We have a lot of information about nutrition on this site, including about losing weight on a vegan diet. A vegan diet will not automatically make you lean, nor make those unwanted pounds simply drop off. However, a well-balanced vegan diet is a great way to achieve those goals, and it is very healthy in general and, of course, it is better for the planet. Perhaps most importantly of all, it is better for all the animals who are not being farmed, harmed and ultimately killed.
If you are wanting to lose weight, gain muscle, or just eat a healthy and delicious meal, then a high protein vegan salad is often a good starting point. Pack the salad with lots of deep-fried croutons and high-fat ingredients like nuts and avocado, then douse it in an oil-rich dressing and it might not exactly be the perfect meal for weight loss. However, that might not be your aim anyway.
As we don’t the specific reasons you might be interested in making a vegan salad that is packed with protein we won’t delve too much into the wider nutritional value of our suggestions. You might have your own personal aims with regards to how much fat and carbs you want such a dish to include and of course everyone will have their own likes and dislikes too.
In this piece, therefore, we will focus on the basics of how to create a vegan salad that tastes good and is loaded with brilliant vegan protein. We will explain what we think are a few basics of constructing a brilliant salad, and also how you can make sure the end product is giving you a nice protein kick too.
How Much Protein Should I Add?
Most people have at least some notion of how to make a salad, even if it might not be something to get Yotam Ottolenghi too excited. However, chopping up a few tomatoes, carrots and peppers might give you a salad but it will give you very little protein. So, how do you go about getting that desired protein into the dish?
Different Requirements for Different People
Once again, people will have different goals, different requirements and ultimately very different bodies. Someone who is nine stone but overweight and inactive, and who wants to shed a few pounds, will have very different protein needs than a 14-stone bodybuilder who is trying to gain muscle mass.
From 15g to 40g!
The former might be looking for a salad to contain 15g to 25g of protein, whilst the latter might be seeking a figure closer to 40g or even more. We discuss elsewhere on the site how much protein you should be eating and how those looking to build strength and muscle might want to use vegan protein powders or protein bars.
However, many nutritional experts agree that for most people a serving of around 20g to 30g of protein is a good amount to have with each meal. As such, that is the sort of level we will be looking at here.
High Protein Vegan Foods to Add to Salads
Almost all food contains at least some protein – even a carrot contains around a gram of the macronutrient. However, to up your intake to the levels discussed, there are certainly some foods you should focus on when it comes to high-protein vegan salads. Broadly speaking the following are the key groups that are perfect for a salad and will give a very nice hit of protein:
There can be some crossover between these groups, for example wheat is a grain, but also the basis for seitan, a meat substitute, and of course bread. Equally legume is a broad term that applies to around 20,000 different species, with many of these having several varieties as well. Some of the foods we list as veg are technically legumes, such as peas, as are peanuts, which most people would classify as nuts. Anyway, there is no need to get bogged down in any of this: just add the following foods to your salads and a world of high-protein vegan salads awaits!
Non-vegans looking to add protein to a salad will probably take the simple route of adding chicken, prawns or some other animal product. A beef salad would certainly give you plenty of protein but a cow salad is not something a vegan is going to eat. Thankfully there are loads of vegan meat substitutes that also deliver high levels of protein and often have less fat.
You can choose from seitan, tofu, tempeh, natto, Quorn’s vegan range (and a host of similar products from other companies), textured vegetable protein and many more. In addition, lab-grown meat may be commercially available in the UK in the near future. Many of these products have protein levels that are comparable to traditional meat.
Seitan, for example, has around 25g of protein per 100g (depending on how exactly it is made), so just a few slices of that would get your salad over the line in terms of the 20g to 30g benchmark we outlined. Tofu has around 10g per 100g, tempeh 20g, whilst a portion of two vegan Quorn fillets yields over 18g of protein.
A legume is technically any member of the Fabaceae family but for the non-botanists, you can think of pretty much any bean, lentil or pulse. Almost without exception legumes are nutritional powerhouses, packed with fibre, good amounts of vegan protein and a wide range of minerals. In other words: eat more legumes!
