It isn’t always easy to come up with new and exciting salad recipes on a busy weekday afternoon. With a few simple “salad swaps,” though, you can totally transform a quick side salad into a feast fit for the main dish! With our friend Julie Hartigan from Cooking w/ Julie, we’re sharing some of our favorite ways to take your salad game up a notch in only a couple of minutes.

When you spend a lot of time experimenting with flavor like we do here in the Pure Flavor® kitchen, you notice that even the smallest changes can transform a simple recipe into a unique, flavorful main course.

All too often, we forget the amazing possibilities that just a few fresh ingredients can bring to our dinner table. A simple side salad is quick and easy, and goes with nearly any meal you can imagine: hamburgers, chicken wings, steak and fish. Or, with the right ingredients, you can make a large, shareable salad your whole family will enjoy for dinner.

large bowl of cucumber shrimp salad

Of course, there are endless kinds of salads to make, but most people keep it simple on busy weeknights with a few common elements you’ll find it any side salad: lettuce or another green leafy veggie as a base, two fresh toppings (like chopped Mini Cucumbers and Tomatoes on-the-Vine), and a pre-made vinaigrette drizzle.

There’s no doubt that these quick sides can be satisfying, flavorful and healthy, but once in a while it’s refreshing to switch it up and get a bit more creative with this part of the meal.

Between work, running errands, and helping the kids with their homework, there isn’t much time to truly experiment with dinner on weekdays. There’s barely enough time to sit down and enjoy dinner at all sometimes, so it’s no wonder we rely on our favorite staple recipes to get us through to the weekend.

The solution is to find new ways to transform that basic salad into a dazzling feast. With a couple tips and tricks, it’s possible to make a side salad that’s worthy of being a main dish in no time.

Julie Hartigan from Cooking w/ Julie, an engineer turned chef – not to mention a working mom – knows what it’s like to need a delicious, healthy meal at the end of the workday. She makes a Cucumber Shrimp Salad that we love and we know you’ll love too. Plus, her recipe showcases many of the tips and tricks that can help you elevate your own salads!

Cucumber Shrimp Salad with Juno Bites

The first big swap Julie makes is that she doesn’t use lettuce, arugula or any other green leafy vegetable as a base. Instead, she takes what’s a traditional topping – Long English Cucumbers – and uses a spiralizer to make noodles.

Kids love the fun texture of cucumber noodles in a salad like this. Plus, they give the recipe an unmistakeably refreshing flavor that no other ingredient could replace.

Cucumbers are 95% water, so this is a great choice if you want to rehydrate everyone after a busy day full of hard work (and play!).

With cucumbers taking centre stage, sweet and juicy Juno® Bites Red Grape Tomatoes are the perfect accent as a fresh salad topping. You can slice these, as Julie does, or leave them whole for a pop of flavor with every bite!

The Juno Bites pair perfectly with grilled shrimp, which gives the salad a little kick of southern summer flavor. Shrimp is a great choice for a protein salad topping on busy nights because you can buy them pre-cooked or cook them yourself in just a few minutes.

You don’t have to use the grill either – a couple of minutes in the frying pan with some butter and chili powder is enough to bring on the flavor! Just make sure they turn pink and the meat is white before serving.

Julie’s second trick is her super simple homemade “dressing.” Just kidding – it’s not a dressing at all, it’s pesto!

homemade pesto

Pesto is a great thing to keep around the kitchen because it stores in the fridge for quite a while and can be used almost every night in a completely different way. If you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, it can add flavor to your meals – pasta, gnocchi, breakfast toast, garlic bread, pizza, sandwiches, and much more. Oh, yes, did we mention salad?!

Sure, you can buy pre-made pesto at nearly any local grocery store, but once you see how simple it is to make yourself, you’ll be preparing your own fresh batch in no time!

All you have to do is get out your food processor or blender and blend two cups of your favorite fresh herbs – basil, mint, chives, parsley or cilantro – with ½ cup pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.

Yes, that’s really all it takes!

In a large bowl, toss together your cucumber noodles and lemon herb pesto. Top with tomatoes and shrimp and, voilà, dinner is served!

To view, download or print the full recipe, click here.