My favorite restaurant as a kid was a place called Ponderosa because it had a salad bar. The best thing about a salad bar is all the options you have personalize your salad to your liking—so start thinking of your fridge as your own personal salad bar! A salad is the perfect vehicle for using up a wide array of ingredients you have on hand, and can be served as a side dish or a main, or even as an edible bed to round out other food items, like falafels or fish cakes.
During my culinary training I learned the greatest salad secret: there are five categories of salads. Here they are:
The Green Salad: Fresh, clean, and crisp simple salad greens tossed with a light dressing. These are typically served as a side or used as a base for other foods such as grilled meat.
The Farinaceous Salad: Chopped raw or blanched vegetables tossed or topped with a cooked starch, such as cooked grains, legumes, or pasta. Protein or cheese is a welcome addition here, as seen here in my Root Veggie Stem and Israeli Couscous Salad. These are also known as grain or salad bowls.
The Bound Salad: All the ingredients—cooked starches, proteins, and vegetables—bound together with a thick emulsified or a mayonnaise-based dressing. Typically, the bound salad is perfect for a sandwich filling, or a topping on other salads, like the Green. A Curried Chicken and Grape Salad is another great example.
The Composed Salad: A combination of ingredients layered together on a plate or platter rather than tossed. They can be served warm or cold, or a combination of both, and can use a variety of cooked ingredients layered overtop crisper cool raw elements. This is a great salad to use up leftover cooked proteins or grilled, cooked vegetables.
The Fruit Salad: An all-fruit salad or a salad that uses fruit as an accompanying ingredient. You can add quite a selection of fresh or dried fruit into any salad. I love making a fruit salad with fresh mint once a week and keeping it in the fridge to have as a quick dessert or with yogurt and granola for breakfast. Any excuse for my kids to eat more fruit!
In reality, there can be a lot of crossover between these categories, which is where salads get really interesting and inventive. Mix and match to your hearts content, depending on what you have on hand. Note: you will see some crossover with the ingredients below, since something like cooked grains can be used as a base for your salad or just as an additional add-on, if you only have a little bit still kicking around. Now, let’s dive into how to build the perfect salad.
First Stop: Build Your Base
Chopped raw vegetables
Cooked grains, pasta, beans and/or legumes
Greens: lettuce or bitter
Second Stop: Eat Your Vegetables
Chopped vegetables: raw, blanched, steamed, and/or grilled, or frozen and thawed (peas, corn, etc.)
Greens: lettuce or bitter
Raw sprouts or microgreens
Third Stop: Add the Protein Boost
Canned fish, such as tuna
Cooked protein (any meat, seafood, tofu etc.)
Cured sliced deli meats, such as ham
The Detour: Fruity Twist
Apple and/or pear slices
Dried fruit and/or berries
Papaya, mango, pineapple, and/or peach slices
The Scenic Route: Add More!
Avocado or guacamole
Capers or caper berries
Chopped (candied) nuts and/or seeds
Crispy fried onions
Croutons or crackers
Grated, chopped, or crumbled cheese
Hummus or other dips
Pickled hot peppers
Final Destination: Dress It Up
Combination of oil, vinegar, and herbs
Lemon Dill Buttermilk Dressing