Found: The Formula for a Perfect Salad
The original chopped salad at Citizen Public House in Scottsdale, Arizona, is so famous that it has its own Facebook page. The dish is a mixture of ingredients that when listed out—smoked salmon, freeze-dried corn, Israeli couscous, trail mix, and basil buttermilk dressing—have you scratching your head. How can smoked salmon tossed with a trail mix of toasted pepitas, black currants, and aged asiago cheese possibly taste good together? We had to try it, and after just one bite, our minds were blown.
Salad is rarely a dish that has people jumping out of their seats for more, so what was it about this chopped salad that made diners salivate as if faced with a Peter Luger steak? After careful on-the-ground reporting (which required consuming many a salad), we’ve come up with a foolproof seven-step formula to constructing the perfect bowl of greens. Here’s how to make sure your next lunch is so popular it’s worthy of its own Facebook page.
Start building your better salad with better greens. The next time you’re in your grocery’s produce section, try reaching for something besides your go-to bibb lettuce. Chard, escarole, watercress, red-leaf lettuce, endive, and radicchio are all fabulous greens that bring a punch of flavor. You also don’t have to stick to one type. Mix and match tender, mild greens with hearty, bitter greens.
When it comes to your veggie selection, don’t limit yourself to the usual salad suspects; be creative. You’ve had roasted asparagus in a salad, but have you had it raw and shaved? You’ve eaten tons of salads with raw cherry tomatoes, but how would the salad taste if the tomatoes were roasted until sweet and caramelized in the oven? For a salad to become viral, it must have a medley of vegetables that are cooked using different techniques. Sure, some veggies can be raw, but others can be roasted, grilled, or pickled. You might find the bite of a raw red onion too strong, but when pickled with red wine vinegar, it can add a scrumptious tang to an otherwise lackluster salad. Combine vegetables that are naturally crunchy, like carrots, jicama, and celery with softer, creamier veggies, such as avocado, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted eggplant.
Grains are a welcome addition to salads—they make the dish hearty. Cook the grains beforehand, and depending on if you want the greens to wilt slightly, toss with the greens just after cooking, or allow the grains to cool before mixing. Rice, farro, quinoa, couscous, bulgur, and barley are wonderful and nutritious options to consider.
To make a salad truly satisfying, you’ve got to toss in an element of crunch. Homemade croutons are an awesome way to use up old bread and add the satisfying chomp you’re after. Seeds, like pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower, or nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and peanuts, are other flavorful crunchy options. We also love crushed tortilla chips, pita or lavash crisps, corn nuts, and savory granola.
To turn a salad from a supporting dish into a substantial main, add protein. Poached salmon, crispy bacon, rotisserie chicken, grilled steak, and roasted chickpeas are optional proteins that can be used to enhance a salad. As with the vegetables, think of how the texture of the protein pairs with the rest of the salad. Cooking technique is just as important, too. Grilling chicken outdoors over a charcoal fire will add a smokiness to the salad that you won’t get from roasting it in the oven.
There are all sorts of other ingredients that add an extra-special something. Herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro provide a fresh earthy element. Cheese adds tang and creaminess. Fruit—both dried and raw—will give the salad a lovely sweet component. Think in-season berries, melon, and stone fruit and dried cranberries, cherries, or apricots. Don’t forget eggs! Poached, fried, or hard-boiled, they are scrumptious in salads. Other flavorful extras include sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and capers.
To build a memorable salad, you’ve got to make the dressing from scratch. Store-bought dressings and vinaigrettes are loaded with unnatural ingredients and preservatives. It only takes a minute or two to combine a little oil and vinegar in a bowl, so start experimenting with making your own dressings. A basic vinaigrette recipe is three parts oil to one part acid (although some chefs, like Bobby Flay, prefer to do a two to one ratio). Select your oil and acid (vinegar or fresh-squeezed citrus), and combine in a small jar. Shake well to emulsify the two ingredients. Dijon mustard, honey, herbs, minced shallot and garlic, pulverized anchovies, and finely grated parmesan cheese will enhance the flavor of your vinaigrette. For creamy dressings, mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt can be used as a base. You can also make a quick dressing by mixing store-bought hummus, pesto, or salsa with oil.
Ready to construct your perfect salad? Shop essentials for whipping up your new favorite lunch below.