Pesto Salad with Easy Homemade Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe

This easy Pesto Salad brings together fresh greens, veggies, and protein for a filling yet healthy meal. While the flavors are more for spring and summer salads, I enjoy it any season. The star of the show is the homemade basil pesto dressing, which can be made in a food processor or high-speed blender. This classic pesto dressing comes together with simple ingredients like fresh basil leaves, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.

I’m a huge fan of pesto, so I know this salad dressing will become your new go-to for green salads and potato salads too. Both the homemade pesto dressing salad are simple recipes with bold flavors taking this side dish to main dish status. This just might become your next favorite summer salad!

Double Recipe

This Pesto Salad is one of those perfect, hearty main-dish salads that also makes great leftovers. The leftovers will keep well refrigerated in an airtight container with a paper towel on top for a couple of days. Just be sure to store any dressing on the side to prevent the salad from getting soggy. I often make a double batch of this salad and dressing and then mix up the protein for variety.

Dairy Free and Nut Free

This salad is intentionally designed to be dairy free and nut free.  I did not add nutritional yeast to the ingredients list to keep this a simple recipe, but you certainly could add 1-2 TBS for that cheesy taste.  Alternatively and if tolerated, parmesan cheese or even pecorino cheese would be fabulous additions to the vinaigrette and/or the actual salad.  

If adding nutritional yeast or cheese to the vinaigrette, I would add 2-4 TBS to the dressing. If adding to the actual salad, then to your liking.  Same with the nuts, if tolerated, you could easily add 1-2 TBS of pine nuts to the vinaigrette or I even think a small handful of toasted pine nuts on the actual salad would be so flavorful.  I personally do not tolerate pine nuts very well, so I usually substitute pumpkin seeds instead.  

Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing

This creamy pesto vinaigrette puts a fun spin on classic basil pesto and really kicks up the flavor of fresh salads. As with most dishes, it tastes best homemade since there’s nothing quite like a homemade dressing.

However, if you’re in a bind or need to save time, you could use store-bought pesto instead. If using store-bought, I recommend using about 1/2 cup pesto and then mixing in 1/2 cup each of lemon juice and olive oil along with 1-2 TBS of honey. Be sure to taste test and adjust salt and other seasonings as desired.

If using premade pesto and when ready to serve the salad, put the pesto in a small bowl and slowly whisk in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar to emulsify and thin to desired consistency. This easy vinaigrette recipe can be adjusted to taste by adding more oil for creaminess or vinegar for tanginess. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. 

You can use this same method of mixing homemade pesto with lemon juice, olive oil and honey if you have homemade pesto on hand instead. This is actually a great way to use up the last little bit of leftover pesto.  I actually like to make fresh pesto in bulk and save mini portions in the freezer to quickly mix into salad dressings, soups and marinara sauces (find my dairy-free, nut-free pesto recipe here). Whether you choose store-bought or homemade pesto, you’re going to love this flavorful homemade salad dressing!

Other Uses For This Basil Pesto Salad Dressing 

The great thing about this basil pesto salad dressing is that it is so versatile and can be used in a variety of ways anytime you are craving that pesto flavor. Toss the dressing with pasta and vegetables for a tasty pesto pasta salad. It also makes a wonderful dipping sauce for fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and gluten-free bread when putting together a caprese salad spread. Or use it as a vegetable dip for carrots, celery, radishes and other fresh snacks. Anywhere that pesto would enhance flavor, this easy creamy dressing can work beautifully thanks to that winning combination of garlicky basil and bright lemon.

What You Need to Make Pesto Salad

For the salad:

