I have been eating a lot of salads lately. Why? Simply because they have sounded appealing! A proper salad is filled with fresh, vibrantly colored ingredients, and contains a good serving of carbs, protein and fats; nothing like a wimpy store-bought or depressing restaurant salad. I’ve had plenty of disappointing salads while eating out. You know, wilted lettuce, skimpy portion sizes, brown avocado, dressing that is too sweet, missing ingredients, and the list goes on. While there isn’t a whole lot I can do about a sub-par restaurant salad, I can make a delicious salad at home.
This post is all about tips for making the perfect salad; from which greens to purchase, how to prep and store them, to a plethora of topping ideas. Eating a salad shouldn’t leave you hungry and unsatisfied, but rather leave you comfortably full and feeling good!
When most people think of salad they think of lettuce, usually Iceberg, Romaine or Spring Mix. But there are a large variety of greens to choose from, many that are more nutritious than these three varieties. Some other options include: Spinach, Kale, Arugula, Endive, Radicchio, Oak Leaf, Swiss Chard, Collar greens, and Batavian.
The most nutritious types of lettuce varieties have the most intense colors (red, purple, reddish-brown) and are grown with loose, open leaves (as supposed to tightly wrapped like a cabbage head). Un-bagged greens are also more nutritious than bagged varieties simply because they are fresher.
If you aren’t purchasing greens from a bag, then you need to prepare them shortly after purchasing so that they keep longer. The steps below list the best way to prepare greens.
Another point to make is that greens tend to keep longer if you don’t rip/shred their leaves. Doing this can double the antioxidant value, but it speeds up their decay. So, if you tear up the lettuce then eat it within a couple days.
A salad isn’t complete without its toppings and unfortunately, this is where many people go wrong. Like I mentioned earlier, a salad should have a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. So, let’s start with the carbs!
Vegetables*: artichoke, asparagus, bell peppers, beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, garlic, Jicama, mushrooms, okra, onion, parsnip, peas, radish, shallot, snow peas, sugar snap peas, tomato, turnip, zucchini
When It comes to vegetables, don’t feel like you can only eat them raw because they’re on a salad. You can grill, sauté, broil, steam or even dehydrate vegetables to make them taste better and add more flavor and nutrients to your salad.
Fruits: apple, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, mango, orange, pear, pineapple, pomegranate, plum, raspberries, squash
Raw, dried or dehydrated fruits are all great options and add different flavors and textures.
Potatoes: All Blue, All Red, Mountain Rose, Nicola, Russet, Purple Majesty, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Crescent, sweet potato
There are many potatoes other than your regular Russet potato. Look for potatoes with dark, vibrant colors. Instead of croutons, try cubing potatoes and roasting them in the oven with a little oil and salt. This is a much tastier (and healthier) form of a crouton and so easy to make!
Rice: basmati, brown, forbidden, jasmine, red, white, wild
Rice comes in many more options than “white” or “brown”. Try branching out and trying different colored rice. Add a spoonful to your salad as a great carbohydrate option.
Popcorn: Air-popped popcorn is another great crouton alternative. It adds a nice salty crunch and can be another way to add fat if you sprinkle some olive oil, butter or coconut oil on it.
Meat: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Prosciutto, Salami, Bacon
Fish: Salmon, Shrimp, Tilapia, Cod, Tuna
Beans: Black beans, Chickpeas, Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans, White Beans
You can use beans straight from the can or throw them in the oven and bake until crisp. Another delicious form is hummus! Either make your own or buy a container from the store. Hummus is a great substitute for salad dressing.
Eggs: Hard-boiled, soft-boiled, over-easy, poached
Nuts: Almonds, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Cashews, Pecans, Brazil nuts, dried coconut, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios
You do not always have to opt for raw nuts on your salad. Simply roasting nuts in the oven with a little pink sea salt will add a whole new dimension of flavor. You can also season nuts with spices or natural sugars like maple syrup before tossing them in a salad.
Seeds: Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, hemp seeds
Oils: Olive oil, Avocado oil
Combining oil with balsamic vinegar, spices, mustard and/or lemon makes for the perfect dressing. Conventional store salad dressings contain a lot of sugar and are made with vegetable oils (which are high in Omega 6 fats) so making your own is a healthier option.
Fruits: Avocado, Olives
Cheese: Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Blue Cheese, Romano, Cheddar, Swiss, Manchego, Gouda, Mozzarella
I know I haven’t covered every single healthy salad option, but this should provide a good base to start from. Ideally, you will want to choose 1-3 ingredients from each category (carbs, fats, protein) in order to have a well balanced salad. It is important not to skip out on the fats because most greens and vegetables are fat-soluble, meaning your body cannot absorb their nutrients unless these foods are paired with fat. There is no point in eating healthily if you are not getting any of the nutrients from your food!
* Many of the vegetables I named are actually classified as a fruit, but for the sake of this post I am referring to foods commonly thought of as vegetables as “vegetables”.
Now that you have a list of many possible carbohydrates, proteins and fats to add to your greens, you have the tools to construct a complete and healthy salad! Just pick and prepare your greens, select 1-3 toppings from each category (carb, fat, protein) and then throw it all together in a large bowl to enjoy.
What is your favorite salad combination?