Blog posts Building a great salad -- Part 2: A roadmap for creating your own salads

Trying new salads is one of my favorite things when going to a restaurant -- the endless combination of flavors and textures that chefs come up with is a never ending source of culinary adventure. This same endless opportunity sometimes makes it intimidating for me to put together new salads at home. Where to even start, and how do I know which ingredients will go well together? I have found it helpful to use the following system of 3 categories which makes it easy to build a choose-your-own-adventure salad. The original idea for this system comes from The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt, a book I can thoroughly recommend if you're a bit of a cooking nerd (or just want to know how to turn out consistently tasty food)

Category 1: Greens

I'm going to focus on green salads here, not chopped vegetable salads, or fruit salads. All green salads start with, well, greens. Our previous post addresses how to choose which greens you want to use. For a salad, everything should be in bite-sized pieces, so if your greens are larger than that, you'll want to do some chopping. Make sure your greens are clean and dry -- dressing doesn't stick well to wet leaves, so you'll end up with a watery puddle of dressing at the bottom of your bowl if your leaves are wet. 

Category 2: Dressing

The other thing all salads have in common besides containing bite-sized pieces is dressing. Dressings are acidic liquids providing moisture, flavor, and cohesion to a salad. There are three main types of dressing: Oil-based vinaigrettes, mayonnaise based dressings, and dairy based dressings. A lot of dressing selection comes down to personal preference, just make sure to use sturdier leaves with heavier (dairy or mayonnaise based) dressings since these can overwhelm very tender leaves. I personally use vinaigrettes almost exclusively, and the third post in this series will describe how to make them easily at home. 

Category 3: Optional ingredients

Besides greens and dressings, there are a whole lot of other things you can put in a green salad, but they're optional because you don't have to. Most days, I just use some greens and a homemade vinaigrette from the fridge, and everyone is happy. You also can't beat the efficiency of having a side dish on the table in 3 minutes! That being said, additional ingredients have a lot of flavor and texture to offer and can really elevate an everyday salad. Some ideas to get you started:

Strongly flavored garnishes

Cheeses such as parmesan, gouda, blue cheese, goat cheese
Herbs: parsley, cilantro, basil, etc
Dried fruit 
Cured meats like salami or bacon (cut or crumble into bite-sized pieces)

Crunchy toppings

Toasted nuts or seeds
Coconut flakes
Fried onions

Extra fruit or vegetables

Thinly sliced raw vegetables: carrots, peppers, scallions, snow peas
Wedges of radishes, cherry tomatoes, or beets
Raw or roasted apples or pears


Adding protein is essential to turn a salad into a full meal. It can also be a great way of using leftovers. Some ideas:

Sliced leftover steak or chicken
Leftover salmon, cooked shrimp or other seafood like seared tuna, or smoked trout
Cheese -- mild goat cheese can be especially good in larger quantities (as opposed to, say, parmesan, which you wouldn't want to eat a lot of)
Cooked beans or chickpeas


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