It’s one of the most delicious contradictions in life. A cool, refreshing salad can be the perfect choice at nearly every meal, but there’s no such thing as a perfect salad. Or is there?
These days, salad has become a catch-all term for pretty much anything we mix with leafy greens, proteins, vegetables, fruits, and of course, the dressing of our choice. When it comes to salad, there are no rules or regulations, the only limitations are the creativity of the cooks and the fixin’s they have at their disposal. Best of all, with the right mix of proteins, veggies and other toppings, most salads can qualify as balanced, complete meals that are not only filling, but extremely nutritious.
So How Do You Make the Perfect Salad?
The basics of making a stupendous salad are simple, just follow the steps below.
- The Greens
Now more than ever, with the vast variety of lettuces and other leafy greens available, it’s easy to create exciting and flavorful salad bases with just a quick trip to the grocery store. Iceberg lettuce remains a popular choice, but there are dozens of other types of lettuces to discover. Experts suggest mixing and matching your greens to build in just the right blend of nutritional benefits, as most greens contain vital nutrients, and each has a different flavor profile.
Arugula has a peppery, slightly bitter taste that adds zesty flavor to a salad. Use it by itself or to perk up mild flavored salad greens.
Belgian endive has a snappy, mildly bitter flavor and satisfying crunch. Slice it into salads or use it as a “boat” to hold fillings.
Bibb and Boston lettuces are closely related and both have a buttery, sweet, mild flavor and tender, succulent leaves.
Chicory has curly, mildly bitter green leaves that provide a pleasing foil for sweet ingredients such as fruit or mild flavored salad greens. Radicchio, a popular salad addition, is a red chicory.
Curly endive is a close cousin to chicory. It also has a slightly bitter taste.
Escarole is related to curly and Belgian endives but looks like lettuce. It has a milder flavor than endives and a firmer, crunchier texture than lettuce, making it a good choice for a wilted salad with a warm dressing.
Frisée has feathery leaves and a mildly bitter flavor. Use it to boost flavor and add texture to lettuce mixes.
Green leaf and red leaf lettuces are similar in texture and have a delicate mild flavor and crisp-tender texture.
Romaine is quite crisp and has a slightly pungent, sweet flavor. It’s the classic choice for Caesar salad, but works well in other salads, too.
- The Extras
Once you’ve selected your base, there’s really no limit to the ingredients you can add to salads to make them exciting and nutritious.
Proteins: Grilled or rotisserie chicken, sliced, lean steak, grilled fish, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, low-fat cheese, and canned beans are all great choices that add protein and depth to your salad.
Veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, onions, zucchini, cooked green beans, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, carrots, green and red cabbage, or mushrooms are all great choices. Have leftover cooked veggies? You can throw those in too.
Fruit: Oranges, apples, pears, mangos, berries, grilled fruit, raisins, grapes, cherries, currants, dried cranberries, blueberries, will all add some zing to your salad. Be creative, you can’t go wrong here!
Other Goodies: For extra flavor, try adding in almonds, walnuts, pecans, edamame (fresh or dried) or chia or sunflower seeds. A sprinkling of fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon, or thyme adds a refreshing pop of flavor. And if it’s crunch you’re after, try making your own healthy croutons with leftover whole-wheat bread.
- The Dressing
You’ll find just about every kind of salad dressing on supermarket shelves these days—from the simplest Italian or French, to gourmet flavors such as raspberry walnut vinaigrette, Parmesan peppercorn ranch, and more.
But it’s also super easy to create your own custom-made vinaigrette. The basic formula is three parts oil to one part vinegar (or other acidic ingredient), and then add some herbs or flavorful seasonings. Shake well to combine, and you’re ready to pour it on (or keep on the side). You can also add a little honey or Dijon-style mustard for another variation.
Oils: Try canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, or experiment with nut oils such as walnut oil, or “exotic” oils like sesame or pumpkin.
Vinegars: Instead of red or white wine vinegars, try balsamics, fruit or herb-flavored, Asian-style rice vinegar, or other ‘acidic’ ingredients such as wine, lemon juice, lime juice, or even orange juice.
Seasonings: Mix in dried or fresh herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
Voilla! You’ve Created The Perfect Salad
There really are no hard and fast rules for mixing and matching ingredients for salads. Be creative and try new combinations for healthy, easy and delicious meals your whole family will love.
Chicken, Avocado and Corn Salad
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- 4 (4- to 6-oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tsp no-salt-added lemon–herb seasoning
- 2 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 1 (5-oz.) pkg mixed salad greens
- 2 avocados, pitted, peeled and sliced
- Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium-high (350°F to 400°F). Season chicken with seasoning and pepper to taste. Grill chicken 7 to 8 minutes per side or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F.
- Meanwhile, grill corn 4 to 5 minutes, turning often. Transfer chicken and corn to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut corn from cob; set aside. Thinly slice chicken; set aside.
- For the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together lime zest, lime juice, oil, mustard, and pepper to taste.
- Place salad greens on 4 plates. Top with corn, chicken and avocado slices. Drizzle dressing evenly over each salad, and serve.
Make it a meal: Serve with grilled whole-grain flatbread and fresh mango slices.
Nutritional Information: Calories 440, Total Fat 29g, Saturated Fat 5g, Cholesterol 70mg, Sodium 100mg, Total Carbohydrate 21g, Dietary Fiber 9g
Natalie Menza, MS, RD
Manager, Health & Wellness
Wakefern Food Corporation
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