15 Crunchy Additions To Your Summer Salads

The moment bulky sweaters and windshield scrapers go into storage, it's time to start changing up your weekly meal prep routine. Dense and fatty comfort foods just don't seem as appealing when the sun is baking your skin and the humidity has you sweating bullets. When summer hits, not only is there an abundance of fresh produce to choose from, but we tend to crave refreshing and light flavors.

One seasonal favorite that tends to make a heavy appearance in the warmer months is salads. Yes, they can and should be enjoyed all year round, but there's nothing better than fresh greens, veggies, and fruits to fuel your sunshine adventures. However, no summer salad is complete without a variety of fresh flavors, colors, and of course, textures to make it all pop. Therefore, we've listed our favorite crunchy additions to your summer salads to bring them to the next level.

Whether you enjoy your salads topped with fresh fruits, roasted veggies, grilled meats, or tangy vinaigrettes, there's one addition that often goes overlooked. Texture and mouthfeel can be monotonous in a salad, so it's important to mix in a variety, including those that are chewy, soft, crunchy, and crispy. Gather your leafy greens and get ready to create the ultimate summer salad, with a complete mouthfeel and just enough crunch to make you crave seconds.

1. Toasted sesame seeds

If you're not 100% sure what sesame seeds taste or look like, picture the small white seeds on the outside of your sushi roll or on top of your seaweed salad. They are used to make tahini, which is the dense, nutty seed butter added to hummus, and they are often used to garnish Asian cuisine. They have a mild nutty flavor that's slightly sweet, and when toasted, these flavors really shine.

Toast sesame seeds by tossing them in a hot, un-oiled pan until they begin to brown, or spread them thinly onto a lined baking sheet and cook for just a few minutes in the oven. If the seeds begin to blacken at all, they are overdone and will produce an unpleasant flavor and smell.

Add toasted sesame seeds to any salad after it's been dressed and tossed. You can also use the seeds mixed right into the dressing, especially if it's an Asian or Middle Eastern style dressing. Use sesame seeds to top the avocado for varied texture, or sprinkle them on your glop of homemade hummus. They will add a slightly nutty flavor and a magnificent crunch.

2. Radish slices

When it comes to vegetables, they come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Eggplant and tomatoes are soft and mushy, while root vegetables like beets and radishes tend to be quite crunchy. Radishes, in particular, are water-dense and refreshing yet still work the jaw muscles with their apparent crunch. They are spicy, zesty, and absolutely beautiful when cut into cross sections. Radish slices work particularly well in summer salads because they pair nicely with most fruits, balancing the sweet flavors with a peppery kick of spice.

If a crunchy salad is what you're looking for, try making a fattoush salad recipe at home. It's a Levantine salad that's typically loaded with fresh lettuce, crunchy vegetables like radish and cucumber, and toasted or fried khubz, which is a type of Lebanese bread. The crunch of the radish and the crunch of the bread work hand in hand to create a hearty, flavorful, and textured salad-eating experience.

For those of us looking to simply throw together this year's harvest and farmers market finds, note that radish can be used as a garnish to create color and texture in just about any style of salad, from cuisines reaching every corner of the earth. Consider using a light and sweet vinaigrette to complement the delicate vegetable.

3. Raw peas

One of the mistakes that everyone seems to make with peas is that they are rarely prepared raw. When most of us picture peas, we see frozen bags at the backs of our freezers, or shriveled peas piled in a cafeteria tray next to an ice cream scoop of instant mashed potatoes. Peas have so much more potential than that, and when prepared properly are absolutely delicious. If you grow your own peas or can buy them fresh from a farm stand or farmers market where they have likely been harvested recently, then this is your opportunity to top your salad with the ultimate crunchy, sweet vegetable. 

Try to get them as fresh as possible. Raw peas are crunchy, sweet, and slightly grassy. The fresher they are, the sweeter they are. They pair well with fruits, including berries, especially strawberries, and stone fruits. These little green pearls bring quite a bit of texture to the table, so be sure to sprinkle them onto your summer salad. 

4. Tortilla chips

When we talk about crunchy foods, chips of course come to mind. And while you're more than welcome to crumble up some Tostitos to add to your taco salad or even Fritos, we have a fresher idea in mind. Consider making homemade classic corn tortillas, cutting them into strips, and pan-frying them in a little oil for the ultimate crunchy topping for your summer salad.

This addition not only has the crispiest crunch around, but also adds a little note of salty sweetness from the corn and seasonings. And who doesn't like a little bit of fried something-or-other to accompany their salad?

Use fried tortilla chips on your summer taco salad, decked out with grilled meat or sliced portobello steaks, fresh cilantro, and an avocado lime vinaigrette. As an alternative, use the chips on a salad with fresh fruit to help balance the sweet notes and to add a little texture. Avoid mixing your strips into salads with a heavy or creamy dressing, and instead, use them as a garnish on top along with fresh herbs, to preserve their irresistible crunch.

