People often tend to associate salads with just green, leafy vegetables. However, you don’t necessarily have to make your salads with just greens. You can throw together a bunch of things you like to eat and aren’t allergic to like other vegetables, fruits, nuts, lentils, and/or meat (so long as they go well with one another); add a dressing you like; and voila! You have your ideal salad!
Salad Season: How To Get Started
Here are a few things you need to know before you start making a salad.
When You Should Eat A Salad
The combinations you can try with a salad are endless once you know what to pair with what. A breakfast salad should ideally have some greens, healthy fats (avocado, nuts, or seeds like chia, hemp, or pumpkin), and protein (eggs, chicken, or beans).
Your diet should be light during the later half of the day, so it’s a good idea to eat a salad before lunch. You could choose to eat a heavy salad (one that’s packed with protein) before lunch to avoid eating a heavy main course. Eating just a heavy salad for lunch is also an option.
Your physical activity reduces considerably after dinner, so it’s best to have food that’s easily digestible then. A salad with a lot of raw ingredients is rich in fiber and will take longer to get digested. So don’t eat one if you’re going to sleep soon after dinner. A salad after dinner is a good idea if you want to have a snack that’s low in calories (so long as you don’t sleep right after eating it). A salad after dinner is also ideal if you want to consume fiber to digest a heavy dinner.
How To Get Started
Making the perfect salad means having at least one of each of the different types of ingredients that vary its texture and flavor.
Here are the various components that, when put together, make up the perfect salad.
- Every salad needs to have a base, which is usually a green leafy vegetable. Lettuce is a hot favorite. However, if you don’t like lettuce, try spinach, kale, chard, collards, arugula, pea shoots, or cabbage.
- After you’ve decided on the base, include a crunch element. Some options for crunchy ingredients are carrots, sprouts, cucumbers, croutons, zucchini, bell peppers, apples, and seeds.
- Something crunchy demands something soft. For this, include ingredients like roasted sweet potatoes, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, rice, or olives.
- It’s always nice to be surprised – especially if the surprise is in your food! Throw in ingredients like watermelon cubes, cottage cheese, hummus, bacon, pickled veggies, herbs, or dried fruit for a pleasant surprise in your salad.
- Protein is yet another important element of a perfect salad. Beans, eggs, tuna, chicken, steak, tofu, peas, quinoa, and nuts are some options.
- Finally, add the ingredient that gives your salad that last flavorful zing – the dressing. You can choose either a mustard-based, tahini-based, dairy-based, pesto-based, or fruity dressing. Or you can go with the all-time classic vinaigrette.
When you want to make the perfect salad, it’s important that you pair the right ingredients. Here are some examples of what you can pair with what.
- Blue cheese can be paired with apples, celery, and walnuts. Honey dijon is a good dressing option for a salad with these ingredients.
- If you like cheddar cheese, pair it with apples, bacon, and walnuts. Use honey garlic vinaigrette to dress the salad.
- Goat cheese goes well with almonds, broccoli, and bell peppers. Honey herb vinaigrette is a suitable dressing for this combination.
- Feta cheese can be paired with olives, shrimp, and grapes. Red wine vinaigrette is an appropriate dressing for these ingredients.
- Mozzarella cheese pairs well with tomatoes, olives, and salami. Balsamic vinaigrette is an ideal dressing choice for this combination.
If you like avocados, pair them with onions, walnuts, and bacon. Dress with lemon vinaigrette.
Beets pair well with apples, goat cheese, and eggs. You can use creamy horseradish dill as a dressing for this.
- Bacon can be paired with eggs, onions, and tomatoes. Balsamic vinaigrette is a good dressing choice for a salad with these ingredients.
- If you’re a sucker for chicken, throw in some blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions with it. Dress with Rosemary thyme vinaigrette.
- Pair salmon with asparagus, tomatoes, and carrots. Sesame ginger can be used to dress the salad.
- Shrimp goes well with avocado, bacon, and onions. Dress with cilantro lime vinaigrette.
- Love steak? Pair it with peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Red wine vinaigrette is a good dressing choice for this combination.
- Tuna salad goes well with peppers, avocados, and onions. A lemon vinaigrette dressing is ideal for this.
- Pair turkey with walnuts, dried cranberries, and mushrooms. Honey garlic vinaigrette goes well with these ingredients.
- Want to make a salad with eggs? Pair the eggs with almonds, salmon, and scallions. Dijon vinaigrette is an ideal dressing choice for this combination.
- Vegan? No problem. Pair tofu with asparagus, scallions, and mushrooms. Use sesame ginger as a dressing with these ingredients.
When To Mix Different Kinds Of Base Ingredients
- Fruits digest quickly, and it’s always best to eat them separate from vegetables. If you really want to mix the two, mix fruits with green leafy vegetables like spinach.
