How to Create the Perfect Salad
Updated: May 20
I have a confession to make. I love watching competitive cooking shows. The Great British Baking Show, Chopped, Iron Chef, and maybe my favorite – The Final Table. Other than just pure entertainment, I’ve learned a few things – restaurant chefs use a lot of salt, butter, and bacon, and deep-frying masks any unpleasant ingredients. Clearly, I’m not applying any of these lessons to my own cooking! But I have learned some practical things. I’ve learned that texture is very important because having contrasting textures adds depth and how food feels affects our enjoyment of eating. Also, if your food doesn’t look good, no one wants to eat it. An attractive dish is much more appealing and delicious. I’ve also learned about the importance of balancing salt, fat, and acid, and how acid reduces our perception of bitter flavors in foods and brightens other flavors.
All of these lessons are essential to turning a salad from boring, “rabbit” food to an interesting, delicious, and satisfying meal. And it’s important to me to make salads my family wants to eat and enjoy eating because it’s a great way to consume a ton of nutrient-dense ingredients for good health, disease prevention, and youthful energy.
Forget the tasteless iceberg lettuce, unripened tomatoes, and soggy croutons. It’s time to make a salad that everyone wants to eat!
My strategy for making delicious, healthy salads is to think not just about flavor, but also texture and color, and balance. A variety of colorful ingredients guarantees a good dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for better health. Plus, when we create beautifully colorful foods, they not only look prettier, but they are more appealing and actually often taste better too. Different textures make meals more interesting, so I make sure to have some crunchy ingredients to balance the softer ones.
While you can always follow a recipe for salads, by using my basic formula, you are guaranteed to have a winning dish every time.
Start with fresh, bright salad greens. I love the big containers of pre-washed mixed greens, baby spinach, and baby kale for the convenience and beautiful dark green color. Try using arugula for a peppery bite. Butter, or Bibb lettuce, has a sweet taste and tender texture, while romaine offers a pleasant crunch. I try to always include at least two types of greens.
Load up on colorful vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories, but high in nutrients, meaning the more you add to your salad, the more nutritious it will be. Plus, vegetables are full of fiber which fills you up and is important for digestion and disease prevention. Think about the colors of the vegetables you add and strive to eat the rainbow. Here’s a list of some vegetables (and fruit) in each color category that you can add to brighten up your salad bowl:
BLUE-PURPLE - eggplant, beets, blueberries, blackberries, plums, red cabbage, red onions, and purple potatoes
GREEN - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, kale, peas, edamame, asparagus, zucchini, avocados, and green apples
ORANGE - carrots, pumpkin, acorn and butternut squash, oranges, orange peppers, and sweet potatoes
PALE GREEN-WHITE -garlic, onions, leeks, cauliflower, and mushrooms
RED - tomatoes, bell peppers, red apples, radishes, pomegranate seeds, red grapes, and dried cranberries.
YELLOW– corn, yellow summer squash, and yellow bell peppers
Add fruit. For an antioxidant and flavor boost and beautiful color, I often include some citrus, berries, chunks of apple, or pomegranate seeds.
Add protein. I love adding plant-based sources of protein, like lentils, black beans, chickpeas, shelled edamame, or cubes of tofu to any salad.
Add a crunchy topping and healthy fats. Nuts and seeds like slivered almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds will elevate your salad and give you a nutrient boost. Toasted pine nuts provide a really nutty and rich flavor, while shredded tortilla strips will satisfy your salty cravings. Crispy chickpeas are a great source of protein and avocados and olives are excellent sources of healthy fats.
Toss lightly with a homemade dressing. Salad dressing is actually very simple to make and a great way to take your beautiful homemade salad to the next level. Plus, when you make it yourself you avoid all the extra sugar and chemicals in bottled store-bought dressing. Take a look HERE for some homemade salad dressing ideas!
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in fresh herbs. Try cilantro in a taco salad, basil in a tomato salad, and mint or oregano with olives and cucumbers.
Add some cooked grains. If you have some leftover quinoa in the refrigerator, mix it in for more texture, protein, and additional nutrients.
Try including cooked vegetables over salad greens or combining cooked and raw vegetables.
You pretty much can’t go wrong with following this strategy. But for those of you who prefer more structure and want a few combination ideas, here you go:
Romaine, arugula, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, sliced almonds, and quinoa.
Bibb lettuce, spinach, red peppers, red cabbage, sugar snap peas, radishes, oranges, edamame, and cashews.
Spring greens, romaine, bell peppers, corn, black beans, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pumpkin seeds, and avocado.
Baby kale, shredded Brussels sprouts, apples, pomegranate seeds, avocado, and toasted pine nuts.
Mixed greens, broccoli, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, and red onion.
Romaine, baby spinach, assorted grilled vegetables (peppers, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus), sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and walnuts.
Mixed greens, arugula, cherry tomatoes, carrots, yellow pepper, red cabbage, beets, avocado, peas, mushrooms, avocado, and pistachios.
Kale, spinach, broccoli, red peppers, carrots, green onion, cashews, tofu, and cabbage.