5. Grape-Nuts

If you're sitting here wondering what part of the grape or grapevine contains nuts, don't feel ashamed. Almost everyone felt confused the first time they heard about Grape-Nuts, and if you're experiencing that right now, you're not alone. Grape-Nuts are actually not related to grapes or nuts at all. Instead, they are a cereal made from grains like wheat and barley. Oddly enough, they resemble what we would assume a grape nut would look like if they were to exist. They are slightly larger than concord grape seeds and are light brown. They are crunchy, airy, and dense all at once. Their flavor is that of a subtle toasted vanilla, and it's often used as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, and granola to give it a little extra crunch.

Who says we can't add it to our salads? In fact, Grape-Nuts make a great grainy addition to salad, without incorporating cooked, water-dense, heavy grains that can overpower the lightness of lettuce. Sprinkle Grape-Nuts on your salad, especially those featuring fresh fruits and nuts.

6. Roasted chickpeas

As folks move further and further away from daily meat consumption to a more plant-based lifestyle, chickpeas seem to be at the center of every meal. Falafel, chickpea flour pancakes, hummus, and chickpea salad sandwiches are all the rage, and honestly, we are on board for all the fuss. Chickpeas are incredibly versatile, and in one of their many forms, can become quite crunchy.

Strain your chickpeas from the can, or the water they were hydrated and cooked in, and blot them dry. Preheat the oven to at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss those little garbanzos in a high-temperature oil, and load them up with herbs and spices. Consider using garlic and onion powder, sea salt, black pepper, paprika, and cumin. Spread the beans out on a lined baking sheet and roast away. Roll them around once or twice as each side begins to brown, and remove them once they are toasty. You can also make crispy chickpeas right in an oiled pan, or even in your air fryer.

7. Toasted pepitas

When it comes to crunchy toppings, toasted pepitas are no spring chicken. You can find these bad boys topping tacos, soups, and even pasta dishes, so it's no surprise that they make a fantastic addition to salads. Pepitas are simply a green seed that is encased by a fibrous white shell inside of pumpkins. Raw, they are buttery, chewy, and nutty. But once they are popped in the oven they can be quite oily, crispy, crunchy, and slightly sweet.

There are endless pumpkin seed recipes out there, ranging from cookies to a tofu substitute, but we enjoy them seasoned, roasted, and sprinkled over a salad. To prepare them, simply strip away the white shell if you're pulling the seeds fresh from a pumpkin, and then toss them in a little oil and sea salt for roasting. You can also go the sweet route and season them with cinnamon and sugar along with salt, which makes a great topping for any salad featuring squash, apples, or roasted root vegetables. Our favorite combination is maple syrup, garlic powder, cayenne, and sea salt.

8. Apple slices

When it comes to summer salads, we often imagine fresh and delicate leafy greens tossed with freshly sliced seasonal fruit, toasted nuts, and soft crumbly cheese. And this combination couldn't be more classic, or universally loved if it tried. When selecting the fruit you'd like to use in your salad, consider one that adds a little crunch. Apples, for instance, when sliced into half-moons, can add quite a bit of texture to a salad, along with a tangy and sweet flavor.

Choose a crisp variety of apples like Sweet Tango or Honeycrisp. Cut them into quarter-inch or thinner slices, and then in half. Add them as a final addition to your salad to keep them crispy, or be sure to toss them in a citrus-based vinaigrette (or just lemon juice) to prevent oxidation from turning them soft and brown.

Apples and vegetables go together like peanut butter and jelly, but if you're feeling lost, then try using apples in a classic apple harvest salad recipe. Pair with nuts, seeds, cheeses, and of course, crispy fresh greens.

9. Parmesan crisps

If you've never heard of Parmesan crisps before, your world is about to turn upside down. They are simply the cheesy version of potato chips made with a single ingredient: Parmesan cheese. However, you are more than welcome to use seasoning like parsley or bagel seasoning to add a little extra flavor. That being said, anyone who has experienced Parmesan crisps before knows how flavorful they can be on their own.

Make your own keto Parmesan crisps at home by simply shredding and baking little piles of Parmesan cheese until they become crispy. Let them cool, and they will crisp up and solidify. These crisps make the perfect addition to Caesar salad, or any salad that would typically house the intensely sharp cheese.

Parmesan crisps are not only delicious but also quite aesthetically pleasing, so be aware that these little disks will make quite a statement. Warn any vegetarians in the house that you've used Parmesan, as it is not considered to be a vegetarian cheese.

10. Diced celery

When it comes to crispy vegetables, celery is king. It's made up of almost entirely water but is one of the most structured, crunchy vegetables on the planet. This is perhaps why it makes for such a lovely salad topping, along with its refreshing and salty flavoring. For the crispiest results, slice your celery ribs into U-shapes, or dice them into small, pea-sized squares.

