The word salad brings to mind what we were usually served at restaurants when we were younger. Rounds of cucumber, tomatoes, and onions with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt. Over the years, we’ve learned that a salad can be a full, satisfying meal in itself instead of a hastily-thrown together side that feels like an afterthought.
Here are tips and directions that will ensure your salad isn’t the least exciting part of your meal.
These are the basic components of every salad:
Vegetables: Whether you add raw greens like lettuce, chard, kale or roasted, grilled, or pickled veggies, this is what you usually start with.
Dressing: Whether it’s a light vinaigrette or a creamy dressing, this component is crucial in adding flavour to your salad and tying everything together.
Crunchies: Seeds, nuts, and croutons add texture and nutritional value to your salad, so don’t skip these at all.
Protein: This component is optional, but if you’re on a diet and want to have a salad as your primary meal instead of as a salad, don’t skip this. Grilled or poached chicken and fish, tofu, egg--they’re all great when rounding off a salad.
Extras: This is the optional section that can help elevate your salad. Add grains, herbs, and fruit to really impress your guests.
Now that the basics are done, let’s break down each component individually.
When you start with your greens, don’t just use them to layer the bottom of your bowl. Ensure they’re washed well, and then tear them or slice them into bite-sized pieces, just as you would for all the other ingredients in your salad. If you’re prepping for a party, store them in ice water to ensure they stay crisp. Do not store them in plastic bags where they will turn wet and wilted. Make sure you dry them before you start assembly, or else the dressing will simply slide off the leaves.
While you can add roasted and grilled vegetables like onions, brinjal, and pumpkin to your salad, raw vegetables are great in a salad as well. Instead of regular tomatoes, use halved cherry tomatoes which tend to be sweeter and don’t have too much liquid weighing down the entire salad. You can use a vegetable peeler or a spiraliser for vegetables like radish, asparagus, beets and add them raw to your salad.
We don’t recommend adding just pickled vegetables to your salad; they definitely need to be added in moderation and in combination with other vegetables. Add onion slices or thinly sliced carrots pickled in vinegar to add a tangy note to your salad.
As we mentioned before, there are two types of dressings, a light vinaigrette and thick, creamy dressings. A classic vinaigrette has two ingredients: a fat and acid, usually olive oil and vinegar or lime juice. However, you can experiment with different fats and flavoured vinegars or juices from citrus fruits. A vinaigrette is ideal for salads with delicate ingredients, and if you’ve got a hearty salad, go with a thick dressing like ranch or buttermilk and mayo-based dressings.
A little crunch in your salad goes a long way. Add a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds to add both flavour and texture to your salad. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and even peanuts are great in salads; just remember to toast them lightly to bring out their flavour. As far as croutons are concerned, use any bread you have lying at home, cut them into bite-sized pieces and fry them. Just remember to add them right at the end and after the dressing has been added to prevent them from getting soggy.
If you have meat leftover from a roast or even a curry (you can always wipe it off and use it), simply chop it into small pieces or shred them, and add them to the salad. Poach an egg or if you’re fighting your time, just quickly fry one and add it to the salad as well.
Add roughly chopped herbs like parsley, mint, basil, coriander to your salads to add more flavour.
Grains like quinoa, couscous, and barley go very well in a salad. If you’re trying to create a full meal with one bowl of salad, don’t forget the grains. Remember to adjust the amount of dressing you add, because grains will soak up more.
Why stop at vegetables, fruit goes very well in a salad as well. Berries, dried and fresh, avocado, and even citrus segments work. Just remember to pick fruit with flavours that complement your other ingredients.
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Classic Chicken Salad
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2-3 spring onions, chopped
A handful of mixed salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale etc), torn into bite-sized pieces
7-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup yoghurt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 garlic gloves, ground to a paste
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
Place the chicken breasts on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil, add salt and pepper. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or till done. Once done, shred the breasts into bite-sized pieces.
Alternately, you can add the chicken breasts to a saucepan with 2-3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt, and poach till done.
Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing, add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the mixed salad greens, shredded chicken, walnuts, and cherry tomatoes. Pour over the dressing, and toss well to ensure every ingredient is coated well.
Garnish with green onions and serve immediately to prevent salad greens from getting soggy.