I think everyone should know the steps to build the perfect salad. It seems that not so long ago, salad meant a couple of leaves of limp lettuce, a few slices of cucumber and a tomato. Now salad means a mixture of wonderful fresh ingredients and is eaten as an appetizer, side or a main. You might even go a bit trendy and make a warm salad – they’re pretty jzushy, you know! So without further ado, get your pinny on, or your shopping list maker handy because I’m about to embark on letting you know the steps to build the perfect salad.
Naturally, the steps to build the perfect salad begin with the foundation. You might choose pasta, rice, noodles or grains like couscous or quinoa as your base for a great salad. If you do, the key is to not overcook your chosen carb. No amount of other delicious ingredients is going to make up for soggy pasta, floppy noodles or gelatinous rice. If you’re going more traditional and using leaves, you have so many choices. If you only want one lettuce, a crunchy one like romaine or iceberg is best. Otherwise, have a mix of soft, soft and crunchy, or baby leaves. (And yes – it is perfectly ok to use a bag of leaves from the supermarket!)
You don’t have to add vegetables but if you want to ramp up the healthiness or the satiety factor, they’re kind of obligatory. Plus, they add flavor and interest. Mix up shapes and colors as much as you like. Grate carrots, shred red cabbage, dice bell peppers, finely slice onions, cube avocado … there are so many options beyond these basics too.
When it comes to the ways of making a salad for a main meal, protein is a must. You need protein in your diet and it’s totally up to you whether you choose plant-based or animal protein. Hard-boiled eggs, fish, chicken and cheese are staple salad proteins, but the choice will depend on how many calories you’re looking for your salad to have (if that is of concern to you), as well as how filling you want it to be.
To me, a salad has to have crunch. It is the variety of textures that makes the difference between a good salad and a great salad. Adding the crunch is also a really easy way of packing in more nutrition. You might throw in some seeds (sunflower, toasted pine nuts), nuts (walnuts, almonds) or fruit such as apple slices, grapes or pomegranate seeds.
Extras can take your salad to the next level. You might use dried fruits such as raisins, fresh fruit like figs or grapefruit segments or you can use fresh herbs, even beans like cannellini. Remember though, the steps to build the perfect salad do not include the instruction to “lob everything you like in.” You still want to make a mix that is delicious to eat. By all means experiment because there are infinite combinations.
Dressing a salad is crucial. It’s what brings all those flavors together in a delicious marriage. Again, there’s no end of choice. Make your own or use a bought one. Just don’t drown everything. If you’ve got strong flavors in the salad, use a light complementary dressing. If you’ve gone more on the bland side, a zingy dressing will lift it. If you’re not eating the salad right away, don’t put the dressing on until you’re ready to serve it.
If you have followed the first 6 steps to build the perfect salad you shouldn’t have any problem with how it looks. Your salad will be bright, colorful and interesting – a temptation you just can’t wait to dig your fork into. Pile it high on a plate or serve it in a nice bowl and you’re good to go. And if you think of something to add a final flourish as a garnish, don’t hang back!
When you know the ways to make a salad that is delicious and full of nutrition, I defy anyone to say salads are boring! The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and creativity. Do you eat enough salads? Do you have a favorite recipe? I’d love to know if you made it up yourself or if it came from a recipe?