If there’s one thing we know, it’s that “salad” is a really loose term. You might immediately associate “salad” with a healthy bowl of leafy greens, but in America, “salad” has grown to mean so much more — and to involve so much more mayonnaise. Tuna salad. Chicken salad. Egg salad. Seriously, no-lettuce salads have probably been fueling the mayonnaise industry for decades.
Despite the excess of fatty condiments, most of these dishes are timeless classics. Think about it. Have you ever been to a barbecue that didn’t serve coleslaw? And while biting into a hot dog is fine and dandy, there’s nothing quite like plopping an extra helping of potato salad on your plate. Or so some people think. In The Daily Meal office, we began chatting about the best and worst “salads” without lettuce and realized there were strong opinions brewing. So we decided to put our heads together and rank them.
We did a deep dive into the world of salads that aren’t, well… salad at all. We included anything and everything considered a “salad” that didn’t have a base of lettuce. We uncovered side dishes and desserts — yes, desserts — that we had forgotten even existed. In determining which salads were the best, we considered taste, texture, and nostalgia. We took into account flavor preferences and how much variety a dish could offer. And in the end, this was our definitive ranking, from worst to best, of all salads that aren’t actually salad at all.
No, not the 1970s rock band Ambrosia and no, not the immortality-inducing food and drink imbibed by the Greek gods. In fact, ambrosia salad is more likely to gift you with diabetes than immortality. This noxious medley of sugar and cream used to be a dessert staple served at dinner parties and barbecues. It’s typically made with sour cream, whipped cream (or Cool Whip, which is not the same thing), canned mandarin oranges, canned pineapples, maraschino cherries, coconut flakes, crushed nuts, and — prepare yourself — mini marshmallows. Some people prefer to make their ambrosia with cottage cheese or mayonnaise. Undoubtedly repulsive, ambrosia had to be the lowest-ranked “salad” on our list.
Oh, gelatin. What travesties people have molded you into. There are many, many takes on the classic 1950s gelatin salad, and each is more grotesque than the last. Why anyone felt the need to float fruit and/or cottage cheese in an amorphous blob of gelatin is beyond us, but we’re glad it’s no longer a popular dessert food.
When you think cucumber salad, you might think of an oil-based blend of cucumbers, herbs, and tomatoes. But your mom was probably taught to make cucumber salad with — like most everything else on this list — heaps of mayonnaise. Then onions, vinegar, dill, and sometimes sugar are added to the mix. Something about the smooth slices of cucumber just does not mesh with creamy mayo. And even though cucumbers themselves are crisp, healthy, and surprisingly good for your skin, there’s absolutely nothing light about a cucumber salad.
Of all the fish salads out there, tuna salad is by far the smelliest. It’s also the most popular — unlike the much rarer white fish salad, tuna salad is often stuffed in a sandwich and is a staple of convenience store lunches and cheap eats. We just don’t think mayo-soaked tuna from a can is the most appetizing thing you could eat for under five bucks. But some people love the stuff. Just please don’t be that guy that brings it into the office.
Despite the plethora of appetizing ways to eat broccoli, broccoli salad remains a reliable entry to almost every potluck and barbecue. It’s crunchy, creamy, and often cheesy, since people sometimes mix shredded cheddar with the mayonnaise-covered florets. Other popular add-ins include bacon, onions, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries. This might just be the strangest and unhealthiest method of eating broccoli ever devised — you might be better off eating takeout Chinese chicken and broccoli.
If you haven’t heard of this “salad,” you clearly didn’t grow up in the Midwest. It’s really more of a pie — a crushed pretzel crust makes up the first layer, followed by a middle of sugar-sweetened cream cheese. All this decadence is topped with none other than strawberry gelatin. This is perhaps the only scenario in which the phrase, “Who wants a slice of salad?” makes (somewhat) logical sense.
Why do people do bad things to good salmon?! “Salmon salad” is actually kind of a homonym. It can refer to a leafy green-based salad topped with a salmon fillet or it could mean the mayo-soaked salmon salad you can squish into a plastic container and sell at a deli. We’re ranking the second option — the dilly, fatty, mustardy kind. Some people love the stuff. But we just think there are so many better ways to eat salmon without mayo that this salad is unnecessary.
The Waldorf salad gets its name from when it was first served at a charity ball for orphans at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Originally, it was just apples, celery, and mayonnaise — an unlikely combination guests must have been skeptical of. Now, however, it’s often made with apples, grapes, chopped nuts, and celery. Oh, and (of course) mayo! Opinions are mixed on this salad; some turn their nose at the slimy, crunchy mess and others swear it’s delicious.
