I love salads. I could eat a salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No, I’m not talking about the limp iceberg with shavings of carrot and a lump of white goop. Those kind of salads give me the heaves. I love salads with lots of fresh raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, sometimes cheese, and delicious flavorful dressing. I can take basic ingredients and with a few additions I never have to eat the same salad two, three, or even four days in a row. And salads aren’t just meal starters either. I love to add protein in the form of chicken, grilled salmon, ahi tuna, shrimp, or fajita steak to make a complete meal. Beans are a good choice too for people that enjoy them.
I’m going to give you seven tips for creating salads that are so good you’ll crave them every day, which is great since fresh greens and fruit are so healthful and nutritious. Your kids will probably love them too!
The best salads have three components that set them apart from the mundane: Texture, color, and contrast. We all love flavor combinations such as sweet and savory or sweet and salty. We also love different textures because all mushy or all crunchy is boring. Here are a few simple ideas to jazz things up!
#32 – Make candied nuts to sprinkle on top.
Nuts add a crunch and elevate salads to the next level (unless you’re allergic to nuts, then skip this one!). I usually buy raw nuts, but when adding nuts to a salad I always toast them first. It enriches the flavor and crisps them up for a satisfying bite. To toast, simply put the desired amount of any kind of nut; pecan, walnut, pine nut, sunflower seed, hazel nut (whatever is your favorite) into a frying pan and turn on the heat to medium. Keep an eye on the nuts so that they don’t burn and stir them once in a while to prevent them from sticking as their oils heat up. Nuts can go from toasted to burnt in a flash, so watch them carefully. Once toasted they can easily be stored for another salad and will last for several days.
But why stop with toasted nuts? With the addition of a tiny bit of sweetener toasted nuts can become candied nuts that really make your mouth and taste buds dance! Start with your raw nuts, turn on the heat to medium, then add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar, honey, or maple syrup depending on the amount of nuts you start with and the sweetener you prefer. I just use sugar because I find that honey and maple syrup cause the nuts to be too soft for my taste. I like them crispy and sugar really crisps up. I don’t stress over using 2-3 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of nuts because I’m not eating the entire cup of nuts, just a few sprinkles on my salad. As with the toasted nuts, keep a close eye on the nuts and stir them constantly to mix the sugar around. It will take a while for the sugar to reach the correct temperature to melt, but keep stirring away. You’ll soon begin to see it turn liquid around the edges. Keep stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved. You probably want to lower the heat at this point so the nuts don’t burn. You can also add a few drops of orange juice or even water to help the sugar dissolve faster. Keep stirring after the sugar has melted to toast the nuts. Then remove from heat, stir a few times as they cool, and enjoy. Candied nuts stay fresh for a couple of weeks if properly sealed in an air tight container. Making small batches of one cup of nuts or less is best to ensure an even coating of sugar/honey/syrup and less chance of burned edges. To really shake things up you may want to sprinkle a tiny bit of cayenne pepper on the nuts as the sugar is melting. A tiny bit. You just may love the sweet/crunchy/spicy thing you’ve got going on!
#33 – Make your own fresh salad dressing.
I don’t know why people are so scared to make salad dressing. There are three basic ingredients; oil, vinegar, herbs. You can also add a sweet component, plus salt and pepper. Here is the easiest way to start; 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, 1 tablespoon of herb of choice, plus salt and pepper to taste. That’s it! An endless combination. Most oils can be used for salad dressing, but DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT use seed oils such as canola (bad, bad, bad!!!), corn oil (bad! Probably GMO), “vegetable” oil (do you even know what “vegetables” are in there?), or soybean oil (double blech!). Instead us extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil or other mild tasting oil. Sesame oil is great for making Asian-inspired salad dressings. While coconut oil is wonderful, it doesn’t translate very well to salad dressing if your salad is to be eaten cold, as coconut oil turns solid when colder than room temperature. I don’t like having tiny chunks of oil on my salad, but if you don’t mind then use coconut oil by all means!
As far as the type of vinegar to use, well that’s up to you! I love balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar (I make my own), and champagne vinegar. It all depends on the other ingredients in your salad bowl.
Basil, rosemary, thyme (especially lemon thyme), oregano, and mint are a few herbs that you can use. Use one or a combination of several. Experiment to see what you prefer. Then, of course, follow up with sea salt and a dash of pepper. Salt really brings out the flavor of the dressing.
What about proportions you ask? Start small, 1/4 c oil to 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon of your herb, salt and pepper to taste. Need more acid? Add more vinegar. Whisk together very well to incorporate the oil and vinegar. Here is my go-to vinaigrette: 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, 1-1/2 T balsamic vinegar, 1 t fresh rosemary chopped into small bits, 1/8 t basil (dried is good, but use fresh if you have it), salt and pepper. A tiny bit of finely chopped fresh garlic goes well also. Whisk very well. Add more vinegar for a tart dressing. Add 1 T honey for a sweeter dressing. Experiment. Mix things up! You are using small amounts so a failed attempt doesn’t break the bank.
#34 – Make your own fruity salad dressings for vegetable salads or fruit salads.
