A healthier and simpler take on the classic potluck broccoli salad. This Healthy Broccoli Salad features steamed broccoli, a super simple olive oil dressing, red onion, pepitas and crumbled aged Cheddar. Simple, healthy, versatile and delicious. 

broccoli salad with pepitas, red onion and crumbled cheese in a square white bowl

This broccoli salad is:

  • Low-carb
  • Gluten-free
  • Low-fat 
  • Vegetarian 
  • Vegan-friendly 
  • Keto friendly
  • Paleo (without the cheese)
  • Whole-30 (without the cheese)

What you’ll need:

  • Broccoli 
  • Garlic 
  • Bay leaf, optional 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil 
  • Spicy brown mustard—Dijon would also work great
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Red onion or scallions
  • Pepitas—or any toasted nut or seed such as sunflower seeds or slivered almonds 
  • Aged Cheddar cheese—or any hard aged cheese that crumbles well 

How to make healthy broccoli salad:

Step 1: prep the broccoli 

The goal with this broccoli salad is to steer clear of the potluck-style salad, so we’re prepping the broccoli differently. Instead of small florets, cut the broccoli into medium-sized florets—about 1½-inch to 2-inch pieces are perfect. 

collage of two images showing how to cut broccoli into florets and broccoli florets in a brown bowl

Step 2: steam the broccoli 

This is also different than most broccoli salads. I prefer steamed broccoli for this recipe (as opposed to raw broccoli) because it feels more like a side dish, and it unlocks the natural flavors of broccoli. In the recipe card I list instructions for steaming on the stove top and steaming in the Instant Pot

To infuse the broccoli florets with flavor, add a garlic clove and bay leaf to the broccoli while steaming. The bay leaf is optional, but you’ll use the steamed garlic for the dressing so make sure to add that.

Step 3: make the dressing

Aside from infusing the broccoli with flavor, steaming the garlic will lessen its sharpness and soften it, which makes it perfect for mashing and adding to the dressing. 

Mash the steamed garlic then combine with olive oil, spicy brown mustard, and maple syrup in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Step 4: toss it all together 

Toss the broccoli with dressing, red onion, pepitas and crumbled cheese. Give the salad a taste and adjust with more salt and pepper as needed. 

step by step images showing how to toss a broccoli salad together

Tips for making the best healthy broccoli salad

  1. Steam just until fork-tender—you want the broccoli to still have a toothsome bite (no mushy broccoli here)!
  2. Season to taste—just like with anything, it’s important to adequately season the salad with salt and pepper to taste. Once everything has been tossed together, give one of the broccoli florets a taste, adjust with additional salt, pepper and even cider vinegar (or lemon juice) as needed.
  3. Use high-quality ingredients—this is a major pillar or good cooking. For this recipe be sure to use high-quality olive oil, mustard, maple syrup (pure maple syrup! if you don’t have it, use honey), and really good aged Cheddar. You can also use Parmesan.

Is broccoli salad healthy?

Yes! This broccoli salad is healthy—but not ALL broccoli salads are healthy. Instead of the classic potluck salad full of mayo or sour cream, bacon, and sugar, I took a completely different route. Ditching the creamy dressing for a much simpler olive oil-based dressing and a few flavorful ingredients. 

Being high in fiber and folate, and having anti-inflammatory properties, broccoli is definitely superfood-worthy. 

For those of you who follow specific diets, this is a keto broccoli salad, and can easily be whole30 or paleo with the cheese left out.

close up of broccoli salad tossed with red onions, cheddar and pepitas

Can this broccoli salad be made ahead?

Absolutely! The entire salad can be made up to 1 day ahead of time (for best results) and will last up to 1 week stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Variations: 

  • Add regular or golden raisins 
  • Swap out the Cheddar for Parmesan or feta 
  • Swap the pepitas for sunflower seeds, slivered almonds, or chopped pecans 
  • Use Dijon mustard instead of spicy brown mustard
  • Add fresh herbs such as parsley, dill or tarragon 
  • Use scallions instead of red onions 
  • If you love broccoli salad with bacon, add some crispy bacon bits
  • Add dried cranberries as a nod to the classic
  • Add cauliflower florets to the mix to make a broccoli cauliflower salad

Serve this healthy broccoli salad with: 

broccoli salad with pepitas, red onion and crumbled cheese in a square white bowl

If you give this Healthy Broccoli Salad recipe a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @zestfulkitchen on Instagram. I love hearing about and seeing your ZK creations!

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broccoli salad with pepitas, red onion and crumbled cheese in a square white bowl

Healthy Broccoli Salad with Pepitas & Cheddar

  • Author: Lauren Grant
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: Stove top
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

Simple, healthy and delicious, this broccoli salad is nothing like the creamy sugar-filled potluck salad you’re used to. Featuring steamed broccoli, a simple dressing, and some red onion, pepitas and aged Cheddar. Light and delicious with no unnecessary ingredients. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds broccoli (2 large heads, about 8 cups florets)
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 dried bay leaf, optional 
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard 
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup 
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons raw pepitas, toasted
  • 24 tablespoons crumbled aged Cheddar, optional 

Instructions

Cut broccoli into medium-sized florets (about 1½ to 2 inches large). 

Stove-top steaming:

Bring about 1-inch water to boil in a deep, wide pot. Lower insert or basket with broccoli into pot so it rests above water. Add garlic and bay leaf, cover and simmer until just tender, 4–5 minutes. 

Instant Pot Steaming: 

Add florets to Instant Pot along with ½ cup water, garlic, and bay leaf. Close and lock lid, close pressure release valve and cook at high pressure for 0 minutes (press Pressure Cook button, set to “High Pressure,” and set cook time to 0 minutes. 

Once Instant Pot is pressurized and beeps, turn off Instant Pot and quick-release pressure. Carefully remove lid, allowing for steam to escape away from you. 

Salad: 

Transfer broccoli to a large bowl; leaving any cooking liquid behind. Reserve garlic clove and discard bay leaf. 

Chop/mash steamed garlic into a paste. Whisk together mashed garlic, olive oil, mustard, and maple syrup; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add dressing, onion, pepitas, and Cheddar, if using, to broccoli and toss to thoroughly combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. 


Notes

This salad can be served warm or chilled. If you’d like to serve warm, toss the salad together while the broccoli is still warm and serve immediately. If you’d like to serve it chilled, prepare the salad as written, then cover and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Broccoli: If you would rather use raw chopped broccoli, go ahead. Use 1 minced clove garlic in the dressing.

This salad can easily be doubled or tripled to serve more or be used as meal prep.

For a little tang, add some apple cider vinegar.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: ¼ of the recipe
  • Calories: 182
  • Sugar: 5g
  • Sodium: 102mg
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated Fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 18g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Protein: 11g
  • Cholesterol: 1mg

Keywords: healthy broccoli salad, keto broccoli salad

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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