Have you ever had a gourmet salad that blew your mind? Likely, it wasn’t created in your kitchen. We tend to do last minute prep, throwing lettuce in a bowl then tossing it with bottled dressing. Maybe on a good day, a tomato or cucumber will find it’s way in.
Prepare to end your boring salad routine without much extra fuss. Learn what salad ingredients create perfect balance to quickly and easily create a restaurant worthy salad at home. With this method, most of the add-ins don’t require prep, so it’s quick and easy to add a ton of flavor and satisfaction. Whether you’re making a small side salad, or a grand entrée salad, this post will surely inspire you!
Salad ingredients are endless; I rarely make the same salad twice. That being said, I do typically follow the same method. The photographed salad is just one of many variations you can create with the steps below.
10 Steps to Create the Perfect Salad
Pick just a couple… or all of these options. Have fun!
1. Choose a good lettuce base.
Spinach, mixed greens, arugula, romaine…. save the iceburg for lettuce wraps and the famous wedge salad. For an entrée salad that serves 2, start with 4 cups.
2. Add an herb.
Believe it or not, tossing in some parsley, basil or cilantro will transform your salad. For 4 cups of lettuce, add about a cup of mild herbs.
3. Dress it well.
If you’re short on time, bottled dressing may be tempting, but do consider making a quick vinaigrette. Essentially, add 1 part citrus juice to 2 parts olive oil and whisk. Add seasoning and a bit of dijon mustard to bind it all together. If you’ve got a bit more time, make an amazing salad dressing with your food processor. What I used here is my favorite lemony Caesar dressing (though obviously the salad is not a Caesar at all). I love to make this dressing on the weekend and have a bit leftover for a few salads during the week. Voila! Homemade bottled dressing with no fuss.
Valuable Tip: Dress your greens first. Before adding all the salad ingredients, dress it up. This way, the lettuce is perfectly coated and then you won’t add more dressing, drowning the other add-ins. (They don’t need it anyway.)
4. Go nuts.
They add flavor, crunch and a lot of nutrition. Almonds, peanuts, walnuts: roasted, candied, salted, there are so many flavorful options. To keep it healthier, opt for roasted without salt. But for special occasions, a candied nut pushes a great salad over the top! For 2 entree salads, add about 1/4 cup.
5. Sensational seeds.
Just like nuts, seeds add a heap of nutrition and some crunch. Surprisingly, 1 oz of sesame seeds actually adds just as much calcium as 8 oz of milk! (Thanks Katie Cavuto, RD for that fun fact!) I tend to be very heavy handed with my seeds, adding at least a tablespoon (or more) for each salad. Think about doubling up and add two at a time; chia seeds and sunflower seeds are a favorite.
More nuts and seeds = more protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
6. Fruit (or vegetable).
Avocado, apples and berries are all awesome choices for most salads. If you want to go the veggie route, beware of adding too many raw vegetables. Unless it’s a cucumbers and bell peppers in a chopped Greek salad or carrots in an Asian style salad, raw veggies can be overwhelming if not paired well. Personally, I think broccoli should just butt out of salads! Think about your lettuce when choosing a fruit or vegetable. A more tender green will pair well with a more tender veggie. Add about 1 cup for 2 servings.
7. Pick an amazing cheese.
Forget your typical cheddar and mozzarella, opt for something different. Choosing a strong flavor cheese like Asiago or Feta will amp flavor with a minimal amount. That means more bang for your calorie buck. Add about an ounce per person. The cheese below is a recent favorite of mine. It’s a harder cheese, but still soft enough to crumble.
8. Dried fruit.
The chewy texture of raisins, dates, cherries and dried blueberries add an entirely new element to a salad. If you’re worried about making the salad sweet, don’t worry, they won’t. Add 1/4 cup for 2 main salads.
Nothing better than a crouton, right? Well, crispy onion straws may take the cake. Whatever it may be, adding a little fatty crunch will certainly add a lot to your salad. Just use sparingly. A small handful will do the trick, especially if you’re adding all the above.
10. Pick a protein
If you’re creating an entrée salad, opt to add some protein. Smaller side salads are usually better without the protein component. Great salad proteins can include a slice of blackened salmon, a perfectly cooked chicken breast or thin slices of tri tip. To keep it vegetarian, try some marinated tofu, a soft cooked egg or a mixture of beans. Add about 2oz protein for a good balance.
If you do opt for chicken, be sure to cook it perfectly! Learn how, step by step, here in this image tutorial:
Salad Ingredients to Create a Restaurant Worthy Salad
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This salad looks great & I love your tips, but I must say most restaurant salads are horrible. They’re laden with crispy chicken, fatty dressing, too much cheese and not enough veggies. It’s rare to find a restaurant that offers a healthy salad. It’s one of my biggest frustrations with eating out.