:
Salad ingredients for the pantry
In the cupboard, stocking up on salad ingredients means:
Jars of olives, roasted red peppers, artichokes (marinated and not), pepperoncini, pickles, capers, and the like.
Cans of beans and/or bags of dried beans (currently in my kitchen: chickpeas, cannellini, black, kidney, lentils, and adzuki).
Canned fish like tuna, salmon, and anchovies.
Enough types of whole grains to keep us from getting bored — right now I have farro, barley, wheat berries, brown rice, whole wheat couscous and whole wheat Israeli couscous, and bulgur.
Pasta, of course.
Nuts and dried fruit, several different types of each.
And let’s not forget the makings for a variety of dressings. For me that includes several different vinegars, extra-virgin olive oil and other oils, soy sauce, honey, mustard, hot sauce, peanut butter, tahini, and a substantial spice rack.
Salad ingredients for the fridge and freezer
The freezer keeps things fresh for months, so I consider it part of the pantry. There I’ve got salad-friendly vegetables plus tortellini and bread. The fridge pitches in, too — while things like tender lettuce and juicy tomatoes might not last more than a few days, sturdier options can stay fresh much longer.
Frozen peas, green beans, shelled edamame, and corn kernels.
Frozen tortellini and bread.
In the fridge, romaine and grape tomatoes can stay fresh for a couple of weeks.
Lemons and limes will keep for weeks, too, so I always have them on hand.
Firm cheeses will also stay fresh for a good long while — I’ve got fresh mozz (which, once opened, will spoil quickly, so I make sure to use it first), cheddar, gruyere, manchego, and Parmesan.
When I think “pantry recipe,” beans are my go-to. Canned (or dried) beans are super-affordable, and with so many varieties available they can adapt to all kinds of flavor profiles. Unless a recipe calls for the canning liquid, always drain and rinse canned beans before use.
Six different pantry ingredients give this variation on a chopped salad its heft: two types of canned beans, sweet and spicy peppadew peppers, black and pimento-stuffed green olives, and marinated artichokes. Just a few crunchy fresh vegetables, a handful of herbs, and a classic Italian-accented dressing bring it all together.
Chickpeas, kidney, and black beans star here, but if you don’t have all three, you can sub in virtually any type. Aside from the beans, all you need are an onion, a little celery and garlic, dried dill, and olive oil. I like a splash of vinegar in my bean salads, but that’s totally optional.
Now this is a hearty main-dish salad. It’s got more of a Latin American flavor, thanks to ground cumin, lime juice, and chili powder. That seasoning combo works beautifully with pantry staples like black beans, quinoa, frozen or canned corn, and sweet potatoes.
Use your noodle: pasta salads
Summer and pasta salad just go together, don’t they? Many a pasta salad (our moms called them macaroni salad) involves tons of perishable items like tomatoes, but they don’t have to — pantry ingredients and sturdy vegetables like carrots and celery can make an equally enticing combination.
This one’s got pantry in the name—every ingredient is either from the cupboard or the freezer: pasta, of course, plus beans, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, frozen peas, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, capers… The umami is off the charts here, and I mean that in the best way.
Just seven ingredients come together to make a main-dish pasta salad that satisfies your craving for Mexican food. The trick is in the dressing, a simple mix of salsa, yogurt, shredded cheese, and smoky-spicy chipotle pepper.
Long-lasting fresh vegetables like carrots, celery, and green onion add crunchy contrast, while a dressing made with pantry staples such as soy sauce, rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce, and sesame oil make it clear this is no ordinary pasta salad.
Yes, fresh vegetable salads
Not all vegetables are delicate and perishable. Some, like carrots, cabbage, and celery, not only last a good long while in the fridge, they also make some pretty terrific salads.
This is a throwback recipe, one that might seem a little odd until you taste it: grated carrots, raisins, apple, and mayo (or Greek yogurt, or citrus juice, or a red wine vinaigrette). But once you taste it, believe me, you’ll understand the appeal.
An entire head of green cabbage, three carrots, and a handful of other vegetables meet up with a spicy-salty-sweet dressing. Crunchy peanuts make the perfect topping.
“Celery salad” sounds so boring, but this version is anything but. A clever dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice, and grated Parm becomes a creamy binder for thinly-sliced celery, canned beans, sweet currants or raisins, and crunchy sliced almonds. It hits all the right notes.
Not your mom’s tuna salad
I’m not talking about mashed-up tuna with mayo and maybe some diced celery. This is salad-salad, the kind you eat with a fork, and tuna lends itself surprisingly well to a variety of pantry-based flavors.
This is the tuna salad of my dreams, dressed up with spicy pepperoncini, briny olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and the bite of finely chopped red onion. I’m not kidding when I say I could eat this every day.
Thanks to three pantry staples — canned tuna, canned white beans, and farro (or barley) — this salad is substantial enough to please even the most carnivorous eaters. And it comes together in a flash, too.
I didn’t understand why this simple salad is so special until I tried it. The first forkful knocked my socks off! It starts out with just a can of tuna and some finely chopped vegetables (which you can easily swap for whatever you’ve got on hand), but adding sesame oil, lime juice, and sesame seeds transforms it into the kind of tuna salad you actually crave.
Go with the grain salads
If you’re jonesing for a salad that will keep you feeling full for hours, look no further than the grains in your cupboard — especially the whole grains. Options like farro, wheat berries, and whole wheat couscous are packed with fiber and more protein than you might expect. And they make the perfect canvas to color with almost anything you’ve got in the pantry.
It doesn’t take much to turn quinoa plus long-lasting vegetables like cabbage and carrots into an irresistibly crunchy grain salad with Asian flavors. You’ll want to use the sesame honey vinaigrette on everything, not just this quinoa salad.
Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and frozen peas lend color and flavor to chewy farro (or barley). If you’ve got the fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and parsley listed in the recipe, great, but if you don’t this salad will still taste fantastic.
I love the way a curry-scented dressing turns couscous, carrots and celery, and dried fruit and nuts into something beautiful and delicious. Add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas or some leftover cooked chicken if you’d like to elevate this to a main dish.
In a category of their own: antipasto salads
Imagine a luscious platter filled with Italian cured meats and cheeses, olives, and other irresistible nibbles — but in salad form, with sturdy romaine and maybe some cherry tomatoes. It’s the pantry salad di tutti pantry salads.
This salad is like walking into an Italian deli: Genoa salami, sopressata, provolone and mozz, plus artichokes, jarred roasted peppers, and more. Add crunchy croutons, then let the whole thing sit until the croutons soften into lusciously crusty flavor bombs.
Imagine the previous recipe, but take away the cured meats and sprinkle on some quick-pickled red onions, and you’ve got yourself a mighty tasty vegetarian version of the salad.
Adding frozen tortellini to the classic antipasto ingredients takes this firmly into one-bowl dinner territory. You don’t even need bread to sop up the dressing — that’s the tortellini’s job.
Be a pantry cooking whiz
Looking for more recipes you can make from what's on hand? Check out these additional ideas.