I’m addicted to salads. I eat one on the daily for lunch and it’s definitely a highlight of my day—HOWEVER, it’s important to note that it’s definitely not always been this way. Not every salad is created equal, and making a good salad is key to fortifying your love affair with leafy greens.
I think I’ve created a pretty solid formula on how to construct a gorgeous, nutritious, mouth-watering salad, and I’m here today to share it with you!
The base of any traditional salad. First and foremost, switching up the greens you use regularly is a great way to make sure you’re getting all different types of vitamins and minerals—kale gives you different nutrients than spinach, for example, so varying your choice of greens regularly can be useful in getting all the nutrients you can. There are a ton to choose some, but here are my favorites:
-Kale: We all know by now that kale is the superfood of all superfoods. It’s extremely nutrient dense, especially in Vitamin K & C, as well as full of anti-inflammatory properties. Some research shows it has cancer-preventative benefits as well! Kale is my most common leafy green choice, seeing as it’s heartier than most other salad greens and fills me up more.
-Spinach: Popeye’s favorite green made him strong and healthy for a reason—chocked full of antioxidants, nutrients & minerals, spinach is a fabulous choice and is slightly easier for your body to digest over more cruciferous greens like kale.
-Romaine: A classic for a reason—crisp, delicious, and full of Vitamin K & beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A that, in combination with Vitamin K, aids in heart health!). It’s high water-content also gives you a little extra hydration.
When it comes to the veggies you pick, the goal is to balance mild & powerful flavors. Also, ideally, you’d want vegetables that bring a variety of nutrients to the table…or, you know, to the salad bowl.
-Bell Pepper: Bright, juicy & beautiful as well as a great source of Vitamin E. Bell peppers also contain carotenoids which provide anti-inflammatory & antioxidant properties! Plus they’re my favorite vegetable ever pretty much. Try and buy organic with these guys since they’re often highly sprayed with pesticides.
-Red Onion: I loooovvveee the intense flavor of red onions, and it gives a lovely kick to a salad full of more mild flavors. White onion is really nice too, if you prefer. Onions rock in terms of the flavonoid quercetin which basically just means they have strong anti-inflammatory properties and even work as a natural antihistamine!
-Cucumber: Cucumbers are pretty mild in flavor, but bring a nice, juicy crunch. Plus they’re a great source of Vitamin C, manganese, and beta-carotenes that all help decrease inflammation (see a theme here? Vegetables are the way to go, man).
-Tomatoes: Now…I don’t really like raw tomatoes, unfortunately. We just don’t get along well in the mouth-feel area. However, tomatoes are a major source of lycopene which is an antioxidant we need to help build & maintain cellular structure as well as DNA! So if ya like ’em, eat ’em up!
-Grated Carrot or Sweet Potato: If you’re looking to incorporate more carbs, this can be a cool place to do it! I’ve started grating carrots and sweet potatoes (yes, raw—I think this is maybe a weird thing to do but whatever, I like it just fine) over my salad and it adds a little carb density as I’ve been playing with a slightly less low-carb diet. Carrots, while they don’t turn us orange after eating too many (unfortunately…I mean, how fun would that be?), are full of beta-carotene—sweet potatoes are as well. Sweet potatoes are also blood sugar-regulating!
Feel free to play with whatever veg you like—sugar snap peas, radishes, mushrooms, whatever suits your fancy.
Also, while you can obviously put fruit in salad, I don’t tend to so I’m not really including anything about that here, but feel free!
This is really all up to you and what you have available—I like chicken and fish on my salads (particularly salmon) most of all, but this is a pretty use-what-you-have scenario in my opinion. Chopped up deli meat is a great option as well if you haven’t got any cooked meat sitting in your fridge! Also, venturing into canned fish like salmon or tuna can be a cheap & easy option. Just try and get your hands on BPA-free cans!
The BEST PART. If you ask me. Which by reading this, you pretty much are, so I’m here to tell you this is the best part. I like to make my toppings a combo of crunchy, nutty & creamy flavors.
-Nuts: Get some extra fat and protein in there (as well as a nice crunch) with a handful of almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. Toast them for an even tastier treat.
-Seeds: As many people in the world know (more than probably should), I really really really love love love seeds. Of all kinds. I always put sunflower or pumpkin seeds in my salads as they give a much needed crunch and saltiness; I also throw on a handful of hemp seeds in there for protein and omegas.
-Cheese: I still eat dairy because I tolerate it well, and cheese is also awesome, so…here we are. If those two statements don’t apply to you, maybe try a cashew cheese or skip this suggestion altogether! Mozzarella and goat cheese rock my world texture-wise, and they bring some nice fats and protein. Goat cheese is also a great option to try if you don’t tolerate cow dairy too well—some people have found goat products are much easier on their digestion. You can also try some sharp parmesan or feta for an extra kick of flavor.
The right dressing is crucial because it’s a) gotta have some fat in it–many of the vitamins in all the vegetables you’re eating cannot be used unless they’re consumed with fat (these are called fat-soluble vitamins), and b) awesome for creating great flavor dimension.
I pretty much always combine a healthy oil with a vinegar to hit both creamy & acidic flavor profiles. My go-to is avocado oil or olive oil (cold-pressed) with red wine vinegar—I often use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, too. Lemon juice is a great option as well.
Other homemade dressings are great, but honestly, the oil/vinegar combo compliments just about everything. I stay away from store-bought dressings as they often contain lots of really weird yucky stuff—and I don’t like really weird yucky stuff.
Mix and match as you wish and BAM, amazing salad! My number one go-to usually contains kale, bell pepper, red onion, salmon, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, goat cheese & avocado oil with red wine vinegar.
I hope this helped you build your ultimate salad and converted you to the club of the salad-obsessed. We’re always welcoming new members.
What makes YOUR salad pretty miraculous? Sound off below.
[Thanks to the wonderful resource whfoods.org, which I used for researching many of the nutritional facts written about in this post!]