If you or a loved one avoid salads at all costs, you’re missing out on a healthy way to consume high-nutrient foods. There are a lot of bad salads out there, I know. But with just a few tips and tricks, you can learn how to make salads and create delicious, crave-worthy bowls of green goodness that everyone will love!
A big green salad is a smart way to get lots of veggies into your day. But, salads have a PR problem, and worse, their execution is often botched in unexpected places. I’m constantly disappointed in how little respect the salad is given, even in restaurants. Especially in restaurants. I blame iceberg lettuce for many people’s utter distaste for salads.
The wedge salad? Pure evil, lol. I say this with all the love I can muster, but, Wedge Salad Weirdos, take your salad ingredients — the Roquefort dressing, the chopped tomatoes, the bacon crumbles, and whatnot — and move them to a head of Romaine lettuce, sliced in half. And if it’s sunny and warm outside, and you’ve got a few extra minutes, grill that Romaine first. Your world will slip sideways and then right itself in a beam of golden light as you wonder why you wasted all that time on iceberg lettuce.
Between iceberg lettuce and out-of-season toppings and rock-hard cherry tomatoes, it’s no wonder that the average person gets off on the wrong foot with salad, and maintains a rocky and skeptical relationship going forward.
On the other hand, if everyone could sample a salad created by a true salad lover, I think the clouds would part and the sun would shine and birds would sing and puppies would frolic. Srsly. A bad salad is womp-womp, but a great salad will change your world view of greens and vegetables.
Salads seem so simple on the surface … but that’s often the reason they fail to impress. With these salad tips in your back pocket, you’ll be creating sensational salads that your peeps will clamor for, over and over.
Tips to create the best salads ever:
- Choose your greens wisely – select mild/sweet greens, rather than bitter. Spinach, Romaine, Boston, green or red leaf lettuces. Even massaged kale. Yes!
Arugula, radicchio, frisée, endive, escarole: save these for intermediate salad lovers. And skip the iceberg lettuce altogether: even the greenest sections of leaves are flavorless, but the closer you get to the white stem, it actually becomes bitter.
- Remove the stems and thick ribs from leaves. The presence of stems — even tender and tasty spinach stems — is, at best, off-putting for some people, if not outright unpleasantly chewy. And if your peeps have a lot of texture issues with food anyway, definitely avoid greens that are all chewy stems, like frisée and bags of lettuce packaged as baby spring greens.
- Chop the greens into bite-sized pieces. There’s nothing more awkward in the salad-eating world than stabbing into the bowl and pulling back a huge elephant-ear of a leaf that you have to accordion into your mouth (restaurant salad makers, I’m looking right at you). No one should have to take a knife to their salad. Roughly chopped greens are the perfect size for balancing the ratio of lettuce to other yummy ingredients on the fork. Time-saving prep tip: place leaves in a big mixing bowl that you don’t mind scratching up a bit, and use kitchen scissors to chop through them.
- Season the greens before you toss in the remaining salad ingredients. This makes a huge difference in overall flavor perception. Sprinkle the leaves lightly with lemon juice and toss. (You can find bottles of real lemon juice in the juice aisle, and sometimes positioned here and there around the produce department. But check the juice aisle.) Then sprinkle very lightly with fine salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss and repeat. If you or your loved ones need to observe a low-salt diet, try a salt-free spice blend instead.
- Add finely chopped fresh herbs. Cilantro, basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, lemon thyme, and tarragon are beautiful additions to green salads and liven them up with fresh pops of flavor. Don’t be shy — most salads can stand up to a healthy dose of fresh herbs (but use a light hand with their dried counterparts, which have more concentrated flavors).
- Choose vegetables that your family already likes. Cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet red bell peppers, radishes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, chopped or grated into small pieces. No big tomato wedges or strips of peppers; the smaller the pieces, the less intimidating it is on the fork. And don’t be afraid to add fruit: watermelon, peaches, grapes, pomegranate seeds, strawberries, apples, and mangoes are very vegetable-salad-friendly. Slice spherical ingredients in half or quarters: cherry tomatoes, olives, grapes, etc. There’s nothing more frustrating than stabbing at your food with a fork, only to have it roll away.
- And right on the heels of #6 above, de-emphasize the “green” with lots of rainbow colors and textures. Carnivore-leaning peeps often have a dread of eating very green things, so make a bright and beautiful rainbow salad.
- Mix in some carby comfort, like cooked pasta, black beans, lentils, or chickpeas. The most common carnivore objection to salads-as-meals is that they’re not filling. Pasta and legumes add a hearty, familiar main-course heft. Remember that pasta doesn’t have to be a carbohydrate bomb. Try one of the pastas made with vegetable or legume flours (lentil and chickpea are favorites here).
- Top the salad with some crunch, to add interesting texture. Sliced almonds are my favorite. Try chopped pistachios, pecans, walnuts, croutons, hemp seeds, sprouts, pepitas, or tortilla strips.
- Serve a variety of dressings, and let everyone choose their own. Your goal might be to transition everyone into healthy homemade dressings, but at the start, let them operate within their comfort zones: if they want the ranch dressing, let them have the ranch dressing. It’s a big ask to expect salad avoiders to savor a simple lemon-and-olive-oil dressing. Don’t fret too much about the fat: contemporary dietary science suggests that we need a little fat along with our vegetables to properly digest and absorb their nutrients.
Ready to try your hand at creating tasty salads? Here are a few delicious starting places; embellish to your heart’s content!