A salad is a quick and easy way to include lots of healthy fruit and vegetables into your diet.
But the poor salad has an image problem. Bland, boring, “rabbit food” – pick your salad insult.
And unfortunately, many salads deserve the abuse. And that’s a shame, as salads are amazingly versatile and make a healthy addition to almost any meal.
Making a delicious and healthy salad is quick and easy if you follow a few basic principles. Principles – not rules – because salads should be as individual as their makers.
Salads should be part of any healthy diet.
A well-made salad is
- packed with a huge range of essential nutrients, antioxidants and polyphenols
- high in – fibre essential for the health of your gut and microbiome
- filling and keep you full for longer
- low in calories (if you don’t add shop bought dressing)
Salads are versatile
A salad can be a delicious starter, a great side dish or the tasty main event of your meal.
You can partner a salad with almost anything, hot or cold. Fish, meat, eggs, cheese or pudding (fruit salad anyone?).
Or you can keep it vegetarian. Add healthy calories with ingredients like seeds, nuts, pulses or avocados, and a salad is a complete meal.
Salads are simple, quick and easy to prepare. No cooking required. But why not try adding a few cooked vegetables like green beans, peas or asparagus?
A last-minute salad can be thrown together with what’s you have in your fridge and cupboards. Just keep it fresh.
Easy to prepare the night before, a salad is your perfect, healthy working lunch.
11 principles of making a good salad
Occasionally, a salad needs only a handful of ingredients – the classic Italian rocket leaf side salad for example. But most of the time the more diverse the ingredients the better your salad. A wide variety is both more interesting to eat and contains a broader range of nutrients.
Shoot for a wide range of colours. If you’ve nailed the diversity, this will happen on its own. When it comes to fruit and vegetables the more colour variety the wider the range of nutrients. And your salad will be more appealing. We eat with our eyes first.
Nothing says freshness in a salad like crunch. You can’t rely on lettuce leaves for crunch. Add a little hard vegetable such as shredded cabbage or sliced carrot to boost the crunch appeal. But don’t overdo it. If you do your salad will be tedious to eat – call it “crunch fatigue”
To avoid the “crunch fatigue” include softer items like tomatoes and grated carrot. Tip, how you prepare your ingredients affects their crunch or softness. Hence carrots illustrating soft and crunchy ingredients.
A little sweetness in your salad is generally a good thing. Grating in a carrot (again!) is a great vegetable option. Adding fruits like tomato and apple work well, but for me, grapes and pears are too sweet. Experiment and discover what you like.
If you have any soft herbs like basil, rip up a few leaves and drop them in. It can really lift your salad.
Vinegar (acetic acid) and lemon or lime juice (citric acid) add sharpness to the salad. There’s a huge range of flavoured vinegars available. They’ll bring originality to your salad, but be careful to check the label for added sugar. My two staples are white wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar- again watch the sugar content.
Oils bring real flavour to your salad – my favourite is Greek olive oil. But oils serve another purpose They improve what food techs call mouthfeel. And it doesn’t take a lot of oil. Just a light coating lubricates the vegetables and improves the feel of chewing and swallowing. But go easy if your trying to lose weight, oil is packed with calories.
A light sprinkle of salt will bring out the flavour of your salad. Without it, it will seem bland.
Cayenne, chilli or ground black pepper will all add a little zing – add your favourite. I’m a big fan of Frank’s Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce. No weird ingredients or sugar, and delicious to boot.
I can’t stress this enough – don’t pour your dressings over your salad and leave it at that. Toss your salad and coat everything. It’ll improve the flavour and texture of the whole salad. And you’ll actually need less dressing. And, toss your salad at the last minute or the acid will cause the soft leaves wilt and the crunch to fade from the vegetables.
A word on vinaigrettes and dressings
The oil, vinegar, salt and pepper are the vinaigrette or dressing for your salad. Dressing a salad is essential. It gives the salad its individual character. Don’t under any circumstances use shop bought dressing. They’re made with emulsifiers, lots of sugar, too much salt, cheap vinegars and low-cost oils. You can make your own by combining the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bottle. As a rough guide mix the oil between 3 and five to one with the vinegar. It depends on the acidity of the vinegar and individual taste. Once in the bottle, out of the light, your dressing will keep indefinitely at room temperature. A good shake and your good to go. But if like me your too lazy to make up a bottle, add the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and you toss your salad. If you’re being lazy, be careful, it’s easy to overdo it.
Time to experiment
The eleven principles are super simple. Stick to them and you’ll never prepare a dull salad again. But don’t forget they’re principles, not rules. And like a politician, a salads principles are flexible. Experiment and salads will become a favourite part of your diet and a frequent feature on your table. And you’re health will benefit. The only limitation is your imagination.
Hi, I’m Ralph – a nutritionist with over 25 years’ experience as a professional chef. I’m based in Edinburgh where I provide one-to-one nutrition coaching. If you’re not in Edinburgh I can help you online.