Mix your celery right into the salad, as its crunch will be preserved, even when it is mixed with salad dressing. Celery tastes wonderful with fresh fruits and grassy vegetables like fresh peas and sprouts. It's an especially welcome ingredient in crisp and creamy chicken salads, tuna salads, or chickpea salads. Use with a light vinaigrette, Asian soy-based dressing, peanut sauce, or creamy ranch. There's really no way to go wrong, no pairing unfit when it comes to diced celery. It truly will make the perfect crunchy addition to your summer salad.

11. Crispy bacon

Vegetarians, be warned, this particular addition isn't for you. For everyone else, you've likely enjoyed crispy bacon more than once in your life. This cured meat can be prepared in different ways to achieve a variety of textures, ranging from chewy to crunchy. As bacon fanatics know, the fatty strips can become extremely crispy the longer they cook.

Try making crispy oven-baked bacon and save yourself the splattery mess of the pan-fried version. Let it cook a little longer than you're used to, allow it to cool, and then crumble it into pieces on top of your salad. Be sure to choose thinly sliced bacon for this endeavor, and blot the excess grease after it's done cooking. Bacon, as you may already know, is fatty and salty, which can balance a sweet dressing, and pairs particularly well with honey or maple syrup-sweetened vinaigrettes. Be sure to deck out your summer salad with crispy, decedent bacon.

12. Toasted quinoa

Did you know that quinoa is not, in fact, a grain, but actually a seed? And while you don't need the deets on everything there is to know about quinoa, there certainly are a few fascinating tidbits that may change your approach to cooking it. In fact, raw quinoa can be toasted and enjoyed without ever coming in contact with boiling water. It's quite crunchy, as most seeds are, and has an almost powdery, nutty flavor and texture.

Regardless of how you're going to cook quinoa, it's a good idea to rinse it first. Quinoa is covered in a bitter substance called saponin, which can be toxic in large doses. Strain the wet quinoa and add it to a hot skillet. Use a whisk or broad spoon to push around the seeds until they begin to turn golden brown (if they were white to begin with). Quinoa comes in many varieties and colors, but for toasting, we recommend white quinoa, which is milder in flavor.

13. Diced red peppers

As peppers ripen, they become sweeter and sweeter. In fact, green peppers are just young yellow peppers that eventually turn orange, then red. Yup, time is the only difference between red, yellow, and green peppers.

Red peppers are incredibly sweet, loaded with nutrients, and when bitten into provide a juicy burst of flavor. Freshly picked peppers are particularly sweet, and if you're finding that your pepper slices are bending instead of snapping then they may be past their mark.

Dice raw red peppers for your summer salad. The pop of flavor will stand out beautifully with your leafy greens of choice and will have an almost confetti-like appearance. Because of their sweet undertones, red peppers taste delicious with lightly sweetened oil-based vinaigrettes and citrus. Paprika is made with bell peppers, so consider making a paprika-spiced dressing. Pair your red pepper summer salad with tangy, soft cheese and fresh dark berries.

14. Pomegranate seeds

When it comes to pomegranate seeds, a little bit goes a long way. They are the ultimate crunchy salad addition and can add a pop of juicy, crunchy sweetness to your salad. Pomegranates are famous for pairing beautifully with proteins, vegetables, and savory flavors. They also tend to complement most cheese well and make a dynamic duo with balsamic and balsamic reduction.

The only negative to using these little juicy nuggets is how hard it is to get them out of their natural casing. Luckily there is a trick to removing pomegranate seeds without a mess. Simply slice the top off, and then cut the skin into quarters (don't cut deep enough to penetrate the seeds). Use your hands to peel the sections away, and filter out the fibrous bits from the seeds. All of that hassle is worth it in the end because pomegranate seeds are an elite fruit that should be used to add crunch to your summer salad.

15. Homemade croutons

Perhaps the most traditional way to include a crunchy addition to your summer salad is by tossing in some croutons. However, not all croutons are created equal, and some low-quality brands could easily cheapen your salad.

Instead, opt to make your own seasoned croutons with that leftover bread that's become a little too crispy to put out with butter. Try making Chef Tim Dornon's lemon-thyme croutons for a unique flavor and crispy texture. The subtle flavors of lemon and thyme go well with fruit and seasonal vegetables and will be sure to give your salad that crunchy upgrade it needs.

In addition, making your own croutons gives you full creative liberty to shape them how you'd like. While some people opt for a few large croutons, others enjoy the breadcrumb approach to evenly distribute the texture throughout. Grillmasters, hold onto your spatulas — you can make croutons on the grill using skewers, and then use them to top your favorite grilled chicken Caesar salad recipe made with romaine heads and freshly grated Parmesan. It truly is recipes like these that make you crave salad all summer long.