If you are stuck in the same old salad routine, boost your salad creativity with these ideas on how to build a better salad. Spice up your salad life, eat healthy and up your salad game. Banish boring salads all year long and make them something to look forward to. If you want to make a really good salad you've to think outside of the bowl.
6 Tips on How to Build a Better Salad
A salad starts with leafy greens, but there is a lot more to delicious and healthy salads than just plain greens. I call the additions goodies, like nuts and seeds, cheese, fruits, herbs and chopped veggies. And don't forget the dressing! You've got to have a terrific dressing. Skip the bottles please and try homemade. It's easy! Make a couple at the start of the week and salads go together fast.
Change Up Your Greens
With so many options at the market, do you grab the same old thing each time? Red lettuce is my favorite, but peppery arugula, baby kale, tender butter head lettuce (aka Bibb or Boston), curly Frisee, Napa cabbage, escarole, elegant endive, sturdy Romaine, watercress, a classic crisp wedge of iceberg, and baby green spinach leaves make wonderful salads. Add thinly sliced red cabbage or radicchio for color, even fresh sprouts for increased nutrition. Mix up your greens!
A great salad must start with fresh crisp greens. Wash greens thoroughly with produce wash then spin them dry before eating. If you don’t have a salad spinner, it’s an inexpensive investment and must have tool for great salads.
To prep lettuce ahead, I wash and spin my salad greens when I get home from the store. When the greens are dry, I package them in large clear containers in the refrigerator so I can see what I have to work with. It’s a super prep ahead time-saving step.
One more tip on greens: skip the pre-washed containers (unless you’re in a pinch) and buy heads of lettuce. Home washed lettuce saves money and stays fresher longer than the packages, which at times are soggy and a waste of money.
Add Some Texture and Crunch
Crunchy things give salads texture and add flavor, protein, healthy fat, and eye-catching color. Sprinkle on hemp hearts, adding protein and crunch. Try a small handful of slivered almonds or chopped walnuts for healthy fat. Pine nuts give salads a Mediterranean flare. Raw veggies add great crunch, plus it’s an excellent way to up your daily veggie quota. Try raw grated carrots, chopped zucchini, red or orange bell peppers, celery, and thinly sliced fennel and radishes.
Using a handheld slicer makes thin slices easy. While roasted beets aren't crunchy, they add marvelous color. Marinated artichoke hearts are a delicious add too, and who can resist crisp crumbled bacon.
Color it Up With Fruit
Summer tomatoes are an easy add with many colorful heirloom varieties and sizes from petite cherry to baseball size. In summer, try chunks of peaches or nectarines, and in fall apples or pears. Choose what is best and in season. Berries are one of my favorites adds, especially raspberries, then I’ll make a raspberry vinaigrette for an unbeatable salad. And who can resist avocado! Whether sliced, diced or pureed into a creamy dressing, it's one of my favorite additions.
Dried fruit like cranberries, apricots, raisins and dates are wonderful in salads, but use them sparingly because they are high in sugar. For a lower-sugar dried fruit option, look for tart dried goldenberries. I use them in homemade granola too.
Delightful Dairy Options
A little dairy is nice in a nice salad add unless you avoid dairy, but fear not. Check out the wonderful plant-based cheeses available from Miyoko’s Creamery and other makers made from plant-based ingredients.
If you enjoy dairy, goat cheese prompts fewer allergic responses than cow’s milk and is more easily digested. Try crumbled goat cheese in a salad or a tangy goat-sheep Greek feta. For fun, try a baby 1-ounce brie round (my catered parties loved them). A sprinkle of good Parmesan adds great savory, salty flavor to any salad and adds a Mediterranean profile. And of course, a good blue or Gorgonzola cheese is classic.
Dress For the Occasion
In order to build a better salad you've got to have a great dressing. The right dressing makes the salad like the right shoes make the outfit. A good rule of thumb is choosing light dressings such as vinaigrettes for light, soft greens. Choose creamy, heavier dressings for study greens.
Making homemade dressing is better than bottled as you eliminate unhealthy ingredients that many bottled brands contain like corn syrup, added sugar, preservatives, thickeners and gums, and HFCS. You get the picture. Here are links to a few good dressing recipes I use regularly:
- Creamy Tahini dressing
- Creamy ginger dressing
- My basic vinaigrette
- Citrusy orange vinaigrette
- Raspberry vinaigrette
- Blueberry vinaigrette
- Creamy Caesar dressing
- Pomegranate-maple vinaigrette
For a quick no-recipe vinaigrette, simply whisk (or shake in a jar) good olive oil and vinegar with a pinch of sea salt in a 3:1 ratio. For example, 3 tablespoons olive oil to 1 tablespoon vinegar (serves 4). Try Balsamic, red wine, and apple cider vinegar. Flavored vinegars are wonderful too! I have at least 6 flavors in my pantry for making tasty quick vinaigrettes. I usually make my creamier dressings in a small blender like this one. It's great for personal smoothies too.
Make it a Meal
Add leftover roast or poached chicken, or sliced steak to a green salad to make it an entrée salad. Throw in a handful of cooked garbanzo or white beans. Cooked bay shrimp, available at most markets, are an easy high-protein add along with a hard-boiled egg.
Additionally, try guacamole chicken salad, egg salad, lentil salad or a bean salad. Serve on top of or alongside of a simple leafy green salad for a main course. I hope this inspires you to build a better salad and keep eating healthy!