Often, I actually prefer my salads to those I can get at restaurants. It's not because I make any kind of amazing dressings or extra-special ingredients. It's because I like "salads with lots of stuff in them!"
My ideas of the anti-salad: soggy salads (ie- salads so overdressed you might as well be sipping dressing), "the wedge" (really! Who had the awful idea of chopping a head of iceberg in half and slathering some creamy dressing all over it and calling that a salad?!), or even worse- those iceberg lettuce salads from steakhouses of the 80s with 3 wedges of boring tomatoes and a few thickly sliced cucumbers. Yawn. What a waste of a vegiportunity! I like my salads to SING with vegetables.
What I love about salads is they can be made QUICKLY. And, when done properly, they are healthy, filling, and delicious. Here are my tips for making a good salad:
- Variety- Not just in the 'toppings' but in the lettuces. My favorite salads usually have at least 2 different kinds of lettuce (although a good kale or spinach salad doesn't have to- but if you're using something basic like romaine, or -God forbid- iceberg- definitely mix it up a bit. There are some good baby lettuce mixes you can buy pre-packaged, but make sure they are fresh). Adding some fresh herbs, like dill or basil, can also be a nice flavor addition.
- Color- this is another way to test the above- if you have a colorful, beautiful salad, chances are you've got some good variety in there (as well as different nutrients you need!)
- More veggies! I often like having chopped fresh steamed asparagus, zucchini or squash, sauteed mushrooms, beets, chic peas, jicama (for a nice crunch!), or sprouts in my salads.
- Nuts, fruits, & seeds- (what my husband calls twigs & berries) -Adding some dried or fresh fruit, healthy nuts, or seeds can go a long way to spicing up your salad. My new favorite is pomegranate seeds, which also pack a high punch of antioxidants. Trader Joes has some really good dried fruit options. Here are some ideas: raisins, cranberries, apricots, chopped figs or dates; mandarin oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, blueberries, apples, avocado; walnuts, almonds, cashews, or sunflower seeds.
- Proteins(s) - Since I'm veggie, I like using beans, edamame, tofu, or tempeh. Adding some protein to your salad ensures it will keep you full, and takes it from a side to a meal. Items with healthy fats also go a long way towards keeping you full (like avocados and nuts), in addition to just making the salad really yummy!
- Freshness- Using fresh ingredients should always be a rule of thumb! The only real exception to this is some frozen veggies *can* be acceptable in a salad - corn is often ok, or peas, and sometimes artichoke hearts.
- Keep the dressing light! Don't drown your salads!!! Dressing shouldn't be the highlight of the salad, or the only thing you taste when you take a bite.
- Mandarin oranges, fresh dill, avocado, green apple, atop baby greens with a light dressing
- Middle-Eastern: hummus or chic peas, olives, feta, cannellini beans, sauteed zucchini, asparagus, atop fresh baby spinach with a balsamic dressing
- "Salsa salad": Black beans, sour cream, shredded cheese, tomatoes, avocado, jicama, atop shredded mixed iceberg and romaine lettuces, with salsa as the dressing
- Summer salad: strawberries, blueberries, edamame, sprouts, orange grape tomatoes, sunflower seeds, atop baby arugula with a citrus or honey-mustard dressing
Speaking of salad dressing, I usually look for low-fat dressings that will complement my salads rather than over-power them. Some of my favorite store-bought dressings: