How to Make an Awesome Salad

Basically anytime we go to a dinner party we are asked to bring a salad.  Apparently the word around town is that I make good salads.  I completely appreciate these salad based compliments but they always surprise me a bit too.  I mean, it's just a salad after all.  I tend to say, "I just used what I had in the fridge", which is true but not very descriptive.

I realized that I only have one salad recipe on this blog, which seems a little crazy considering I'm making salad all the time.  But I'm thinking the lack of salad recipes here is because I don't really consider it a "recipe" when I'm making a salad.  That's why I'm going to give you the steps to make your own awesome salad every time.

1.  Lettuce

There is a time an place for iceberg and it is in Cobb Salad.  Unless you are making a Cobb, I suggest sticking to green leaf, red leaf, butter leaf, spinach, romaine or a mixture of all or some of these.

Not only are these types of lettuce more nutritious, they taste better and make a much better salad. Also, you can make these lettuces (minus spinach) last one week to 10 days in your fridge if you follow my instructions on How to Make Lettuce Last.

2.  Raw Veggies

You have to add some veggies to that lettuce!  I usually lean to items we typically always have in our fridge - red, yellow or orange bell pepper, carrots, red onion.

I'm giving these as an example because they are, for the most part, always in my salads and always in my fridge. That said, these are just a starting point, the more veggies in the salad the better! Some other examples are avocados, cucumbers or corn.

So, about these raw veggies.....

  • You may have noticed the purple carrots.  We are able to get those here at our local farmer's market and they are delicious, plus add nice color to a salad.  I choose them over orange whenever I get the opportunity.
  • Regarding our friend the red onion, although it adds delicious flavor, I tend to slice it very thin and not add a lot.  If you are putting red onion in your salad, I would wait to put in the red onion until shortly before serving, otherwise you might "onion-up" your whole bowl of greens.
  • How am I getting all of these veggies?  Well we live in California's Central Valley, or the produce capital of the world, so the abundance of veggies available here on the regular is amazing and we are LUCKY.  If you don't have all of these veggies, that's OK, your salad will still be fab, just add what you can!
  • In the summer, corn is abundant here so I am typically buying many ears.  We love corn on the cob, so I tend to cook extra ears.  With the leftovers, I cut the kernels off the cob and save them for salads.  If you are short on cobs of corn, you can always throw in half a can of corn (drained obvs), to add some sweetness and color to your salad.

3.  Something Crunchy

You are probably thinking croutons.  If so you are wrong.  I pretty much never add croutons to a salad.  IMO, store bought croutons aren't good and they're overpriced.  You can easily do delicious homemade croutons with stale bread, but if I'm being honest bread never goes stale in our house. Because I eat it.  ALL.

For something crunchy I am talking about nuts and seeds.  Sunflower seeds, sliced almonds and/or pecans are all good examples.

I usually buy these at Trader Joe's, but Costco has a better deal on sliced almonds.  I prefer to buy them salted, but that is up to you.  I always have the sunflower seeds and sliced almonds on hand for my granola and usually throw both into any salad.  Pecans of course, make a great salad topper as well.  

4.  Something Sweet

I think the something sweet is the key to push a salad from good to great.  There are a lot of things to add to give a bit of sweetness including raisins, craisins, apples, pears, mandarins or strawberries.

My go-to of this bunch is craisins.  I love the sweet tartness they add to any salad, they store well and last a long time.  However, when you have fresh fruit to add, it is always a win.

Unlike our other salad components where I suggest adding "some or all", I would hold back a bit on the sweet factor.  If you put too much "sweet" (or fruit) your salad will be too fruity.  Think about adding just a bit to bring it up a level without overdoing it.  In addition to these examples, pretty much any dried fruit is delicious, as are persimmons, which I often add to fall salads, or dates, which are great with just about anything.

5.  Cheese

Of course my inner Urkel is going to tell you to add cheese.

Now that we have that out of the way, may I suggest goat, blue or feta for your salad?

I typically go for the crumbled goat cheese because: 1) goat cheese is mild enough to go with just about anything, and 2) crumbled goat cheese is easy.

If you crumble your cheese from the block its going to be better and more rich.  But we don't always have time for that, do we?  Instead just use a pre-crumbled cheese.  Other cheeses that go great in salads are roquefort and in Mexican salads - cojita.  In a pinch you can also add chunks of cheddar or jack, but soft, crumbly cheeses are better for salad.

Regarding the cheese, please just pick one.  These examples have strong flavors and combining them might make weird flavors in your salad.

Let's stop here.

If you use components 1-5, congratulations, you have an awesome salad!  Some of my favorite combinations are....
  • Green leaf, red onion, mandarin, sliced almond, blue cheese
  • Green leaf, spinach, bell pepper, carrot, sunflower seeds, almonds, craisins, feta
  • Butter, red onion, sliced strawberry, goat
But guess what?  Your salad can be even more awesome.  If you don't want to stop at step 5, keep going!

6.  Fancy Lettuce

Adding a bit of fancy to your lettuce is always good.  Here you can try arugula, kale, beet greens, endive or purple cabbage.

Arugula will add some spice, kale will add some heartyness, endive - crunch, beet greens - color, purple cabbage - bitterness.  Be choosy about your fancy lettuce, but don't be afraid to add one to your already delicious salad.

7. Fresh Herbs

Herbs.  At our local Farmer's Market we have Herb Ladies (at least that is what I call them).  They are there for the majority of the year and sell herbs for cheap.  Like 25 cents for a huge bunch, WAY better than grocery store prices.  Adding a bit of chopped fresh herbs to your salad can give it a delicious extra punch.  Some suggestions are basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, oregano, thyme and sometimes even mint can work great.  Again, I wouldn't add them all together, but be picky on which herbs will compliment your other ingredients the most.

8.  Hot Stuff

Not like "hey hot stuff" but literally, hot stuff.  Like rice, quinoa, cous-cous or even cooked veggies can add an extra deliciousness to your salad.  It sounds weird I know, but adding hot quinoa makes a cold lunch into a hot lunch, wilts the lettuce just right and changes the whole dynamic of your salad. Just trust me on this one.

9.  Meat/Protein

Grilled chicken, steak or salmon are all wonderful and healthy protein sources for your salad.  If you aren't feeling meat-y, try a hard boiled egg.  Protein can turn a lunch salad into a dinner.  And by the way, no one is going to complain if you decide to throw some bacon on there once in awhile!

10.  Dressing

Last, but definitely not least.  We can't have salad without dressing people!  Typically I make my own dressing.  It's too easy not to (really).  But in a pinch my favorite off the shelf varieties are Brianna's Vinaigrette or Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.  Don't let the strawberry on the Brianna's bottle fool you, it's not strawberry dressing!  This dressing is great on basically everything.  Like salad, I don't use a recipe to make my own dressing's either (I know).  It looks like I'll have to do some tinkering and come up with specific measurements for you!  Until then - here is the easy version:

2 parts olive oil
1 part balsalmic vinegar
honey and/or brown sugar to taste


2 parts olive oil
1 part lemon juice
fancy salt (like Maldon) to taste

So my friends, that is how you make an Awesome Salad!  I hope to see you at the Farmer's Market this weekend buying your ingredients!


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