Arugula’s peppery bite is enhanced by a simple lemon vinaigrette and mellowed with aged Parmesan cheese in this classic Italian arugula salad recipe.

Overhead view of a salad made with arugula, parmesan, and a lemon vinaigrette.

Sometimes we overthink salads. We add this and that until the list of ingredients is a page long. I read a long time ago that ideally a salad shouldn’t ever have more than five ingredients. That statement has kind of stuck with me through the years although I admit that many of my salads have a lot more than five ingredients.

But there is a place for simple salads where each ingredient shines. Meet this classic arugula salad: arugula, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and Parmesan cheese. Add a little salt and freshly ground black pepper and that’s it! Think of it as the little black dress of salads.

Simple and stunning.

Arugula, parmesan, and lemon zest in a white bowl on a wooden background.

About Arugula

Arugula is a member of the cruciferous family, and is a cold weather crop. Look for it in the spring and fall. Originally grown as an herb, arugula has a mild peppery bite, almost spicy in flavor. You may know it as “rocket” or “Italian cress” — actually, there are several different names. Arugula is packed with nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber, and has lots of health benefits.

Large bowl of a classic arugula salad with parmesan. Silver serving utensils, red wine, and a cork also pictured.

About this arugula salad:

It’s so easy! Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. Add arugula and toss until well coated. Stir in Parmesan cheese, or plate the salad and garnish with Parmesan. That’s it! 

So fresh and simple, this arugula salad with lemon is the perfect accompaniment to most meals. Try it with the herb marinated lamb chops you’ll see here next week. It’s perfect with oven baked breaded pork chops, air fryer chicken thighs, or lemon salmon with dill

You’ll love it served on a simple pizza. Simply spread a layer of arugula salad over the pizza right after you take it out of the oven. Try it on grilled pizza with pesto and tomatoes. Try this cheesy pizza from The Garlic Diaries. The combination of warm crispy pizza crust, melty cheese, garlic, and the bright lemony tang of arugula salad is serendipity.

Arugula, parmesan and lemon zest in a white bowl on a wooden background, with two glasses of red wine.

What’s in a classic arugula salad?

  • Arugula, clean and dry
  • Olive oil: since this is such a simple salad, make sure to use good quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed from one lemon
  • Honey — optional, but we like just a little sweetness to balance the tangy lemon and spicy arugula. You could also use agave. Omit it for a keto diet.
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese, very thinly sliced or shaved

A simple and classic arugula salad in a white bowl with silver tongs in it.

How to make this arugula salad recipe your own:

Keep in mind that additions to this salad may detract from its simple goodness. If you do want to embellish your salad, try limiting yourself to one or two items. Think of it as jewelry with the little black dress. 

  • Add other vegetables such as sliced radishes, peppers, red onions, tomatoes, etc.
  • Add sliced fruit, such as strawberries in the spring, sliced pears or apples in the fall, or dried fruits any time at all.
  • A sprinkling of fresh herbs is nice, too. 
  • Use a different green if you prefer. Spinach, leaf lettuce, or romaine would be great.
  • Substitute goat cheese, blue cheese, or gorgonzola for the Parmesan. 
  • The simple lemon vinaigrette is classic but you can top the salad with any dressing you like. I have lots of homemade salad dressing recipes for you! Homemade croutons are delicious too. 

Storage and Make Ahead Tips

This salad is best served immediately once the ingredients are combined because the arugula wilts somewhat after it’s dressed. It will still taste great but won’t look quite as attractive.

Make ahead: Prepare dressing, wash and dry arugula, and shave the Parmesan cheese up to a day ahead. Store components of the salad separately in the fridge and combine right before serving.

Simple salad serendipity

Alliteration aside (almost), if you’re looking for more salad ideas, I’ve got you covered. Try:

 

Overhead view of a white bowl with an arugula salad with parmesan and lemon on a wooden background.

The Best Arugula Salad Recipe

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Arugula's peppery bite is enhanced by a simple lemon vinaigrette and mellowed with aged Parmesan cheese in this classic Italian arugula salad recipe.

Ingredients

  • 5 oz pkg. baby arugula (4-5 cups), washed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add arugula and toss until coated. Lightly stir in Parmesan cheese or garnish salad with cheese.
  3. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • This salad is best served immediately once the ingredients are combined because the arugula wilts somewhat after it's dressed.
  • Make ahead: Prepare dressing, wash and dry arugula, and shave the Parmesan cheese up to a day ahead. Store components of the salad separately in the fridge and combine right before serving.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 cup salad
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 135Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 400mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 5g

RachelCooks.com sometimes provides nutritional information, but these figures should be considered estimates, as they are not calculated by a registered dietitian. Please consult a medical professional for any specific nutrition, diet, or allergy advice.

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