The first-ever chicken salad, found in a cookbook from 1847, was titled “A Salad to Be Eaten with Cold Meat or Fowl,” but we think chicken salad can sometimes just be foul. To make it, chicken (often from a can) is smothered in mayonnaise, mustard, and pickle relish, and then peppered generously. Many chicken salads also include celery and onion for a little crunch. We admit that chicken salad isn’t bad eaten on a cracker as an appetizer or in small doses from a good Jewish deli. But a chicken salad sandwich tastes less like a delicious lunch and more like disappointment.
If you’re craving eggs and love mayonnaise, wouldn’t you rather just make a heavenly batch of deviled eggs? It’s practically sin to opt for egg salad instead, especially when there are literally hundreds of ways to eat this breakfast staple. Even still, it’s hard to make eggs, mustard, and mayonnaise taste bad together. It’ll satisfy your craving for sure. Egg salad is just not the ideal texture; there’s something… off about an egg recipe you can smoosh inside a plastic takeout container and spread with a knife.
Mediterranean bean salads, Mexican bean salads, a bean salad with a zesty vinegar base. Yum. Where have you bean all our lives?! Beans are tasty, packed with protein, and extremely budget-friendly. But people have taken a few too many liberties in the kitchen and made bean salads soaked in mayo. Don’t believe us? There are recipes — popular recipes. But we suppose if you’re going to eat the lion’s share of a jar of mayonnaise, you may as well get some fiber while you’re at it. You know what they say about beans, though: Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you…
Some haters think fruit salad is trash, but we have to disagree. Fruit salad takes all the labor out of eating fruit. The grocery store chops it for you and blends all the fruit together so you can taste something different in every bite — until you reach the end of the bowl, that is. Somehow, there’s always a huge pile of honeydew and cantaloupe left over, with a couple of blueberries that somehow still have the stem. Attack that fruit salad while it’s ripe and all the money fruits — like kiwi and pineapple — have yet to be devoured.
These are the quinoa salads, farro salads, and couscous salads you might serve as side dishes. The quality of these blends really depends on the chef; some can taste incredibly bland, while others are delightful ways to add variety and color to your plate. Popular mix-ins include beans, crunchy vegetables, avocado, and lots of spices.
Is there a better fruit in summer than watermelon? We dare you to find one. A little over a cup of watermelon can actually be more hydrating than a cup of water — seriously. But perhaps even better than cubes, slices, or balls of this fruit is watermelon salad: A delightful blend of sweet, savory, and complementary delicacies often served as an appetizer at upscale restaurants or a healthy side at a potluck. It’s got watermelon, feta cheese, fresh mint, and occasionally some other add-ins. Add a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic and voila! Not much to dislike here.
There’s truly nothing better than fresh, sweet corn in the summertime. Grill it on the cob with this foolproof method or nix the corn on the cob and make a delightful corn salad instead. Whether it’s made with olive oil, fresh herbs, chopped tomatoes, or all three, we can’t help but dollop a helping or two on our paper plates in the summertime.
Coleslaw comes in many forms, ranging from the mostly-white, mayo-soaked kind you can buy from the supermarket to the homemade, colorful variety you might stuff in a fish taco. But no matter what kind of coleslaw you’re eating, it’s bound to be tasty. Cabbage has such a pleasant crunch! No cookout is complete without it.
Steak fries are probably the worst thing ever done to potatoes, but potato salad is one of the best. Potatoes and mayo are a match made in heaven. Don’t believe us? Try dipping your French fries in mayo or aioli. You won’t regret it. But if you’re at a summer barbecue or cooking up burgers on the grill, potato salad is a must. It’s crunchy, it’s chewy, it’s fatty, and it’s delicious.
Oh you fancy, huh? Unlike the other items on this list with questionable levels of class, caprese is something you might find served at a 5-star restaurant or fancy Italian dinner. Caprese is the only salad that’s so good, it’s been turned into dozens of other dishes; caprese sandwiches, pizzas, and paninis are par for the course for lunchtime specials. Thick chunks of mozzarella layered with fresh-cut tomatoes and crisp leaves of basil… Are you drooling yet? Add in the heart-healthy olive oil with some pepper and you’ve got a side dish that would win any party.
And the winner is… pasta salad! Why pasta salad, you ask? If you have to ask, you clearly haven’t been blessed with a good pasta salad. Essential for picnics, barbecues, and everything in between, pasta salad is a crowd-pleasing side dish you can make any way you like. It’s impressively tasty for being one of the only things on this list that doesn’t rely on mayo — though, we think the best pasta salads come layered with oil-based salad dressings and cheese. If you haven’t tried one, we’ve got you covered with the best pasta salad recipes and other dishes that would win any potluck.
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