- It’s also not a good idea to mix acidic fruits with sweet fruits.
- Always eat melons on their own because they digest faster than any other food.
- Eat only four to six different fruits and vegetables together.
- Proteins and carbs go well with green, leafy vegetables. It is, however, not advisable to mix proteins and carbs together.
How To Ensure A Well-Made Salad
- Avoid using base ingredients you don’t know much about. Stick to the ones you know.
- Wash the ingredients that need washing thoroughly, and drain off the excess water. You don’t want a soggy salad!
- It’s always a good idea to dress your salad for better taste. You can also lightly season your salad with salt and pepper.
- Toss your salad lightly with your hands to allow air into it and distribute the ingredients evenly.
How To Make Salads
Here are a few recipes for salads you can make easily.
Recipe: Basic Spinach Salad
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 8 oz fresh spinach
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
- 1/4 small, thinly sliced red onion
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 2 Tbsp toasted, sliced almonds (optional)
- 1/2 cup bottled balsamic vinaigrette (You can also choose to make this if you wish.)
- 2 Tbsp orange juice
- 1 tsp orange zest (optional)
- Wash and clean the spinach thoroughly; then, tear the spinach into bite-size pieces and place in a serving bowl.
- Add half of the feta or goat cheese and onion, and toss the contents of the bowl well.
- Combine the balsamic vinaigrette, orange juice, and orange zest in a small mixing bowl. Pour into the serving bowl and toss.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese, top the salad with dried cranberries and almonds, and serve immediately.
Recipe: Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- ¼ cup honey
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-size chunks
- 8 cups baby lettuce greens
- 1 ½ cups chopped apples
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup sliced red onion
- ¼ cup pecans
- Whisk the honey, 2 Tbsp of olive oil, the Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl until they combine well. This is your honey mustard salad dressing.
- Pour half of the dressing into a shallow dish. To this, add the chopped chicken; stir well to coat the chicken thoroughly with the dressing.
- Cover the bowl, and set it aside in the refrigerator for 1-4 hours to marinate the chicken. Store the rest of the honey mustard in the refrigerator to use as dressing later.
- Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Then, transfer the chicken to the skillet with a large slotted spoon and discard the used marinade.
- Cook the chicken for 6-8 min thoroughly while stirring frequently; then, cool it for 5 min.
- Add the lettuce to a large bowl; top it with apples, tomatoes, red onion, pecans, and the cooked chicken. Use the stored honey mustard as dressing and serve.
Recipe: Cold Lentil Salad
- 1/2 cup green lentils
- 1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery stalk
- 1/4 cup finely chopped, small red onion
- 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp warm water
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Pick out little rocks that have found their way into the lentils, and throw them away.
- Combine the rinsed and picked over lentils with garlic, and add both to salt water. Simmer for 10 min or until the lentils are tender-crisp. Drain the lentils, and run cold water over them; throw the garlic away.
- Then, toss the lentils, celery, onion, and parsley together in a bowl.
- In another small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and water.
- Run a small stream of water over the lentils; then, stir gently.
- Mix the contents of both bowls, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe: Watermelon Salad with Fried Tofu And Basil
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 8 oz extra firm cubed tofu
- 8 oz padrón peppers
- 2 ½ lb seedless watermelon
- 8 oz arugula
- 1 cucumber – cut into thick slices and halved/quartered
- 4 oz sunflower sprouts
- 1 thinly sliced red onion
- ½ cup Kalamata olives
- Oil, for frying
- Himalayan pink salt, to taste
- 1 cup fresh basil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Juice of 1 lime (3 Tbsp approximately)
- 1 minced garlic clove
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Add all the dressing ingredients to a small food processor, or use an immersion blender, and mix everything till the preparation becomes a smooth liquid. The dressing is now ready.
- Fry the tofu in some heated oil in a pan till it gets some color; then, remove it from the pan.
- Add more oil to the pan, and fry the peppers in it until they come brown; remove the peppers from the pan, and sprinkle some salt on them.
- Cut the watermelon into a number of thick slices; remove the outer skin, and cut the watermelon further into cubes/triangles.
- Add all the cold ingredients to a large bowl, and toss them well to mix.
- Top with the fried tofu and peppers, and serve with the dressing prepared.
This salad is a good option if you’re a vegan or if you’re lactose intolerant.
Recipe: Apple, Avocado, Cranberry, and Walnut Salad
- 3 cups baby spinach
- 2 medium peeled, cored green apples sliced into small pieces
- 1 sliced medium avocado
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup coconut vinegar balsamic style
- 2 tsp honey
- ½ tsp dijon mustard
- 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper
- Add all the dressing ingredients to a small bowl, and whisk to combine the ingredients thoroughly. Your dressing is ready.
- Add the salad ingredients to a large bowl; then, pour the dressing and serve.
