How to Build a Better Salad
In honor of National Salad Month, and just in time for summer, I’m sharing 5 tips to help you build a better salad at home. Not all greens and salad toppings are alike – below I give you an overview of which greens and salad toppings are the best for turning your salad into a super bowl. I make salads almost every day and the biggest time saving tip for making salads is to meal prep and cut your ingredients and toppings on Sunday.
I like to chop fresh romaine lettuce or kale and wash baby spinach and put into a plastic bag after I’ve spun it dry. If you take all the air out of the bag, your salad greens will last longer. I also cut up bell peppers, cucumbers and slice cherry tomatoes so that they are ready to go into a salad at a moments notice. I always have feta cheese on hand and canned tuna or beans for added protein. This way I can make a quick lunch for my 13 year old daughter every morning and for myself at lunchtime. We also eat salads for dinner almost every night, so this eliminates the prep work for our nightly salads.
Know your Greens
To maximize the nutritional value of your salad, stick with darker green leaf lettuce like spinach, kale and mustard greens. You can always mix your lettuce to maximize the flavor.
Romaine: mild flavor; available from tender baby leaves to crunchy hearts; goes well with fruits, meats and cheeses; stands up nicely to zesty dressings. Romaine lettuce promotes heart health and prevents strokes, as well as cancer. It builds healthy bones, strong eyes and skin.
Arugula: more peppery than bitter in flavor; plays well in salad mixes; baby arugula has a milder flavor while larger-leafed mature arugula is spicier; goes well with vinaigrette dressings and Italian dishes like pesto
Spinach: subtle, yet assertive “earthy green” flavor; crinkled leaves that are dark green; excellent source of antioxidants; pairs well with spring vegetables, berries and bacon. Spinach improves red blood cell function, strengthens bones, regulates heart rate and blood pressure and combats free radicals. High in iron and calcium.
Baby Beet Greens: young leaves are tender and slightly spicy; when wilted, the veins become brighter in color and a bit sweeter; used primarily to add color or “dress up” a salad
Kale: flavor is mild with slightly bitter and sweet undertones; available in a variety of colors and shapes, look for richly colored, firm greens with no browning or small holes; a long, hard stem runs through the leaf, which has curled edges and is tender; high nutritional value because kale is low in calories, high in fiber, iron, vitamin K and antioxidants to help prevent cancer.
Mustard Greens: robust flavor with peppery nuances; has a broad, wavy, frilled leaf; creates a distinct crunchy, yet tender texture; can be mixed with other greens for a milder flavor. Mustard greens prevent arthritis and anemia, help lower LDL cholesterol and protect against cancer.
Iceberg: mild flavor; high texture and crunchiness; broad leaves concentrated with water; zero nutritional value
Add Crunchy Toppings
Add toppings with a high nutritional profile like fruits, vegetables and nuts. Avoid croutons and chips as those are just unnecessary carb calories.
Vegetables: green peppers, cucumbers, onions, red onions, red bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, beets, peas, bean sprouts, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, scallions
Fruits: apples, strawberries, cranberries, oranges, grapes, watermelon chunks, peaches, blueberries, prunes, plums, avocados; tomatoes; black or green olives
Nuts & Grains: croutons, pecans, sunflower seeds, peanuts, cashews, corn kernels, chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, crackers, rice, barley, quinoa
Add Healthy Proteins
Cheeses: feta, blue, Parmesan, cheddar, goat, mozzarella
Meats & Seafood: hard boiled eggs, bacon, grilled chicken breast, diced ham, turkey, shrimp, tuna, pepperoni, anchovy, scallops, steak
Legumes and Grains: quinoa, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans
Choose a Proper Dressing
Choose a dressing that is low in sugar. It’s ok to have a little fat in your dressing, especially if you are using an olive oil base for your dressing. I like to make my own dressing with simple ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and basic seasonings like salt, pepper and oregano.
Don’t douse the salad in dressing. Use just enough to have a basic coating, rather than soaking the lettuce in dressing.
Always toss with the dressing so it coats the leaves evenly. Start with a little and add more as needed— you can always put more in but you can’t take it away.
Tender greens should be tossed gently so as not to bruise them, while heartier leaves like kale and cabbage benefit from a more rigorous toss, or even a light massage with your hands.
Serve Right after Dressing the Salad
Enjoy salads with tender greens right after dressing them, as they quickly loose their crisp freshness and wilt. Heartier salads and slaws benefit from settling for a little while, but be sure to refrigerate them if you plan to serve them after more than two hours. When using fresh fruit, cut and add right before serving so it doesn’t brown or become mushy.
Delicious Salad Recipes
Check out a few of our favorite salad recipes that we’ve created or shared here:
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