How to Make the Perfect Salad
In theory, making a salad isn’t too difficult. You can throw just about anything into a bowl, give it a mix and call it a salad. We’ve all been unlucky enough to see those ‘unhealthy salads’ on restaurant menus – the ones that are basically deconstructed burgers in a bowl. If you ever see something like that, we urge you to get up and leave – don’t settle for mediocrity.
Making a great salad requires some finesse and a basic knowledge of flavour combinations and texture — not difficult skills to acquire if you’re up to the challenge. Once you make your first amazing salad (trust us, you’ll know when it happens), you’ll realise that up until now, you’ve been settling and you’ll turn your back on mediocrity forever.
There are three fundamental elements to a great salad:
Vegetables + Dressing + Crunch = Salad!
Within these three fundamentals, there is plenty of room for variation and there are many possible additions you can make too. Raw, roasted or grilled vegetables? Creamy dressing or vinaigrette? Croutons or seeds? Chicken or halloumi? The options are endless, but as long as you stick to your three starting points, you should end up with something delicious!
The starting point to any good salad is a bed of fresh, local veg. How that veg is presented is up to you, here are some options:
Greens: A fresh bed of greens is a great place to start when you’re making a salad. They add bulk and crunch and create the perfect backdrop for all your flavours to melt together. Tender leaves like baby spinach, butter lettuce and watercress are good for more delicate salads, while sturdier greens like kale or Swiss chard are a great option if you’re looking for a bit more heft. Just make sure you massage your kale with olive oil to break down some of the tougher fibres. Rocket and radicchio offer bitterness, making them a good option when your dressing is slightly sweeter.
Grilled: Grilling your vegetables adds some char and smokiness to your salad, which will pair nicely with salty cheeses, like feta or kefalotyri. Just make sure you don’t overseason your veggies before grilling. We love grilled tenderstem broccoli, eggplant, baby marrow, spring onions and roasted peppers, but the options are endless.
Roasted: Roasting your veg encourages caramelisation and sweetness and also allows you to use more substantial options, like sweet potato, butternut and beetroot. Once again, pairing roast veg with an acidic dressing or a salty cheese will give you a delish, balanced meal.
A dressing is so important to a salad that we have dedicated an entire article to it! Seriously, if you’re not dressing your salads, you’re missing out. Not only do dressings maximise flavour, but the acidic element in them also allows more fibrous veg to break down, making each mouthful easier to chew and digest.
You have two options:
Creamy: Creamy dressings are perfect for heartier salads or salads that use bitter, crunchy greens, like radicchio for example. The creaminess in the dressing often balances out the bitterness and the crunchy, sturdy leaves can stand up to the weight of the dressing.
Vinaigrette: Have a look at our Guide to Making The Best Vinaigrette
Salads are all about texture and what better way to add texture to a bowl of vegetables and dressing than a myriad of seasoned crunchy goodness? There is a lot of room to play here, but make sure your ‘crunchies’ are well-seasoned and sog-resistant. Here are some of our favourite options:
Croutons: Ye old faithful crouton! Don’t buy store bought, just make your own with some stale bread fried in olive oil and your choice of spice. Making them at home also allows you to customise the flavours.
Seeds: Extra crunchy and super nutritious. Seeds are a great way to add some extra nutrients to your salad. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds and sesame are some of our favourites and all toast really well. If you’re looking for some extra kick, toss them in some olive oil, salt and smoked paprika.
Nuts: Another great way to add extra nutrients to your salad. Almonds, pecans, and cashews are our favourites. Always toast to get that extra bit of flavour out of them!
Crispy Chickpeas: Think of these as a gluten-free crouton alternative. They are easy enough to make at home, but if you don’t feel like the effort, we love Cheaky Co. Chyps! They’re available in most major supermarkets and grocers and come in a variety of great flavours, like salt and vinegar or black pepper. A great salad hack!
Crispy Bacon Bits: For a more indulgent salad-meal (salad that becomes a whole meal) crispy bacon bits are a great way to add some fat and flavour. We suggest using a creamy dressing to balance out the saltiness.
Savoury Granola: Yup! That’s right. Oats are an amazing vehicle for flavour when paired with a fat and roasted in the oven. Instead of using warming spices, like cinnamon and cardamom, try adding more savoury notes like cayenne, paprika and fennel seeds.
Now that you’re sorted with a delicious, well-seasoned salad, you can start to add some optional ingredients. Think cheese, protein or a grain. But remember, the simpler the better. Don’t overload the bowl, rather choose one addition and make it a goodie.
Cheese: Cheese can add texture, either creamy or crumbly. Feta is the most popular and cost-effective addition and is great for adding saltiness too. Parmesan shavings also add a salty umami element. If you’re feeling flush, try Greek kefalotyri cheese – it’s like Greek feta made from sheep or goat’s milk and it’s amazing!
Fruit: Fruit adds sweetness, crunch and texture. Apples, pears and grapes add crunch and contrast, while avocado adds creaminess. Berries also add delicious tartness. Dried fruit is also great for adding some additional texture, for example dried cranberries and raisins.
Have a look at our round-up of favourite healthy summer salads and get assembling!
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