We all know that salads are nutritional powerhouses. Loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, a bowl full of veggies offers many health benefits. And since nearly 90% of Americans don’t get the recommended daily servings of vegetables, creating the perfect salad makes it easy to get what you need from this all-important food group.
Making a salad is not a high-flying culinary feat, I would be lying if I told you otherwise. But just because it’s a fairly simple process doesn’t mean you’re knocking it out of the park. For most guys, a salad is an afterthought, and it often shows. Soft greens swimming in a salad dressing isn’t the most appetizing.
But it’s not enough to make a decent salad, your goal should be to make a perfect salad every time. Luckily, turning a dull bowl of lettuce into one brimming with flavor, texture, and nutrition is a lot easier than you might think. It’s just a matter of being judicious about your ingredients and increasing certain items you need in your life. Do that and a salad can quickly go from obligatory side dish to superstar main course.
That’s why we came up with this foolproof formula for making the perfect salad. Read on for nine ways to put a fresh spin on the salad.
Top 9 Tips for Making the Perfect Salad
1. Change your sheets
Why make nutritionally lackluster iceberg or slightly more nutritious and flavorful romaine lettuce the base of your most important meal of the day when you can do so much better? Ideally, you want to opt for options with a darker shade of green, indicating that they are more nutrient dense. Choices include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula. Ultra-convenient baby versions of greens such as kale and spinach taste less bitter and don’t require chopping. Be generous with your portion size here. A recent review study in the Food Chemistry magazine found that when people ate more leafy greens daily, their risk of dying prematurely from causes such as heart disease and cancer decreased. Looking for a slightly more assertive flavor and a bit of crunch? Mix in more sophisticated options like escarole, chicory or curly.
2. Turn up the heat
Look, it’s a salad you’re making, so the obvious rule should be that you’re going to need more vegetables in it than just a bunch of leafy greens. When people think of what a salad should be, it’s most often a bunch of raw veggies, but incorporating cooked veggies makes things so much more interesting. An easy way to do this is to roast a bunch of vegetables – including carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, Brussels sprouts and parsnips – in your oven, then just add a few handles to any salad.
As a bonus, the blast furnace of an oven brings out some of the natural sweetness of these vegetables for tastier salads. For fire-kissed flavor, consider grilling some of your salad vegetables. You can grill a big batch of items like zucchini, peppers, red onions, and eggplant all at once, then store them in the fridge until they’re ready to add to salads throughout of the week.
3. Load up on protein
What is the difference between a muscle building meal and rabbit food? Protein. Too often salads are light protein – after all, no one should consider kale and carrots high in this macro. But if you want to turn your salad into a dish that will help you slim down your physique, it’s important to look for protein.
Chicken is an easy and familiar option, but so are steak, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, and slices of roast pork that make for a more hearty and substantial dish. Protein-rich plant-based options include pan-fried tofu or tempeh. To press the easy button, no-cook protein options include canned mussels or oysters, canned beans, or even a handful of jerky.
4. DIY Your Dressing Room
No respectable salad should be naked. Taking a few moments to make your own dressing allows you to avoid the mysterious ingredients found in many store-bought bottled versions. And it’s really hard not to make something that tastes better than the bottle of ranch in aisle 5 of the supermarket. A vinaigrette, a mixture of oil and acid, forms in a flash and can be varied almost endlessly with different oils and kinds of vinegar, as well as other flavorings such as citrus juices, dried herbs , shallots, pesto, miso and Dijon mustard. . Items like Greek yogurt and tahini can add a creamy element to a salad dressing.
You do not know where to start ? Below are some homemade salad dressings that will make any pile of vegetables stand out. Everyone can dress at least 4 salads.
5. Bet on cereals
As with protein, including grains in your salad will help turn it into a hearty meal with added nutritional weight. They also add texture and flavor, a battle won in the fight against lackluster salads. Whole grain options include quinoa, barley, farro, wheat berries, and rice varieties including brown, black, or red. And don’t be afraid to try less obvious grains, like spelled, freekeh, and wild rice.
A big 2023 balance sheet study In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating whole grains can protect against the development of heart disease and premature death. This is not the case for refined grains. A smart move is to boil a big batch of grains at a time so you have them ready to go when it’s time for a salad any day of the week. Remember that cereals will absorb more dressing than vegetables, so adjust accordingly.
6. Never overlook the power of herbs
Baby spinach is not the only leaf that has its place in a salad bowl. Just about any salad can be enhanced by the addition of fresh herbs, whether it’s whole mint leaves, torn basil or chopped parsley. And, yes, you can use more than one herb – an herbal approach that will add layers of flavor and an extra dose of beneficial plant compounds to support long-lasting health.
7. Add a sweet touch
Too often, we overlook fruit when preparing veggie-centric salads. But they’re a great way to add a tangy counterbalance to the earthy elements of a salad. Everything from orange segments and blueberries to pear slices and mango chunks can turn a meh salad into a wonderful one. And don’t forget that they also boost nutritional value with a dose of micronutrients and antioxidants. You can even turn to dried fruits, including sliced dates, apricots and plums, cranberries, tart cherries and golden raisins.
8. Increase the crisis factor
In a bowl of moist and tender ingredients, a little crunch is much appreciated but often overlooked. A handful of seeds or nuts, raw or roasted, are effortless and add an extra dose of nutrition. Also try adding some crunch with roasted chickpeas, baked tortilla chips, or even granola. And, yes, crunchy vegetables and fruits like jicama, radish, pomegranate seeds, carrots, and bell peppers count too.
9. Add a special touch
To make the perfect salad and send it to another snack carrier, look to incorporate an extra special flavor booster or two. The options are nearly endless, but can include pickles, sweet Peppadew peppers, olives, avocado, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi, crumbled soft goat cheese, capers, preserved lemon , roasted red pepper, micro greens and chopped nori seaweed. Now you’re a salad pro.
So to summarize: Raw and cooked vegetables + more protein + good grains + better dressing + killer add-ins = The perfect salad!