A simple arugula and spinach salad recipe topped with grilled chicken, pickled red onion, Parmesan cheese, and a tangy lemon balsamic dressing. The best part is that the salad dressing doubles as a marinade for the chicken.
Summer is the ideal time of year to have salad for dinner. Dinner salads are often quick and easy recipes that don't require much cooking time. In the heat of summer, who wants to be in a hot kitchen, anyway?
This arugula and spinach salad is a good choice for late spring and early summer when greens are at their best and you're still eager to cook on the grill. If you can, try to get yourself locally grown greens. They'll have the best flavor and most nutrients because they're fresher. The USDA has this handy tool to help you easily find where to source local food in your part of the US, from farmers markets to CSAs.
Of course, you can make this salad any time of year. I see arugula and spinach all the time in the mixed baby green blends at the grocery store. Or buy separate packs and combine them yourself. And you can grill chicken just as easily with a grill pan in the middle of winter as you can with a grill outdoors.
If you're looking for more dinner salad ideas, I have just a few. (I'm going to take my own advice and make more salads this summer.)
This broiled shrimp salad has a wonderful citrus flavor and it takes no time to cook the shrimp under the broiler. While this curried chicken salad is good if you're in the mood for something different yet still healthy. And this tofu and bok choy salad packs a ton of crunch and freshness if you need a fresh veggie fix.
- Red onion: for making quick pickled red onions. Red onion is great in a salad but it leaves too potent of an aftertaste for most folks. A quick pickle mellows it out while adding acidity and interest.
- Red wine vinegar: for pickling the onion.
- Balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil: all part of the dressing and chicken marinade.
- Arugula and spinach salad greens: make good counterparts. Arugula offers a pleasant peppery, nutty flavor while spinach has a sweeter taste. The two balance each other well and make a more interesting combination than using just one green alone.
- Chicken breast: for an easy-to-grill source of protein. When it comes to chicken I often prefer thighs, but find breasts slice better for a more attractive presentation on top of a salad.
- Parmesan cheese, dried cranberries, and almonds: are for topping the salad. I like to add ingredients to my salads that add variety and interest. Here, the cheese adds some saltiness, the cranberries sweetness, and the almonds bring crunch.
See the recipe card below for quantities.
🧀Substitutions & Variations
It's a salad, so just about everything can be substituted or varied to make it how you prefer. You can't go wrong. Here are a few ideas.
- Vegetarian: Use tofu or tempeh in place of the chicken. Cut either into large pieces that are easy to handle on the grill, then slice up after cooking.
- Almonds: May be subbed for your preferred nut or seed. Whatever you choose, toasting it will help bring out the flavor.
- Parmesan: Any cheese will do. If you have something else handy, go for it. Aside from Parmesan, Feta cheese is my other go-to for salads.
- Greens: As mentioned above, the combo of bitter nutty arugula and tender, sweet spinach is delicious and was the motivation for this recipe. But yes, you can certainly add in or substitute other greens to your liking.
This really is a simple salad to prepare!
Slice the red onion. Combine sugar, salt, and red wine vinegar in a small pot and heat until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the onion to submerge and let sit for 30 minutes.
Make the dressing/marinade. In a bowl, add the oil, balsamic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, garlic, and maple syrup. Whisk to combine.
Pour just enough of the marinade over the chicken to coat. Let sit for 30 minutes. Toast almonds in a small pan.
Gently toss your arugula and spinach with most of the dressing.
Grill the chicken on the grill or a grill pan over medium heat. Cook until 160 F, about 5 or so minutes per side. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes.
Assemble your salad. Top plates of greens with the chicken, onions, almonds, cheese, and extra dressing.
- If your chicken breasts are thick, try slicing them in half (length-wise) so that they cook quicker and more evenly.
- It's best to dress the salad right before serving. When doing so, be gentle to prevent bruising and wilting of the greens from the acidity of the dressing.
- Save any leftover pickled onions for topping tacos, eggs, burgers, and sandwiches.
Store all of the ingredients for this chicken, arugula, and spinach salad individually in the fridge. The grilled chicken and greens are good for about 3 days. Dress the greens and combine everything just before serving.
Not at all. Arugula is peppery and sometimes nutty. Spinach, particularly when young, is sweet and mild. The two make a good combination in a salad because they balance each other out in terms of flavor.
You should generally wash all greens before eating, even if they say prewashed. You never know if there are bugs or dirt.
Combine arugula with greens, like spinach, that are less bitter or spicy. If you're growing your own arugula, pick it when it's young and hasn't bolted. You can also use a little sweetener, like maple syrup, in your dressing to offset the bitterness.