Salads don’t deserve to be a sad-desk-lunch cliché. Their definition is so expansive, they should be one of the most interesting lunches a person could pack themselves. And yet too many of us, starved for time and inspiration as we prepare our lunches, fall back on the same combos we’ve eaten for a decade: spinach and blue cheese, beets and walnuts, avocado chunks and bacon bits.
They’re tasty, sure, but boring after so many repetitions. Summer will be here soon, and with it prime salad season. Use our experts’ advice to breathe some life into your salad routine, then go ahead, laugh alone with your newly delicious creation.
Two words: fried capers
Our favorite tip for making a salad more interesting: top your savory salads with fried capers. It adds a salty, crispy crunch and that delicious umami flavor we crave. Perfect addition on Caesar, Greek, and Green Goddess salads! —Tracy, Dana, Lori and Corky Pollan, authors of Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family
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Keep some ingredients whole
A fun thing we like to do is keep some ingredients whole. For example, spinach, green beans, asparagus, olives, piquillo peppers, bonito tuna, filets and even a whole poached egg if you any extra protein. Salads deserve to be chunky every once in a while!—Alisha Elenz, executive chef, mfk, Chicago
Death to bottled dressing
While I have plenty of thoughts on salad—some would say too many—my number-one rule is to not use bottled dressing. I think if you want to eat seasonally and locally and have beautiful vegetables coming in from a farm not so far away at the peak of their freshness then why would you want to put some pre-bottled sauce on top to weigh them down? My golden rule is a really good olive oil and sherry vinegar: 4 to 1 ratio, plus salt and pepper. I also love some kind of onion element as part of the dressing. That can either be finely chopped scallions, minced shallots or just a very fine dice of onion. They will co-mingle with vinegar and salt and bring out even more flavor of all the vegetables.—Richard Landau, chef, Vedge, Philadelphia
Skip the boxed “baby greens”
My standard for making an interesting salad is including a variety of greens. I really love including any of the chicories in a salad—radicchio, treviso, frisée— as well as the ones in the brasica family like mizuna and mustards. I also love a lot of the edible weeds like purslane, lamb’s quarters, oxalis, etc. —Abra Berens, chef of Granor Farms in Three Oaks, Michigan, author of Ruffage
My go-to is to add a ton of fresh herbs to a basic vinaigrette. The herbs add a bright aromatic flavor that really highlights whatever salad green I am using. My favorite base is a blend of dandelion, frisée and mustard greens. —Jeff Williams, executive chef and managing partner, The Press Room, Chicago
Layer crunchy, creamy, chewy and crisp ingredients. I love this particular salad combination using that texture-focused principle: roasted or grilled sweet potato hunks, radicchio leaves, toasted walnuts, crumbled feta, cooked farro, chopped fresh mint, and pitted fresh cherries, all dressed up with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette.
Trader Joe’s sells this $3 bottle of umami-boosting seasoning blend, which is mostly mushroom powder alongside salt, onion powder, and other dried herbs. One of my favorite applications is taking old bread, cubing it, toss it in a bowl with olive oil and mushroom powder, and toast it in a toaster oven until golden and crunchy. I could eat these umami croutons as a snack. —Kevin Pang, The Takeout editor-in-chief
Got salad tips? Share your ideas and tricks with us in the comment section.