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How to Make a Great Salad

Earlier this week, Glamour Magazine’s Storked! blogger Christine Coppa asked readers what they like in salads. The responses were plentiful with ideas. Me? I like lots of veggies, a bit of cheese and usually a protein. Mmm. But that got me thinking about how my salad style has really changed. I used to think that salad was an afterthought — something that you tossed quickly into a bowl and hope people eat. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way.

Obviously, it’s easy to toss lettuce from a bag in a bowl, sprinkle cheese and dressing and call it a salad. I’ve done it many, many times. When you are busy, bagged salad seems like the perfect option for a quick side or a speedy lunch. But what you gain in speed from a salad like that is lost in taste. The lettuce in bagged salad tends to have a harsher, more bitter flavor than fresh lettuce. Often, you will find a fine, white coating on vegetables in a bagged salad too … not exactly appetizing.

I implore you: if you want to make a good salad, buy real heads of lettuce. I love Boston bibb lettuce, personally, and romaine hearts have a delicious flavor. But try out different lettuces until you find one that appeals to you. There are so many options out there from red leaf to iceberg to mesclun.

Also, invest in a good salad spinner. The salad spinning thing has an inner basket, perfect for tearing lettuce into and rinsing to remove any dirt or whatever. Then you stick the basket inside the contraption and spin, spin, spin until the lettuce is dry. It literally takes no time and you can even enlist help from your little sous chefs, assuming you have one like I do.

Next, add the veggies. Choose vegetables that are in season, fresh and that you like and then cut them into smaller pieces. For instance, you can use a vegetable peeler to shave long, smooth, sweet shards of carrots from full-sized carrots (which really are tastier than baby carrots). Chop up some fresh mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Dice some peppers or roasted peppers. Keep pomegranate seeds in the fridge for easy sprinkling. Have sweet grape or cherry tomatoes and toss them on top. Have leftover corn or peas? Toss it in! Pickled beets and other vegetables add a tasty dimension. And for a creamy, dreamy addition, toss on some diced avocado.

You’ll probably want a protein too. If you have leftover roasted chicken or steak, slice it thin and cut it into bite-size pieces (after heating, of course). If you are feeling industrious, generously sprinkle a small steak with salt and pepper and broil it to perfection (flipping once, of course). Or you could quickly cook up some delicious shrimp or even a poached egg to top it.

For an extra tasty salad, you will want 1-2 other toppers such as cheese (gorgonzola is a favorite here, but cheddar, parmesan, blue, romano … pretty much most kinds … can work too), homemade croutons, sunflower seeds, candied almonds or tortilla strips. Be careful not to go overboard and add too much though, because these items are where a salad can go from healthy to fattening.

Finally, choose the dressing. I typically avoid premade dressings as they are often filled with unpronounceable ingredients and even high-fructose corn syrup (YUCK!). Instead, choose a really good vinegar (I love balsamic from Villarina’s) and some extra virgin olive oil. Use both sparingly and sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Or substitute lemon or lime juice for the vinegar.

Finally, make sure that everything is in bite-sized pieces before mixing it up, serving and devouring. There is nothing worse than trying to bite into a salad with gigantic pieces of lettuce flapping off your fork.

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Joanne Mikleton

Thursday 21st of February 2013

I love salads and I must say that unless you grow your own lettuce in your garden, salad spinner is nowadays a must. At first I didn't like it, but is easy to use and helps you get rid of dirt, chemicals that are often on surface of common lettuce bought from the supermarket.

Sarah W. Caron

Thursday 21st of February 2013

For sure -- though I have to add that when you grow your own, you still need the salad spinner to remove dirt and whatnot that comes with growing your own. It's a really super tool.


Thursday 12th of February 2009

Now THAT looks like a good salad! Just found your blog...everything looks wonderful!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

Monday 9th of February 2009

The art is in the dressing. I once taught an entire class on making vinaigrettes, because it turned out that some of my students were a bit intimidated by that. Everyone developed her own "signature" dressing to take home. It was really fun.


Monday 9th of February 2009

Great post! I think the best way to make ANY salad good is to add avocado, which I LOVE!

Debbie Nevins

Sunday 8th of February 2009

Things I've learned about salad making:

Make your salad at last minute. If you must make it ahead of time, add watery veggies such as tomatoes or cukes at last second. Otherwise, their water will leach out as they sit, making for a soggy salad.

Also, use dressing sparingly. Nothing kills a nice salad faster than drowning it.

Finally, here's a nice trick I learned from my French mother-in-law: make your dressing in the bottom of the bowl before you add your salad. build your salad on top and bring it to the table. The French typically eat the salad course last (though this works best when the salad is a light affair of mainly greens... a powerhouse salad won't be welcome after the main course..) When you are ready for the salad, simply toss it with a rolling motion.

Here's an all-purpose dressing I use for this: whisk together evoo and vinegar (4:1), half a garlic clove, finely chopped, a dap of dijon mustard and perhaps a light drizzle of honey, S&P. Yum!