What do you think of when you hear the word salad?
If your childhood was anything like mine, there was probably a time when the term conjured the image of a few pale leaves of iceberg lettuce topped with one or two slices of an anemic tomato.
While salads have come a long way over the years, less than appealing versions remain.
Sadly, this was especially evident during the recent push for healthier school lunches.
I recall watching a news clip where the commentator observed how children were avoiding the healthy options while the video showed a cafeteria worker scraping large colorless leaves of lettuce into the garbage.
My son commented, “Yeah, school salads suck.”
Apparently he and his sister have been spoiled by my superior salad making abilities.
There is an art to salad making and the secret lies in chopping the ingredients into bite size pieces or smaller…
I hate it when salads are made with big chunks you have to cram awkwardly into your mouth!
Good salads should also be rich in color and offer a variety of textures. Here’s how to make a perfect salad:
Begin With Dark Leafy Greens
Baby romaine makes an excellent green salad base. You can mix it with baby spinach, arugula or some other dark leafy greens.
But just because the baby leaves are small doesn’t mean you should just grab a handful and toss them into a salad bowl!
Take the time to chop the leaves into smaller pieces.
Your salad will mix more evenly and be easier to eat!
Add Some Color and Variety
Baby carrots are a convenient salad item. You don’t have to wash or peel them!
However, do take the time to chop them into little pieces. (Sensing a theme here?)
You can chop them quickly with a chef’s knife or use a mini chopper or food processor to mince them more finely.
Red, yellow or orange bell peppers add color and a snappy crunch.
Slice the pepper in half and then pull the seeds and stem out/off in one motion. Slice the pepper into long strips and then chop the strips into smaller pieces.
Red onions provide a little kick.
Slice off the top and bottom of the onion and remove the outer skin. Slice the onion in half and then slice each half into long slices lengthwise.
Chop the long slices into smaller pieces.
You can also use a mini chopper or food processor to quickly mince the onion into finer pieces if desired.
Cucumbers add a cool crunch. The trick is to remove the seeds.
Cut of the ends of the cucumber and then peel the skin with a vegetable peeler.
If it’s a fresh organic cucumber you can opt to leave the skin on and just give it a good scrubbing!
Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and then slice each piece in half again. With the seed side facing down, angle the knife to remove the seeds from each piece by slicing from the side.
Then slice each piece in half lengthwise and chop the two pieces into smaller pieces.
Grape or cherry tomatoes provide a burst of color and juicy goodness. Yes, they are already bite sized, but slicing them in half will help them mix with the other ingredients more evenly.
If you are using a larger tomato, chop it into smaller chunks.
Add Some Protein
Beans, nuts and seeds add some healthy protein to a salad.
Garbanzo beans (Chick Peas) and sunflower seeds are a popular combination. Walnuts or almonds also add a tasty crunch.
My meat-eating family members like it when I add little chunks of chicken or salmon or strips of ham or turkey to their salads.
If you aren’t willing to give up meat completely, using a little meat as just one of many ingredients in a big salad is a great way to enjoy meat without over doing it.
Sweet or Salty?
Depending on your mood, add some raisins or dried cranberries for a touch or sweetness…
Leaning toward the saltier side of things?
Try some sliced kalamata, black or green olives.
Add Some Healthy Fat
Instead of using an oily salad dressing, get your healthy fats from whole foods.
Avocado adds a wonderfully creamy texture to a salad.
Slice the avocado in half lengthwise by running a knife around the pit in the center and then twist apart.
Slice each half in half again lengthwise and use a large spoon to scoop the flesh from the peel.
Slice each piece in half one more time and then chop into smaller pieces.
Finish with a Non-fat Dressing
While many tout the health benefits of mono and polyunsaturated fats, consider eating foods like olives, sunflower seeds and walnuts in their whole form instead of using their processed oils.
My favorite go-to non-fat salad dressing is adapted from a recipe I discovered in the Forks Over Knives book I recommend on the Resources page.
I use the same three basic ingredients as the Janes 3, 2, 1 recipe:
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Maple Syrup
I just change the quantities slightly.
Instead of using 3 tbs vinegar, 2 tbs mustard and 1 tbs syrup, I use ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tbs mustard and 2 tbs syrup.
This dressing is incredibly quick and easy to make…
And the flavor blends nicely with sweet as well as salty ingredients!
Putting It All Together
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to make a perfect salad, let’s see it in action.
I typically make salad for the whole family in individual serving bowls – so each person can have their own blend of preferred ingredients.
The following recipe is just one of many possible options:
A Perfect Salad
- 1 cup baby romaine chopped
- 1 cup baby spinach chopped
- 4-5 baby carrots chopped
- 1/8 yellow pepper medium, chopped
- 1/4 cucumber medium, seeded and chopped
- 5 cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- 1/3 cup garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
- 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
- 1 Tbsp. raisins
- 1/4 avocado diced
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. spicy mustard
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
Combine romaine, spinach, carrots, onion, pepper, cucumber and tomatoes in an individual serving bowl.
Add garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, raisins and avocado.
Combine vinegar, mustard and maple syrup in a tightly sealed container and shake well or combine in an open container and stir vigorously with a small wire whisk.
Pour approximately 2 tbs of the dressing over the salad.
Cover and store remaining dressing in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Note: I do not include nutrition information with my recipes because I subscribe to the theories presented in the book Whole and believe we should focus on eating a variety of whole foods instead of counting calories or keeping track of individual nutrients.