How to Make a Salad Great

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Knowing how to make a salad is a great skill to have, even better if it’s great. Follow this easy template for salads that will please everyone at your table and never leave you bored.

kale salad on rectangle platter

Some folks say that salads are boring. Some say that they never taste fresh. Some say they don’t know how to make one.

Well folks, today’s the day to change that. Salads can be vehicles of absolute deliciousness — especially if you make it yourself. Prepping salads at home can save you money, offer you loads of veggies, and make a colorful addition to your dinner table.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved salads. I don’t mean like. I mean love, as in looooooooove.

Yeah, my husband thinks its kinda weird. As did my college roommate. But, most days I would rather have a salad than anything else. It feels healthy even when I glob on tons of ranch dressing and shredded cheese. And it can actually I healthy when I exercise a little self-control.

It’s okay if you’re not a salad fanatic. But, it’s not okay not to know how make a good one. Today’s the day to learn.

platter of chicken caesar salad

How do you make a good salad?

A good salad is based on fresh ingredients and toppings you enjoy. It’s not soggy or boring. It’s not dry; neither is it drenched in dressing. It’s crisp and cold and packed with flavor.

A good salad leaves you wanting to eat salad again.

There is a wide world of ingredients out there for you to explore. If you only know salad as limp iceberg with a chunk of watery tomato and sad cucumber, then know that there’s a lot of exciting stuff out there for you to try.

Consider these different combinations of flavors piled on a bed of greens:

  • steak, fajita veggies, jack cheese, and a lime-honey dressing
  • rotisserie chicken, raspberries, goat cheese, and pecans
  • sautéed chicken, strawberries, avocado, and a fruity vinaigrette
  • grilled chicken, croutons, parmesan cheese, and Caesar dressing
  • meatballs, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus, and tzatziki.

There are so many different ways to build a salad, you could go in a different direction every day of the year and never get bored. Ready to get started?

How to Make a Salad Great

empty white platter

Start with a big bowl or platter.

You want to make sure that your serving platter or bowl is large enough to hold all the salad ingredients as well as allow room for you to toss the salad with the dressing. 

If you’re serving several people, this may mean a large salad bowl or platter. If you’re making a salad just for one, a small mixing bowl or pie plate works well.

salad plate with greens and cabbage

Lay a bed of greens.

The base of the salad is the lettuce or greens.

When I was growing up, that meant iceberg. But farmers’ markets and modern grocery stores have opened the culinary horizons of lettuce and greens over the years. You likely have a choice of any of these:

  • romaine
  • green leaf
  • red leaf
  • butter lettuce
  • iceberg
  • frisee
  • baby spinach
  • baby kale
  • shredded cabbage
  • radicchio
  • chicory

Vary the colors and textures if you can. Experiment until you find the combinations and flavors you like the best.

asian veg rice salad for meal prep

Pile on the fruits and veggies.

Salad add-ins are what give the salad its character. And honestly? Anything goes!

You can go with fruit like apple slices and dried cranberries or stick with the veggies and add avocado, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onion, etc. Try different combinations until you discover your favorites. And then try some new ones, just ’cause.

Consider these options:

  • fruit, such as berries, chopped apple or pear
  • tomatoes, chopped or whole grape/cherry variety 
  • shredded or chopped carrots
  • chopped celery
  • cooked potatoes
  • steamed green beans
  • corn kernels
  • sweet peas or edible pea pods
  • chopped, steamed green beans
  • diced avocado
  • chopped bell pepper
  • sliced cucumbers

ingredients for raspberry salad

Add protein.

Real men — and women! — do eat salad, especially if there’s some protein around. I think historically there’s been a misconception that a salad can’t be filling.

We’ll have to blame the pear half-scoop of cottage cheese combo of the 70’s for that!

Salad proteins can vary quite a bit. Check out all your options!

  • cheese: shredded, crumbled, or cubed
  • eggs: hardboiled, soft boiled, poached, or fried 
  • beans and legumes: garbanzo, kidney, pinto, black, lentil, favas
  • meats: cooked chicken, beef, pork, turkey, ham, or bacon
  • seafood: cooked or canned tuna, shrimp, fish
  • soy: edamame, tofu, tempeh, or seitan
  • nuts and seeds: pecan, walnut, peanut, pepita, sunflower

pear salads with bowl of blue cheese and dish of pepitas

Top your salad with some crunch.