From a salad perspective some work better than others but really you can incorporate any that you like. Let’s take a look at the nutrition provided by three different types of legumes:
|Edamame Beans 100g
|Brown Lentils 100g
|Vitamins A and C, iron and calcium
|Iron, magnesium, vitamin B6
|Iron, B vitamins, copper, zinc
As you can see, 100g of any of these three legumes, and indeed most members of the family, will provide you with around 10g of protein. 80g would be one of your five a day so 100g is a decent amount to add to a salad and will probably provide around a quarter of the recommended 30g a day of fibre too. Given average fibre intake in the UK is a meagre 15g a day, this is a brilliant addition to a vegan salad.
Most legumes are also good sources of iron and given this is one nutrient many vegans take supplements for that’s also a big plus. As well as the three listed above, butter beans, cannellini beans, any of the various types of lentils, borlotti beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and … well you get the idea: pretty much all legumes will add protein, texture, colour, fibre, vitamins and minerals to a vegan salad.
Grains are typically very healthy but the problem comes when we pick the wrong grain and, more importantly, when we use a processed version of that plant. Wholegrains are a brilliant addition to any diet and whilst processing (as in the case of vital wheat, used to make seitan) can lead to a higher proportion of protein, in general we would favour using the whole grain.
Wheat, rice and corn are the most commonly consumed grains by most people, especially in the developed world. However, alternatives such as quinoa, barley, amaranth, kamut (an ancient type of wheat), rye and others often have more protein, fibre and micronutrients. Kamut may well be the best and delivers almost 9g of protein per 200-calorie serving, as well as lending a delightful nutty flavour.
Most of these grains are available in health food shops and online at places like TheVeganKind Supermarket, whilst some can even be bought in your normal supermarket. Just cook as per the instructions – usually a simple boil or steam – and then add to your salad. As well as providing protein, they will also bulk out the salad, turning it into more of a meal.
Bread, which of course is made from some form of grain, is also perfect to bulk out a vegan salad. It adds texture, colour, substance and, crucially as far as we are concerned, protein. Of course, we are not suggesting you simply cut a slice of white bread, virtually devoid of nutrients and used in scientific circles as a straight swap for sugar, such is its impact on blood glucose, and bung it atop your salad.
However, toasting a wholemeal pitta and then cutting it into croutons is a great option. A standard pitta bread has around 150 calories and 6g of protein, so depending on how many calories and how much protein you wanted to consume, you could even have two. What’s more, with a pack of six costing well under a pound, these are very affordable. Cutting a wholemeal wrap into triangles and then baking it in the oven is another great option and you could do the same with any bread really, adding a spray of oil to create healthy croutons that add crunch, fibre and protein to your salad.
Nuts & Seeds
Another way to add those three things to any salad is by including nuts, seeds or both. Around an ounce of nuts a day is a good amount to include in your diet and is linked with a range of positive health outcomes. The nutritional makeup of the various nuts you can use varies but in general, any will add a good amount of fibre. In addition, changing which nut you use, or adding a mixture of more than one to your salad (whilst still sticking roughly to an ounce/28g per person), will provide a better range of nutrients and be more beneficial to your gut health and microbiome.
If you are looking to get maximum protein for minimal fat and calories, however, then almonds and cashews may well be the best bet. They provide 6g and 5g of protein respectively for 165 and 160 calories. To really up the protein and keep a lid on the total energy (calories) of the salad, though, you may want to stick to seeds.
It is a little bit harder to consume the same quantity of seeds as it is nuts. A handful of nuts can be gone in no time but the equivalent ounce of seeds takes a bit more eating. Even so, you should be able to sprinkle a tablespoon or so onto your favourite vegan salad to up the protein that little bit more. Depending on the seed, this amount will be somewhere between 7g and more than double that. The best seed to add in terms of protein per calorie is hemp, with 160 calories worth adding 11g of protein, though you would probably consume less than that in one go.
As noted, pretty much all veg contains at least some protein but some are certainly better than others in this regard. Mushrooms are a good source of protein and can be added raw to salads, whilst your bog standard frozen pea has around 5.4g of protein per 100g. Broccoli is also quite good and can be lightly steamed or even roasted before adding to a salad.
Spinach and asparagus are other good picks too, as is sweetcorn, and whilst such additions may only add two or three grams each to the serving, they are also low in calories. That means you can add a few different types meaning the protein adds up, you expand the range of micronutrients you are consuming, you get more fibre and you make your salad more filling and more varied.
