Salads can be one of the most delicious and satisfying foods in existence. Unfortunately, they are all-too-often prepared unimaginatively, with a meager assortment of inferior vegetables. No wonder it’s a menu item that many people shy away from—a bland almost-meal that leaves you hungry. But it’s easy to do salad right. Prepared correctly and imaginatively, salads become worthy of eating every day.
Necessary Kitchen Items
So how to you elevate your salads from good to great? To start, if you want to make outstanding salads, you must have a contraption known as a salad spinner. These whirring devices may seem like the epitome of those gimmicky kitchen gadgets that never quite work as advertised, but the truth is they are vital to making a fantastic salad.
But a salad spinner is right up there with a chef’s knife, a skillet, and a cutting board as items no kitchen should be without. Why? It all comes down to the fact that oil and water don’t mix—so if your lettuce and greens are even slightly wet, your salad dressing will slide off your veggies quicker than rain off a raincoat. Without a salad spinner, instead of the dressing clinging to your veggies, you’ll have a watery pool of dressing on your plate. Blech.
After you buy a salad spinner, the only equipment you’ll need is a good chef’s knife, a mixing bowl, and a cutting board. If your kitchen sometimes prepares meat, it’s wise to have a separate cutting board just for vegetables to prevent cross-contamination.
Once you’ve got the required kitchen equipment, your next step is to go beyond the usual assortment of vegetables. Lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes are all fine, but why not get creative and add at least a five other items? Apart from hard winter squash or potatoes, pretty much every vegetable in the produce section is fair game. Some especially good choices:
- shredded spinach or kale
- sliced bell peppers
- grated carrots or beets
- sprouts of any kind
- sliced avocado
- sliced radishes
- thinly-sliced purple cabbage (adds wonderful color)
- sugar snap peas (always de-stringed!)
Remember that super-fresh vegetables are key to a great salad. Since salad vegetables aren’t generally cooked, their quality and freshness (or lack thereof) are obvious.
And don’t forget that both broccoli and cauliflower go great on salads, they’re usually tossed on in big, imposing pieces. Instead, consider slicing them thinly. Prepared that way, they’ll give your salad a nice crunch that provides an altogether different texture than a salad based only on lettuce. And always remove the skin of the stem parts of your broccoli florets, as it doesn’t break down well when chewed.
Once you’ve got all your veggies together, it’s time to give some thought to how to serve your salad. Most people just use a dinner plate, but a large bowl is a superior choice since it’ll do a better job of containing all your vegetables and dressing. In fact, to digress for a moment, dinner bowls are generally superior to plates for almost any meal you could serve.
Dressings and Toppings
As for dressings, most commercial brands are needlessly expensive, and even worse they’re made from low-quality oils. Better to make your own dressings based on good fresh ingredients like avocados, tahini, or olive oil. A simple dressing made by whisking together tahini, lemon juice, minced garlic, tamari, and water is all you’ll ever need. If you must go commercial, one of tastiest dressings on the market is Annie’s Goddess Dressing.
Maybe the biggest complaint people have about salads is that it’s easy to eat a big salad and then feel hungry 30 minutes later. That won’t happen if you garnish your salad with one or two protein-rich ingredients, such as:
- roasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
- chopped nuts (tamari roasted almonds are especially great)
- roasted hemp seeds or sesame seeds
- sautéed tamari-seasoned tempeh or tofu
- black beans or kidney beans
- nutritional yeast (which, to be frank, belongs on almost every salad)
And here are some more terrific salad toppings, that, while not protein-rich, will add some nice colors, textures, and flavors:
- seaweed, especially soaked hijiki
- minced parsley or basil
- nutritional yeast
So there you have it—all the information you need to make a salad that’s incomparably superior to anything served by restaurants. And all this is just the beginning. If you want to pull out all the stops, get yourself Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Salad Samurai, which takes salads as seriously as any other meal option when it comes to creating memorable flavor combinations.