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fresh and vibrant picnic salads

Recipes in this collection:

Smoke Salmon Salad  ⋅  Herby Chicken Salad  ⋅  Tofu “Egg” Salad  ⋅  Buffalo Chickpea Salad  ⋅  Gluten-Free Pasta Salad 

Picnics, backyard barbecues, and lakeside lunches are upon us. If you’re anything like me, you’ll use every excuse to spend time outside, shaking off the dark winter and slushy spring. Enjoying my meals alfresco is one way that I love to take advantage of the fleeting summer, and relying on super-simple, make-ahead recipes like these picnic salads gives me even more time to soak up the sun.

Although picnic salads are notori­ously heavy on mayonnaise and light on nutrients, we’re challenging that reputation with herbaceous dressings, crisp and crunchy veggies, and a couple plant-powered protein sources. Each of these recipes is nourishing, mayo-free, and ready to pack up for a solo adventure or anytime you need a dish to pass. Try any of them on a bed of lettuce, in a whole-grain wrap, on sprouted-grain toast, or even as a dip for crackers.

Smoked Salmon Salad

a bowl of smoked salmon salad served with crackers

Makes 4 ½ cups  •  Prep time 10 minutes


  • 12 oz. hot-smoked salmon
  • ¼ cup diced fennel
  • 2 tbs. minced red onion
  • 2 tbs. minced fresh dill
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. capers
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a mixing bowl, use a fork to break the salmon into small pieces.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then enjoy within two days.


Herby Chicken Salad

mayo free herby chicken salad served in lettuce wraps

Makes 6 cups  •  Prep time 15 minutes


  • ½ cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup chopped chives
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper


  • 3 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • ½ cup red grapes, halved
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

Make the dressing

  1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Make the salad

  1. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Pour in the dressing and mix until everything is coated. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed.
  3. Refrigerate for about an hour, then enjoy within four days.

Tofu “Egg” Salad

vegan egg salad served on toast

Makes 4 ½ cups  •  Prep time 10 minutes

  • 14 oz. firm tofu
  • ½ tsp. sea salt, divided
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved and pitted
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup diced green bell pepper
  1. Remove the tofu from the packaging and place on a clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle with half of the salt and allow to sit for five minutes to release additional moisture. Pat dry.
  2. Add the avocado flesh, red onion, lemon juice, mustard, remaining salt, and black pepper to a food processor, and blend until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
  3. Roughly crumble the tofu into the mixing bowl and fold it into the avocado mixture. Stir in the diced bell pepper. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed, then enjoy within two days.

Buffalo Chickpea Salad

buffalo chickpea salad served on a bed of greens

Makes 4 cups  •  Prep time 10 minutes

  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 2 tbs. plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • 2 tbs. minced fresh dill
  • ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
  1. Add the chickpeas to a large mixing bowl and roughly mash with a fork.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the hot sauce, Greek yogurt, and sea salt.
  3. Combine the chickpeas and yogurt mixture, then add the celery, carrot, red onion, and dill, and stir to mix.
  4. Fold in the crumbled blue cheese. Taste and add more salt or hot sauce as needed, then enjoy within four days.

Gluten-Free Pasta Salad

pasta salad with veggies and feta

Makes 8 servings  •  Prep time 15 minutes  •  Cook time 8 minutes


  • 12 oz. short chickpea pasta (such as shells, elbows, or fusilli)
  • 1 medium English cucumber, diced
  • 1½ cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • ¼ cup pitted green olives, chopped
  • ⅓ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ cup loosely packed parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add the chickpea pasta and cook according to package directions. Once it’s al dente, strain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking.
  3. Prepare the dressing: Whisk the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl until combined.
  4. Place the cooled pasta in a large bowl and pour the dressing over it; stir to coat the pasta.
  5. Add the cucumber, tomatoes, olives, red onion, parsley, and crumbled feta, and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed.
  6. Refrigerate for one hour before serving, then enjoy within four days.
This article originally appeared as "A Fresh Take on Picnic Salads" in the May/June 2024 issue of Experience Life. Photography: Terry Brennan; Food Styling: Betsy Nelson.
Maddie Augustin

Maddie Augustin is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer.

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