Some salads call for a sweet dressing. Poppy seed dressing is a popular choice that most people buy in the supermarket because they think it is easier than making homemade. It may be easier, but have you actually read the ingredients? Soybean oil (gak!), sugar, apple cider vinegar, water, egg yolks, less than 2% of poppy seed, spice, onion, garlic, salt, torula yeast, natural flavors, xanthan gum, citric acid. This list is from a “fresh” dressing from the refrigerator section of the grocery store. A dressing found on a non-refrigerated shelf would be loaded with preservatives!
Rather than buy, try this simple recipe instead. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter if the dressing has poppy seeds or not or even what kind of fruit or sweetener, as long as it is the right combination of sweet and tangy.
Basic Berry-Based Vinaigrette
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil)
1 T honey
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar (if you like it extra tangy like me!)
1/4 c fresh blackberries (or raspberries or other type of juicy berry)
salt & pepper
Combine in mini food processor until blackberries are pulverized and oil is well incorporated. It will not separate and will keep for up to a week.
#35 – Use shallot instead of onion
If you don’t like the flavor of raw onions in your salad (like my husband) you may find that you can handle the taste of fresh shallot. A shallot tastes like a combination of mild onion and garlic. It comes in small bulbs and can usually be found in the section of the produce department that carries garlic bulbs and small boiling onions. Just ask if you can’t find it. It is probably hiding somewhere. Shallots can be diced very finely and added to any salad dressing, which is very flavorful, or can be added directly to the salad. If you or your significant other refuses to eat anything that might resemble a raw onion then try frying up the thinly diced shallot in a teaspoon of hot oil. Stir the shallot continually to ensure it doesn’t burn and keep it on the heat until it resembles tiny fried onion straws. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the flavor, especially if you like those fried onion things from French’s that people sprinkle on top of green bean casserole (ick).
#36 – Enhance your spinach or field greens with crunchy bits.
I love spinach salad, but it has a tendency to get a little slimy about half way through. I also love field greens, except those really spikey light green pieces that are hard to chew and swallow. What are those called again? Never mind, the point is spinach leaves and field greens could use a little help in the crunch department and I have a very simple tip to make eating leafy greens more enjoyable. Just add iceberg lettuce or, better yet, nappa cabbage sliced in very, very fine shredded pieces (think lettuce on tacos) to any leafy salad. Just as with iceberg lettuce, the nappa cabbage won’t taste cabbagy at all, you’ll just get a nice little mouth crunch. Also using the nappa cabbage will add a tiny bit more nutrients to your salad as opposed to iceberg, but not enough to really make a difference. Just use what you enjoy. I also recommend you acquaint yourself with arugula. It isn’t crunchy, but it has a lovely nutty flavor that enhances any salad. Give it a try, even if you don’t like “weeds”!
#37 – Add fresh and dried fruit to every salad.
I love to add all kinds of fresh and dried fruit to my salads. Apples, orange slices, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pears, blackberries, and blueberries are always included when they are in season, though not all at once! I also add dried cranberries, cherries, apricots, raisins, or currants. I love the combination of crispy and chewy. Yum. But don’t stop at the obvious fruits. Don’t forget about pomegranate seeds, they are pretty, tasty, and full of anti-oxidants. Avocados are a fruit too so don’t forget to add them as well. Even watermelon makes a wonderful crisp and juicy addition to a salad. Here is a great summer salad that I make often. It tastes good the second day, too!
4 T chopped shallot
4 T chopped fresh mint, cilantro, or basil
1/4 C apple cider vinegar or 1/2 ACV and 1/2 tarragon vinegar
2 T honey
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
Whisk all above ingredients together (this is a light tangy dressing that can be used on any salad as well!)
1 pear, slightly under ripe, cut into match stick pieces
1/2 C seeded cucumber, cut into match sticks
1 C coarsely grated jicama
1-1/2 C watermelon cubes
1/2 C pomegranate seeds
1 apple, cut into match sticks
1/2 C crumbled feta or goat cheese
Toss slaw with enough dressing to coat, but not drown as the watermelon will add extra liquid to the salad. Garnish with fresh mint.
#38 – Make your own croutons
If you’re like me you usually skip the stale, hard croutons sitting on top of your Caesar salad. But, if you’re not gluten intolerant, you’ll want to give these a try. The difference fresh made croutons make to a salad is amazing! It only takes a couple of minutes, but the results taste like you labored over these golden bites.
2 C bread cubes – use anything you have on hand or buy French or Italian bread and allow to go stale for a day, cut into cubes, crust can be cut or kept on.
Heat 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil in a skillet. Toss bread cubes in and stir and toss to coat as evenly as possible. You may need to drizzle a little more if it soaks in too quickly.
Sprinkle finely chopped rosemary (fresh or dried) on top, about 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle 1 t salt and 1/4 t black pepper.
Keep stirring the bread cubes until they turn golden brown and you can smell the rosemary. Remove from heat. Allow to cool. Enjoy.
So there you go! Now there is no excuse for boring salads every again! Don’t forget to add all kinds of fresh vegetables along with the lettuce of your choice. Make each salad as colorful as possible; orange carrots, red bell peppers, yellow or purple grape tomatoes, spicy red radishes, green celery……….you know what sounds good to you.
And, before I close, I just want to mention that crispy fried bacon pieces are an excellent addition to any salad. After all, mo’ bacon is mo’ better!