Break away from the same-old iceberg and ranch salad, and dive into a delicious, fresh, filling meal that will power you up and keep you going for hours. Salads have this stigma of being “healthy”, but in a boring way — something we eat to be “good”, but maybe resent just a little. But salads can be so much more than that! Great salads are all about balancing a variety of textures and flavors, and are all about the toppings in my opinion. Savory, tart, crunchy, juicy, sweet. Yum-oh!
I’ve made some not-so-great salads in my day. And after
some a lot of trial and error, this is my go-to guide for building a better salad, layering in flavors that will keep your tastebuds interested until the last bite. Have you ever wondered why salads taste so much better in restaurants? This is it right here! My 5 Steps to the Best Salad Ever, from your own kitchen.
Choose Your Greens
Each lettuce variety lends a different texture and flavor — some are bold and chewy while others are soft and light. I usually grab Boston lettuce for its buttery, tender texture and subtle flavor. It pairs well with most dressings, and can hold its own with a variety of toppings. Arugula adds a lovely peppery flavor to a salad, either on its own with a bright tangy dressing or as an accent in mixed greens. Romaine lends a strong crunch and is a popular alternative to iceberg. Typically the darker the leaves, the more vitamins and minerals the lettuce has.
Pump Up the Protein
Protein, whether it’s vegetarian/vegan or of the meat variety, not only helps to fill you up, but also leaves you feeling fuller longer. Some of my favorites are oven roasted chicken, grilled flank steak, pan roasted salmon, a poached egg, toasted quinoa, or crispy chickpeas. Toss in about a half cup, or more if you’re feeling particularly hungry. I love to use leftovers from the night before as inspiration to create a killer salad.
Boost the Texture
Add more than one exciting textural element to your salad. Whether you love foods that are crunchy, creamy, or chewy — choose a few of your favorites to mix and match. Lately I’ve been loving toasted nuts like walnuts and pecans, goat cheese and feta, and dried fruits like apricots and cherries. Salads are more appetizing and fun to eat when there’s something interesting to bite into.
Dress it Up
With all of the great textures and flavors already going on in the salad, I tend to keep the dressing on the light side, brightened up with lots of citrus and vinegar. I’ll make up a whole jar of my go-to balsamic vinaigrette (in the recipe below!) and keep it on hand in the fridge for salads all week.
Add Healthy Fats
Yep, you heard me! Healthy fats are an important part of your diet, especially when eating leafy greens. Vitamins A and K, abundant in salad greens, are fat soluble. Your body will only properly absorb them when ingested with dietary fat. So skip the fat free dressings and opt for an olive oil-based dressing instead (like the balsamic vinaigrette in the recipe below). Or throw in a couple tablespoons of crunchy toasted nuts as one of your textural elements.
And that’s it! Thinking through these steps as I build a salad has led me to some amazing flavor combinations that I may not have tried before — and it’s a great way to use up leftovers, which we always seem to have plenty of in our kitchen. Below is one of our favorites. Chewy roasted veggies, creamy goat cheese and crunchy walnuts with a perfectly poached egg (so simple to make, here’s my trick!).
- 1 parsnip, cut into ¼ inch cubes
- 3 carrots, cut into ¼ inch cubes
- 3 yellow beats, cut into ½ in cubes
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 8 cups mixed greens (or about 8 handfuls)
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 4 poached eggs (see note)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Zest and juice of ½ a lemon
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- ½ tsp of agave or pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the cubed parsnip, carrots and beets evenly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Toss to evenly coat, and spread the veggies into an even layer. Roast in the oven until beginning to brown, about 25-30 minutes. Check periodically and flip halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- While the veggies are roasting, prepare the balsamic vinaigrette. Add all ingredients to a mason jar, secure the lid tightly and shake to fully combine. If you don't have a mason jar handy, no problem! Just grab a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, add the ingredients and whisk. Set aside.
- To toast the walnuts, add to a small frying pan over medium low heat, stirring frequently until toasty brown and fragrant -- about 3-4 minutes.
- To assemble the salads, add two cups of loosely packed mixed greens per desired serving to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of vinaigrette per serving, and toss to coat. Divide evenly onto plates and top each with about a quarter of the roasted veggies, walnuts, and goat cheese. Finish with a poached egg and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
This entree salad makes enough for four servings. You can easily adjust up or down based on how many servings you need, and the extra vinaigrette can be kept on hand in the fridge for quick salads later. Only dress as much lettuce as you'll eat in one sitting, as it will continue to wilt and won't hold up for leftovers.