Today I am going to address a topic that no one wants to: salads. It’s the dreaded word that haunts you when you you’re trying to eat healthy. For some of us, when we think “maybe I should eat a salad,” we might as well be thinking “maybe I should get a root canal.” It’s painful. I’ve learned though, that with time, salads don’t have to be so gross or boring. You don’t have to feel like a rabbit because you can make salads taste, dare I say, delicious? Or, at least, moderately enjoyable. I don’t want to make too many lofty promises.
Despite not being the biggest vegetable lover, I try to eat a lot of salads, especially for lunch at work, because it is a simple way to get a hearty serving of greens. However, salads can get old and boring very, very fast and it can be confusing knowing what to actually put on your salad, which can make those bagged salad kits at the grocery store very appealing. And, while convenient, these kits are often more expensive per serving than if you had bought all the ingredients on your own. They’re also enticing because they usually sound tastier or more interesting than what you would make yourself at home.
I believe lettuce is just a vehicle for tastier food, so I strive to make my salads interesting and tasty through toppings, texture, and dressing. Similar to Diane’s Cocktail Equation, I realized that after years of salad eating, I developed my own “salad equation.” Honestly, it’s much less appealing than a cocktail equation but is hopefully just as useful. If you’re looking for a method to this salad madness, this post is for you.
A tasty salad generally breaks down into a combination of six key elements, which I have shown in the delicious salad equation below.
Lettuce + Veggies + Protein + Cheese + Crunch + Sweet + Dressing = Delicious Salad
Those sound like a lot of ingredients, but because you’re buying these items at a grocery store, they will last you a while and allow you to make several servings. Not every salad even needs all six elements, but I’ve found it requires some combination of at least three. I break down each element in the following sections.
Lettuce, of course, is your base. There are a lot of different types of lettuces you can use with a range of flavor and nutritional value. Dark, leafy greens, will always be more nutritious, but romain and iceberg have the wonderful crunch you sometimes desperately need to get you through eating an exhausting amount of lettuce. Some lettuce choices include:
Half & Half Mixes
2. Extra veggies
Now, the whole reason you’re probably eating this is to get more nutritious foods in your diet, and consuming raw vegetables is probably the best way to do this. Also, you get to cover these veggies in other tastier things like cheese and dressing, so this is literally the perfect opportunity to try and eat more raw veg. A few options I like to use:
But you can really use any vegetables you want ー shredded brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower ー the possibilities are endless.
If this is a side salad, you can probably skip the protein, but if you’re making it as a meal, definitely include it if you want this salad to keep you feeling content for a few hours. Protein is usually in the form of some kind of meat, but that’s definitely not necessary. This is also a great way to use leftover meat or beans ー just throw them on top of your salad for lunch the next day. A few potential protein options:
Beans (black, pinto, garbanzo)
Grilled/Shredded Chicken or Beef (use leftovers!)
Breaded Chicken (if you’re feeling naughty)
Cheese is definitely one of THE best parts of a good salad. It adds so much flavor, and there are just so many different types of cheeses you can use. It’s also a great opportunity to eat some of the stronger or saltier ones because it will be balanced out with all your other ingredients (think feta, goat, and blue cheese). My favorite salad cheeses include:
4. Crunchy topping
My second-favorite part of a salad is the crunchy topping. It can add another layer of flavor while welcoming some contrast in texture to the softer lettuces, cheeses, and veggies. My favorite crunchy toppings include:
Sliced or Slivered Almonds
Or really any nuts or seeds would would great as a salad topping!
5. Something sweet
A balanced meal, in my opinion, usually incorporates both salty and sweet elements. With the cheese and crunch, you’ve probably already added enough salty options to your salad, so now it’s onto something sweet. Sweetness is typically provided through fruit, either dried or fresh. Some of the best options, and what you’ll likely see on most salads in restaurants as well, include:
Last, but probably most importantly, the dressing. While your salad will be full of flavor as is, the dressing will make every morsel flavorful and help you feel like you’re not eating the same food as your pet rabbit. It’s what separates man from beast. The dressing you choose will vary based on some of the other ingredients you included or just on what you’re in the mood for. Some standard, universal dressings that are always good to have on-hand are balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, ranch or thousand island, and something a little fancy or fruitier like a champagne or lemon vinaigrette. I also like spicier dressings like a chipotle ranch or Trader Joe’s spicy peanut dressing.
Sweet & Fruity
Oil & Vinegar
Creamy (Ranch, Thousand Island)
Also, if you’re trying to save on some calories and want to avoid dressings, you can simply use a drizzle of olive oil and a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and maybe a squeeze of lemon to still add some moisture (sorry for those who hate that word) and flavor to your meal. I also find that salads with avocado, hard-boiled egg, or a chicken/tuna salad also typically apply a dressing-like effect when squished up and mixed in with everything else. Adding some salt and pepper will also enhance the flavor!
Simple Salad Combinations
Now that I have established our salad essentials, I thought I would share a few combinations I like to use to make delicious salads for work-week lunches or a quick dinner.
Romaine + Cucumber + Chicken Salad + Shredded Cheddar + Crispy Onions + Cranberries + Dollop of Caesar (or any creamy dressing)
Spring Mix + veg + Grilled Chicken + Goat Cheese + Chopped Walnuts + Cranberries + Champagne Vinaigrette (or Red Wine Vinaigrette)
Romaine + Corn + Black Beans & Shredded Chicken + Shredded Cheddar + Tortilla Strips + Chipotle Ranch
Half Spring/Half Spinach + Bell Pepper + Grilled or Baked Chicken + Wonton Strips + Spicy Peanut Dressing
Romaine or Iceberg + Shredded Carrot & Avocado + Breaded Chicken & Hard-Boiled Egg + Croutons + Shredded Cheddar + Thousand Island
Arugula + Pine Nuts + Parmesan + Lemon Vinaigrette
The possibilities are really endless! And most of the time, I just put together a combination of ingredients I already have. Lately it’s been Spring Mix + Cucumber + Baked Chicken + Slivered Almonds + Feta + Dried Cranberries + Poppy Seed Dressing. It’s been delicious. Also, most of these can be side salads to a larger meal if you take out the protein.
I hope this article has inspired you to also make more interesting salads and simplify the process.
What are some of your favorite salad toppings and recipes? Check out our Pinterest page for more inspiration!