  • Romaine and Arugula – Romaine and arugula are a classic match in salads for good reason. The peppery bite of the arugula complements the neutral crunch of the romaine, while this creamy pesto dressing enhances the flavors of both greens for a satisfying salad blend my whole family enjoys.  However, you can use butter lettuce or spring mix, or really any of your favorite lettuces will work in this recipe.
  • Shredded carrots and shredded cabbage – To simplify preparation, I purchase pre-shredded carrots and cabbage at the grocery store, but you could also use the shredding attachment on your food processor to shred them fresh at home.
  • Sliced cucumbers and sliced bell peppers – I like to slice cucumbers and bell peppers in bulk and save them in a glass container with a lid that has a paper towel lining the bottom. Storing them this way makes fresh vegetables easily accessible for quick salads or healthy snacking options for my family. Prepping the vegetables ahead of time also makes throwing together fresh and nourishing salad bowls much quicker on busy nights.
  • Sliced red onions – I add thinly sliced red onions to give the salad a delicious bite of flavor. To take the harsh edge off, I let the sliced red onions sit in a bowl of water for 15 minutes before draining and adding them to the salad.
  • Turkey – In place of turkey, you could also top this colorful salad with grilled chicken, chicken cutlets (recipe here), or hardboiled eggs for an extra punch of protein.
  • Avocado sliced – There’s nothing better than creamy sliced avocado atop a fresh salad. I like to sprinkle mine with Himalayan salt for a little extra added flavor and richness.
  • Bacon – I love the crunch and richness that bacon adds to a salad, but you could also use turkey bacon as a topping if you prefer.

For the easy basil pesto vinaigrette:

  • Garlic cloves – There’s just something about fresh garlic cloves that adds the perfect punch of flavor to this creamy dressing. If you’re on a low FODMAP diet, you could substitute fresh shallots instead. However, I would not recommend using garlic powder or jarred garlic. You just won’t get that fresh, pungent bite that comes from an actual fresh garlic clove. You can bump up the garlic to three cloves for an even stronger hit of flavor. When it comes to salad dressings, fresh garlic is a must in my book!
  • Basil leaves – Fresh basil is the main ingredient to this dressing and adds a sweet, almost licorice-like flavor and fragrance that takes this salad to the next level, but you could also use cilantro instead to give it a brighter, more citrusy taste and completely change up the flavor profile.
  • Fresh lemon juice – While fresh lemon juice adds the perfect bright bite to this pesto dressing that really makes the flavors pop, you could use fresh lime juice instead for a slight variation, or 1-2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar to change the flavor profile for a different tangy taste.
  • Extra virgin olive oil – Extra virgin olive oil pairs so perfectly with the basil, lemon juice and garlic in this dressing for a match made in heaven, but if you don’t have olive oil on hand, you could use avocado oil instead as a neutral-flavored substitute.
  • Honey – Just a touch of honey balances out the tang from the lemon juice perfectly in this dressing, but if you don’t have honey available, maple syrup can work nicely as a substitute to add a touch of sweetness instead.
  • Sea salt – Adding just a bit of fresh sea salt or Himalayan salt really makes all the flavors in this creamy dressing pop.

How to Make Pesto Salad

To assemble the salad, layer the chopped lettuces, shredded veggies, protein (turkey or chicken cutlets), avocado, and bacon. Drizzle the desired amount of homemade pesto dressing over top or serve dressing on the side. Garnish with shaved parmesan if desired.

Beautiful salad

Pesto Salad with Easy Homemade Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe

Sarah Erickson
Fresh salad with vibrant veggies, loaded with flavor and packed with protein, topped with a bright and tangy pesto vinaigrette.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course lunch
Cuisine American


  • 4 cups chopped romaine
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup sliced cucumbers
  • 1 cup sliced bell peppers
  • ½ cup sliced red onions
  • ½ cup black olives
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced chicken (or turkey)
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • 4 slices of bacon


  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 TBS honey
  • ½ tsp salt


  • Put all vinaigrette ingredients in jar and blend with an immersion blender until fully combined.
  • Assemble salad.
  • Serve with dressing on the side.


Storing the Salad
I like to store any leftover salad in an airtight glass container or jar in the refrigerator. This keeps everything crisp and fresh for a few days until ready to enjoy again. Quart-sized mason jars work perfectly for shaking up and tossing the salad when ready to eat. The salad also lends itself well to meal prepping individual portions for grab-and-go healthy lunches throughout the week.  Just be sure to store the salad without the salad dressing to prevent everything from getting mushy and soggy.  
Storing the Homemade Dressing 
This easy salad dressing recipe is perfect for bulk prepping. After mixing up a batch, transfer any extra homemade dressing to an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, you can pop the pesto cubes out and store them in a larger airtight container or bag. Then it’s so simple to just grab a cube or two to defrost and toss with greens or vegetables for quick salads anytime! It helps cut down on waste while keeping the bright flavors ready to go.
Keyword basil, dressing, lunch, pesto, salad

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply