For many people, salads are diet food from the kind of diet that leaves you pushing your fork around your plate searching for the good stuff. And salads to some are also seen as just the pile of vegetables covered in dressing used as a side dish. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Salads can be exciting! They can be a main meal! They can be an easy way to get creative with food! When my friend Dan asked me for quick tips on what to get at the store for his salads, I was inspired by all of the possibilities. Where do you start? What makes a good salad? It’s just not lettuce, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, and dressing, right? Right!
Perhaps it’s easier to think of a salad as having five components: greens, protein, crunch, sweets, and good oils/fats. Let’s try this.
Not all salads must have greens, but this is a great place to start for the most common type of salad. The greens form the base and can play a big part in flavoring and texture. For example, arugula can be a little peppery and often has an airy quality, while spinach easily lends itself to sweeter toppings, and kale makes for a hearty fibrous salad.
- Romaine lettuce
- Other: Collard greens, dandelion greens, mache, mizuna
All proteins aren’t created equal, and you don’t have to eat meat to get in your dose of protein.
- Sliced boiled egg
- Cooked and chunked chicken, turkey, salmon, steak, pork, shrimp
- Canned tuna
- Nuts, such as walnuts or almonds (also counts as crunch)
- Beans, such as edamame, chickpeas, sugar snap peas (also counts as crunch; also not paleo)
- Cheese, such as shredded cheddar, grated parmesan, feta, cottage cheese, etc. So many options here! (not strict paleo)
The crunch part is important as it creates the texture (or interrupts the monotony of leafy bites).
- Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans
- Seeds, such as sesame, pumpkin, or fennel
- Raw vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, red onion, radishes
- Sliced apples (also counts as sweets)
- Bacon (also counts as protein)
- Beans, such as edamame, chickpeas, sugar snap peas (also counts as protein; also not paleo)
The sweet portion of the salad can really make the personality of the salad come alive.
- Fruits, such as sliced apples (also counts as crunch), kiwis, pears, grapes, mandarin oranges, mangoes
- Berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
- Dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, cranberries
- Sweet vegetables, such as tomatoes, grape tomatoes, red peppers, corn (not paleo)
Good fats and dressing
- Balsamic vinaigrette
- Red or white wine vinegar
- Salt, pepper, olive oil
Be creative! Toss in some artichoke hearts, green onions, cooked asparagus, lemon (or lime!) juice, watercress, croutons (not paleo), peanuts (not paleo), endives, dates, fresh herbs (basil, mint), butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, olives… wow. I hope you get the picture! What are your favorite ingredients?
The key here though is balance. Pay particular attention to the balance of ingredients. A salad with a big handful of cheese on top of a couple leaves of lettuce is unbalanced, as is a salad smothered in dressing, as is a salad with ALL of the ingredients, as is a salad swimming in greens and not enough of the other stuff.
Experiment! And enjoy bigger, better salads!