How to Put Together a High Protein Vegan Salad
Now we know some great ways to boost the protein content of a vegan salad, how about a simple recipe for a brilliant, tasty one with at least 30g of protein per serving? Obviously you can tweak this any way you see fit if there are things you especially do or do not like, altering the core ingredients or just the main flavouring elements.
Before we look at the recipe though, let’s go through some salad basics! There are many ideas of what a perfect salad needs but almost all will include some form of leafy green. These often form the bulk of the salad but can also provide texture and flavour. At the most basic, you might use some simple lettuce, whilst spinach, watercress, kale, rocket or chard are also great additions that add more flavour, nutrition, or both.
The Crunch Factor & Dressing
Many chefs also agree, as do we, that a salad should have crunch. Carrots, peppers, croutons, nuts and seeds are perfect for this. A dressing is also a must for many but this can take many different forms, from a simple vinaigrette made of little more than oil and vinegar or even just a squeeze of lemon juice, to a thicker mixture that is almost like a sauce or even a dip.
Another element that many like to include is herbal, with a good dose of any soft herb adding great freshness, a nice flavour and plenty of nutritional goodness. Because we don’t tend to eat herbs (or spices for that matter) in huge quantities, their nutritional value is sometimes overlooked. However, these are phytonutrient workhorses, packed with polyphenols and good old-fashioned vitamins and minerals.
Next we have an element that is not strictly necessary for a salad but in our case is 100% important: some protein. Nuts, seeds, croutons and things like spinach will all bring a fair amount of protein to our salad but to make a really high-protein vegan salad you’ll probably need to use some form of “meat substitute”: (we put this in quotation marks because really these are fine ingredients in their own right). However, if you use legumes, grains, a pitta bread, nuts and a nice mix of protein-rich veg and leaves, you could hit the 30g target without this.
Finally some like to include a grain of some sort which provides a nice contrast to the other more obvious salad ingredients. As previously stated it also boosts the fibre and protein and, great if your salad is a meal rather than a side, makes the dish a lot more filling.
Vegan Salad with 30g or More of Protein
Our salad is very loosely inspired by a classic Georgian (the country, not the US state) one that is really typical and served with many meals. It will provide you with more than 30g of protein per person (the amounts below are to serve two as a main meal) and tastes great. It’s also really simple!
- 160g baby spinach
- 160g of ripe tomatoes
- Around 30g each of flat leaf parsley, coriander and basil
- 40g of walnuts
- 20g of almonds
- Approximately half a cucumber
- 1 red pepper
- 160g cooked edamame beans
- 2 wholewheat pitta breads, toasted until crunchy
- 2 vegan Quorn fillets
- For the Quorn – 1 teaspoon of khmeli suneli spice blend, a little oil and a teaspoon of lemon juice; If you can’t get this Georgian spice blend use a mix of your favourite spices and include some fenugreek, coriander seed and dried basil and mint
- 1 fat clove of garlic
- Juice of one lemon
- Cold-pressed sunflower oil (olive oil or rapeseed will also work)
- Salt and pepper
OK, it’s a salad, you probably have a pretty decent idea of what to do and, in truth, as long as you mix everything together, you’re gonna have a great salad with over 30g of vegan protein. That said, here’s what to do:
- Grill the Quorn as per instructions, rubbing the second side with the mix of spices, a little oil and some lemon juice towards the end of cooking.
- Mince the garlic, then add to the lemon juice, oil and salt and pepper. The seasoning should be to taste so add only a little and you can add more if needed. With regards to the oil you can use three times as much lemon juice for a standard dressing or a little less for something lighter. Set the dressing to one side.
- Chop the herbs finely and the tomatoes, cucumber and pepper into large chunks; chop the nuts into rough chunks.
- Cut the pitta breads into small squares. To make them extra crunchy, toast them well then allow them to cool in the toaster.
- Combine the herbs, salad vegetables, nuts, cooked edamame and pita in a large bowl, then add the dressing and mix until all well coated.
- Once the Quorn has cooled a little, slice thinly.
- Put half the salad on a plate and arrange the Quorn slices (from one fillet) on top and repeat with a second plate.
- Eat your food and revel in the tasty, healthy vegan salad you have consumed, complete with around 33g of protein.