Salads are usually a healthy and easy dish that takes little time and is packed with vitamins and minerals, the cornerstone of a balanced diet. They’re good at any time of the year and can stand alone as a full meal or as a side dish.
With a little creativity, you can make great salads at home if you pay attention to some basic principles and know your ingredients: greens, veggies, nuts and seeds, cheese, meat or tofu, grains, and herbs can all come together and complement each other wonderfully.
However, in order for it to work, it’s essential to take into account (as in all dishes) the dimensions of taste, texture and presentation. Failing to do so would result in a bland, boring dish or an excessively overpowering one.
In terms of flavor, savory and acidic are the most common but including some sweet and bitter touches will give it more depth; likewise, toppings should have contrasting textures, like crunchy and chewy.
Presentation is also an important aspect. A colorful salad will be delightful both visually and gastronomically – make sure all the ingredients look fresh and dry your greens well to avoid sogginess. Add a few garnishes on top to make it even more appealing.
Now, keeping this in mind, there’s a large array of ingredients that you can mix and match; ideally, you should try to buy local produce at your farmer’s market, and buy the vegetables and fruits that are currently in season, in order to get the freshest ingredients.
Greens like kale, spinach, or lettuce are the base of most salads, as well as vegetables like carrots, coleslaw or potatoes. Many fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, mint, or basil can act as a base when combined. You might also add diced or sliced tomato, onion, bell pepper, cucumber, or eggplant, to name a few options.
While most salads are made of raw vegetables, you can also roast or grill them for added depth and flavor; some of them can also be pickled, as is the case of pickled cucumber and cabbage salad.
For protein you can add shredded or diced tofu, cheese, chicken, turkey or lamb, or poached egg slices; you may include some cooked grains like lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, barley or couscous to add some bulk as well. Remember to let them cool to room temperature beforehand.
Tossing in some toasted nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds is also a good idea, and fruits that are complementary to the rest of your ingredients can be great when added sparingly, especially if you roast, grill or dehydrate them.
Finally, you can serve your salad with a little salt, pepper and/or olive oil to taste, or you could have some dressing over it; remember to pair dainty veggies with vinaigrettes and heavier ones with thick dressings.
Go ahead and try some combinations with ingredients that you already have, or browse around and take inspiration from existing recipes. There are countless options to suit every taste!Dr. Patricia M.D.