Varying the texture of your salad is key to making it great. Top your plate with some kind of crunch.

Nuts, croutons, and seeds are great salad toppers that add texture and flavor. You can try these homemade salad toppers: Cheese and Garlic Croutons or Maple Spiced Pepitas for some extra pizzazz.

jar of herbed vinaigrette

Make a great dressing.

I usually make my own dressings. It’s not hard at all. Some of my favorites are

But, if you have a favorite bottled dressing, stick with it. It’s always nice to have ready-made on hand.

array of meal prep salads

How do you make a salad for the week?

Almost every week I make my favorite meal prep salads. They make my meals so much easier.

Prepared food is good for up to four days. Undressed, chopped vegetables can last even longer. The key to keeping your dish fresh all week is to dry the ingredients well and leave off those that might make the salad soggy, like cut tomatoes or cucumbers.

Soggy leads to rapid decay, so pat everything dry and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Don’t add the dressing until serving.

How long does homemade salad last?

Homemade — without the dressing or very wet ingredients — should last at least four days. If you’ve included cut tomatoes or dressing, you will want to consume it within a few hours.

I’ve known of folks to put leftover salad in soup or eat a dressed salad the next day, but it will suffer from loss of taste and texture.

salad tools for making salad

Tools to help you make salads easily

I think you’re set for making a great dish now. Go get to it!

 

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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Comments

  1. Nicole says

    I love to use fennel in salads. It adds a nice crunch and the mild licorish flavor is delicious.

  2. Jessica @ This Blessed Life says

    I make my own vinaigrette (EVOO, red wine vinaigrette, a few shakes of Mrs. Dash Italian, black pepper and sea salt). Then I just toss whatever else I have in the fridge! Feta, mozzarella, parmesan, cold salmon, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, or whatever veggies I have.

    I'm with you – I LOVE salads. I have at least one a day – I just finished a spinach one for lunch! 🙂

  3. lundgren79 says

    My favorite add ins are strawberries, orange segments and sunflower seeds. Yum! Great post!

  4. Anonymous says

    my "go to" salad is lettuce (usually iceberg), cucumbers, turkey bacon, toasted almonds, sesame seeds, turkey deli meat, mozzarella cheese, ranch, and balsamic vinegar. I like to add avocado and grilled chicken too, when I have it!

  5. Katy says

    That looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing! I have a ton of lettuce that I need to use up! I may try some of your tips for lunch today!

  6. I have a balsamic vinagrete recipe I use from time to time. Penzey’s Spices sells wonderful Itallian and Ranch dry mixes that I also use. The Ranch mix I make the Outback copycat recipe with, and it’s pretty darn close.

  7. Sarah says

    Also salt your ingredients – it’s part of what makes restaurant salads so good!

    I like using shredded cabbage as a base – I love the crunch! It’s also the perfect time to use the last little bits of tortilla chips or pretzels.

  8. Mary P says

    An easy way to prepare your salad in advance is to do it in a Mason jar. Start with dressing on the bottom, then add other ingredients in order of wettest to driest, ending with your greens. Keep your crunchy bits separate. To serve, turn the jar upside down over a bowl or plate, and add your crunchy bits. Keeps wonderfully in the refrigerator and everything is right together to make it easy to grab and go.

  9. Roberta says

    Heading out to the garden today to harvest lettuce, bell pepper, and radishes for our dinner salad (I’ll also add carrots from the store and maybe celery if it’s salad-worthy). There’s really nothing like freshly harvested veggies. 😉

    • What a great garden you have! I need some lessons!

      • Roberta says

        Hubs is the gardener of the family. It’s his stress relief. You could probably do some container gardening (and nurseries and hardware stores are still open, at least for now). I’m sure there are YouTube videos that would show you how to go about it. Get the kids involved and make a science lesson out of it. 🙂

  10. Karen Weger says

    Instead of making individual salads, each week I make up a large bowl of my “salad base”. It’s a combination of different greens (red leaf, green leaf, romaine, spinach, baby kale), shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots and diced red onion. Each of us can grab a bowl, fill it with the base and make our own salads very quickly. I usually have a selection of proteins, nuts, boiled eggs, veggie to pick from in the refrigerator. This has helped my meal planning – especially since we eat a lot of salads!

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