Recipe: Egg And Avocado Salad
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 4 eggs
- 1 chopped avocado
- ½ diced bell pepper
- ¼ diced red onion
- ¼ cup homemade mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place the eggs in a saucepan; cover them by adding 1 inch of cold water.
- Bring the water to a boil on high heat.
- Lower the heat gradually, and simmer for about 10 min.
- Drain the hot water; then, cool the eggs in ice cold water.
- Peel and chop them once they are cool.
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and toss them till they combine well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This salad is also suitable for those on a paleo diet.
How To Dress Your Salad
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t find a salad an interesting choice of food. Besides choosing the ingredients we like that go well with another, it’s also important to use a really good dressing to make your salad interesting.
Here are some simple salad dressing options.
If you enjoy a salad dressing with a tangy taste, go with vinaigrette. It has a number of variations and goes well with most salads.
- Oil: The best choice for oil is extra virgin oil. If you want a light, flavorless oil instead, pick either vegetable, grapeseed, or canola oil.
- Vinegar: Choose any wine or rice vinegar for a light vinaigrette. Pick balsamic vinegar if you want a stronger one.
- Salt: Pick either kosher or sea salt.
- Pepper: Freshly ground black pepper is the best choice.
- Add 1 part vinegar to every 3 parts of oil.
- To this, add salt and pepper to taste.
- Whisk briskly till everything comes together, and your homemade vinaigrette is ready!
If you’re allergic to gluten, you might want to use either wine or balsamic vinegar for your vinaigrette. If you’re using rice vinegar, make sure there are no gluten ingredients in it.
Recipe: Honey Mustard Salad Dressing
If you prefer something sweet and tangy, this honey mustard salad dressing is for you. It goes well with all kinds of salads. You’ll also find that it has a number of variations.
Ingredients (Makes 1 Cup)
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil/any other mild flavored oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake and mix all the ingredients thoroughly.
- Close the jar, and refrigerate it for at least 30 min (preferably 2 hours) before serving. Ensure that the flavors have blended well.
This dressing is also a good choice if you’re allergic to gluten.
You can choose to use just mayonnaise as a salad dressing if you like. It goes well with garden and pasta salads. Here’s how you can make it at home.
Ingredients (Makes 1 ¼ Cups)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup of light olive oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 4 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 pinch of salt
- Add the egg yolks, 1 tsp of the lemon juice, the mustard, and the salt to a bowl.
- Whisk/blend everything together; then, drizzle the oil slowly and steadily.
- When an emulsion starts to form, pour in the oil more quickly.
- Whisk vigorously to prevent the mayonnaise from separating. Using a blender or food processor will make things easier.
- The mayonnaise becomes quite thick when all the oil is incorporated; once this happens, add the remaining lemon juice and blend it thoroughly. Your homemade mayonnaise is ready!
- Refrigerate the leftovers, if any.
For a paleo alternative of this recipe, buy paleo mustard that does not have anything besides mustard seeds, salt, and water. If it’s hard to find paleo mustard in the market, just make mayonnaise using the same recipe but without mustard.
Recipe: Creamy Salad Dressing
If you’re the kind who likes mayonnaise in your dressing, you’ll absolutely love this one. It goes best with green salads.
Ingredients (Makes Enough For 2 Side Salads)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard/any other grainy mustard
- 1 ½ Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch sugar
- Fresh pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
- Whisk the mustard, mayonnaise, salt, sugar, and pepper till they all combine well.
- Add the vinegar, and whisk until the texture becomes smooth; then, serve.
Recipe: Dairy-Free Ranch Dressing
If you’re lactose intolerant, this salad dressing will be ideal for you. You can use it instead of any other creamy dressing with dairy.
Ingredients (Serves 12)
- 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk (the kind in the box)
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 pressed/finely minced garlic cloves
- 2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
- 3 Tbsp minced green onions
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Pour the apple cider vinegar into the coconut milk. Set this aside for 5 to 10 min, and allow it to “curdle” and become “buttermilk.”
- In a bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, garlic, parsley, green onions, vinegar, “buttermilk,” and pepper in a bowl.
- Then, pour the preparation into a container and store it in the refrigerator.
- If the dressing is too thick, add more milk to thin it.
Recipe: Vegan French Dressing
If you’re on a vegan diet and want to make a salad dressing, this is the right choice for you. It goes best with garden and pasta salads.
Ingredients (Makes 1 Cup)
- ¼ cup tomato ketchup
- ½ cup vegan mayonnaise
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp natural granulated sugar/agave nectar
- ½ tsp paprika, or more to taste
- 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl; whisk until the preparation becomes smoothly blended.
- Transfer the preparation to a bottle with a tight lid. Make sure that you shake it well before each use.
Try some of these salads with the right dressings. You might just end up liking them enough to eat them regularly!