Salads are kind of like going to the gym. It doesn’t sound great at first. It’s hard to get excited about it. But once you get started you’re so thankful you drug your butt to the gym, ya know? Am I just talking to myself again? Well, here’s the secret about salads: we tend to think they suck because a lot of salads really suck. Have you ever noticed how a salad in a restaurant can seem delightfully more interesting and flavorful than one you make at home? That’s because crafting a great salad is about so much more than just throwing lettuce and *whatever else you have in the fridge* into a bowl and covering it with Hidden Valley Ranch.
Right now you might have suddenly found yourself working at home and needing to find quick and easy meals to whip up for lunch. Salads have long been one of my favorite lunchtime meals because they don’t take up much of my time, aren’t a big mess in the kitchen, and are healthy! They are also an easy meal to take on the go if you put them in a jar and keep the dressing separate.
As we all prepare to shelter in our homes for the next few weeks (or months?) it’ll be helpful to have healthy, go-to dishes that you truly love and look forward to. I think these tips might help make you fall a little bit in love with salads. This post is inspired by this genius Twitter Thread from @YearofElan, which I’ve adapted to include a bit more detail and a few of my own tips. Enjoy!
HOW TO MAKE SALADS THAT DON’T SUCK
- Season your ingredients. If you’d put salt and pepper on it if eating it by itself, season it before tossing it into your salad. Shake tomatoes or cucumbers in sea salt and pepper, or put a squeeze of citrus over your avocado, for example.
- Use multiple types of greens. Spinach is a great base, but mix in some romaine hearts, arugula, cilantro, basil or any leafy greens you like! Hiding finely chopped greens into the base of your salad is a great way to get bursts of flavor.
- Season your greens! Remember how we were just talking about fresh herbs? Okay well those are hard to keep on hand, so try keeping dried cilantro, dill, or basil on hand and while your greens are still a bit damp shake them in the dried herbs with a touch of salt and pepper. A great trick here is to have a spray bottle filled with water and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Lightly spritz your greens before shaking them with seasoning or herbs.
- Pay attention to proportions. We tend to put way more greens than we actually need, which can make each bite of the salad a lot more boring. The perfect salad will provide bites that are each perfectly proportioned bites of your greens, protein, dressing + other good things.
- Don’t fear spicy ingredients. Add chopped radishes. Jalapenos or other hot peppers, nuts seasoned with chili pepper, or even a bit of sriracha or horseradish in your dressing.
- Don’t forget the cheese, please! And I don’t mean shredded cheddar, Laura. Get creative with some flaked parmesan, feta, or goat cheese!
- Try a different base. I know, when you think about salad you instantly thing “lettuce” or “spinach”, but try putting your ingredients over some roasted cauliflower, mixing them with fresh snap peas, or using a different green like fennel or cabbage (did you know that massaging cabbage with salt will soften it for the perfect salad?).
- Add fruit, you fool! It’s amazing what some sliced apples, cubed pineapple, mandarin oranges or dried berries can do for a salad. Just trust me on this one. I’m a firm believer that goat cheese goes well with everything, but it’s particularly magical when paired with roasted beets or dried cranberries.
- Don’t forget an egg. Sure, not every salad needs an egg, but it sure is a nice way to add some additional protein. Hard boil it and slice it. Shave it over the top. Even a fried egg is great on a salad — and basically provides dressing!.
- Counter your flavors. The ingredients you add should bring a contrast in either flavor or texture: if it’s mostly crunchy, add something soft. If it is on the sweeter side, add something salty or bitter. If it’s rich side, use acid to even it out.
- Go nuts! When it comes to adding some crunch, try to think beyond the crouton. Nuts and seeds are an obvious answer here (candied walnuts are like…the literal best salad ingredient ever), but you can also try things like fried shallots, fried garlic, fried onions, and so on.
- Make your own dressing. All you need to know about dressing is this basic recipe: 2 parts oil + 1 part vinegar = dressing. If you like it more oily skew towards more oil (opposite if you like it more acidic). You can also mix up or combine your vinegar (balsamic vinegar will be sweeter, apple cider vinegar will be more acidic, but yo can also try wine vinegar, rice vinegar, etc). Oil and vinegar will obviously separate, so you can give it a good shake before applying it OR you can add an emulsifier so that it can be whipped into a consistent dressing. Mustard, honey, and/or a squeeze of citrus are going to be the most popular options. From there you can add things like garlic, ginger, horseradish, yogurt, mayo, hot sauce, sriracha, maple syrups, salt, pepper, herbs, soy sauce (or liquid aminos), seeds, etc. Play around with proportions but just shake all that shit together in a jar and ta-da! You’re a chef now. I promise it’s easy and you are going to make some combinations that you love. If you feel overwhelmed you can also try these Dressing Shakers that have recipes marked out right on the jar.
- Get into Jam Jar Dressings! You know when you get to the very bottom of a jar of jam, or jelly, or even mustard and there’s just not quite enough for a good piece of toast?! Try making Jam Jar Dressing by simply adding some vinegar, olive oil, honey (or maple syrup) and giving the jar a good shake to quickly make a single serving of vinaigrette. Here’s my full recipe.