When it comes to summer parties and picnics, it’s all about eating outside, grilling, and finding the best BBQ side dish recipes, right?! This super easy broccoli salad checks all of the boxes – there’s no cooking required, and it’s sweet, savory, and full of nutrients (some may say healthy).
You know I have a rule around here that no boring salads are allowed, and this vegetable salad is definitely anything BUT boring. It’s got all the texture from raw broccoli, crunchy sunflower seeds and apple, creamy gruyere cheese, and chewy craisins.
It comes together super quickly – like, less than 10 minutes (depending on how you’re chopping your broccoli) with a tangy homemade dressing you can whip up in advance for even easier preparation.
What Goes in Broccoli Salad & Substitutions
Like any good potluck-style salad, broccoli salad is super easy to make and super customizable, which means you can swap out ingredients depending on what you have on and or your preferences!
Typically you’ll find broccoli salads with a heavy creamy mayonnaise-based dressing, and bacon, but not this one! This version has a light homemade vinaigrette that pairs perfectly with the ingredients.
- Raw Broccoli Florets: the base of our salad is broccoli, which we’re keeping raw as you’ll find in most broccoli salads. The acid in the vinaigrette helps to break it down a bit anyway, taking away a little bit of the rawness, and you can chop the florets as small as you’d like.
- Gruyere Cheese: you’ll typically find shredded cheddar cheese in broccoli salad, but my love of gruyere cheese runs deep, and it pairs so beautifully with the rest of the ingredients. It’s slightly nutty, rich, creamy, and salty – just so delicious! I like to add diced cubes of cheese as opposed to shredded, but you can do either.
- Substitute cheddar cheese, gouda, or even feta crumbles.
- Note that you will need to specifically seek out vegetarian cheese if needed.
- Dried Cranberries (craisins): a wonderfully sweet and chewy addition to the salad.
- Substitute dried cherries, raisins, or golden raisins.
- Sunflower Seeds: salty and crunchy! The little seeds are perfect for adding texture and they keep it nut-free!
- Substitute chopped almonds, almond slices, or chopped walnuts.
- Red Apple: a little added sweetness, crunch, and juiciness. I recommend using a crisp red apple for the most flavor. You could also leave it out.
- Green Onion: fresh, bright, and flavorful while remaining fairly mild, I love the bits of sliced scallion throughout this salad!
- Substitute with red onion if you really want an oniony punch, or omit it completely, because there is also shallot in the dressing.
For this salad, I used a very similar version of the maple dijon vinaigrette from my broccoli and wheat berry salad (so good and hearty!) but lightened it up for a more summery feel.
We’re making quite a bit of dressing for a few reasons. First, the broccoli absorbs the dressing (so good! so flavorful!) which means it tends to get a bit dry if we don’t add enough. The dressing will also continue to absorb into the salad as it sits.
Here’s what’s going on in the vinaigrette:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Maple Syrup
- Dijon Mustard
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Onion Powder
Whisk it all together (or shake it in a jar) and you’re all set! That’s what I call easy-peasy.
The dressing is extra salty on its own because of how it gets absorbed into the raw broccoli. Because the broccoli is uncooked, the salt in the dressing is what is going to bring out its flavor. If you prefer, reduce the salt and add more as you taste test.
Then, assemble the salad!
With the dressing mixed up and the ingredients prepped, all that’s left to do is assemble the salad. Toss together the dry ingredients and then mix them together with the dressing until completely combined.
Yes, it’s truly that easy! Then go ahead and serve it or store it in the fridge in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve.
Make-Ahead & Recipe Tips
Make-Ahead: you can make the salad 1 day in advance, but I wouldn’t recommend letting it sit any longer with the dressing as it can become soggy after a few days. You can always prepare the dressing and keep it in a jar until you’re ready to toss it together with the other ingredients, too.
Broccoli Florets: chop the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces, as small as you would like! They don’t need to be the same size, and some variety keeps things fun!
Storage: place any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days; if the smell seems off or the broccoli is too soggy, it’s time to toss it.
This recipe is gluten-free and vegetarian! Make it dairy-free and vegan by subbing vegan cheese or omitting the cheese completely.
What to Serve with Broccoli Salad
If you’re looking for the perfect things to serve with this recipe, I’m happy to report that there are endless possibilities when it comes to what goes with broccoli salad, especially when it comes to summertime picnics, potlucks, and BBQs.
Other sides that will pair well with broccoli salad are endless! Add it with a side of pasta salad, creamed corn, baked beans, or an herby potato salad for the perfect BBQ. Make an easy potato and corn foil packet as another veggie side, or even coleslaw. There’s so much going on in the broccoli salad that you can easily serve it with other sides that are milder like steamed carrots.
No need to serve it with a big meal though, it’s excellent as a light lunch, too!
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Get the Recipe Easy Broccoli Salad (without bacon or mayo)
- In a small bowl or jar, combine all of the dressing ingredients except the oil. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking to emulsify the dressing. You can also add everything to a jar (including the oil) and shake well until combined.
- In a large bowl, add the remaining salad ingredients, then toss with the dressing until completely coated. Serve immediately or place in the fridge until ready to serve (it's great cold and if it has a little bit of time to absorb the dressing).
- Extra Dressing: if you prefer a lot of dressing, I recommend using 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 6 TBSP maple syrup, 1 TBSP + 1 teaspoon Dijon, 2 garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, 1/4 cup shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon onion powder.
- The dressing is extra salty on its own because of how it gets absorbed into the raw broccoli. Because the broccoli is uncooked, the salt in the dressing is what is going to bring out its flavor. If you prefer, reduce the salt and add more as you taste test.
- *Look for cheese specifically labeled vegetarian, if needed. See post for substitute ideas.