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Anatomy of a Salad: How to Build a Salad

Anatomy of a Salad: How to Build a Salad

Image on a white background of a green and red striped salad bowl. Each stripe has a salad element in it; starting from the bottom, those are Greens, Protein, Sweetness, Other, Crunchies, and Dressing. The Text "Anatomy of a Salad" and the Big Plate logo are also on the graphic.

If you think salad is boring or tasteless, you’re doing it wrong. We are going to share how to build a salad. A good salad should be crunchy, have a variety of textures, have well-balanced flavor, and be a delight to the senses. You can make your salad light, or you can make it hearty. Salad can be the perfect accompaniment to your meal, or it can BE the meal itself! There are no ends to the flavor combinations you can create. When it comes to salad, there’s something for everyone. So read on, and discover how to make salad a food you look forward to eating!

First, there are different elements to a salad–the anatomy, if you will. You can eliminate the elements that you don’t care for, or you can include several types of one or more elements. It’s all up to you.

Salad Element #1: Greens

Photo of six different types of greens on a wooden table.

We can certainly appreciate the classics like iceberg, romaine, and green leaf lettuce, but as we learn how to build a salad, let’s not get stuck there. Here is a list of options with their flavor descriptions:

  • Kale – bitter, strong, earthy
  • Arugula – bitter, spicy, peppery, slightly tart
  • Watercress – peppery, mild, fresh, nutty
  • Endive – bitter, earthy
  • Baby Spinach – soft, sweet, mild
  • Romaine – crispy, mild, slightly sweet
  • Green Leaf – tender, mild
  • Iceberg – crunchy, mild
  • Cabbage – crunchy, bitter
  • Basil – spicy, strong, bold
  • Radicchio – crunchy, bitter, spicy
  • Purslane – soft, crunchy, fresh, lemony
  • Butter (Boston, Bibb, Tom Thumb) – sweet, buttery
  • Red Leaf – soft, delicate, buttery, mild
  • Chard – tender, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, earthy
  • Dandelion – earthy, nutty, slightly bitter
  • Escarole – bitter, fresh, bright
  • Frisee – slightly bitter, peppery

Some of these stronger flavors are best served in combination with another green or greens. Also, we suggest you pair the more bitter greens with sweeter dressings for the perfect salad combination.

Salad Element #2: Protein

Photo of a salad in a white bowl that includes zoodles, kale, cooked chicken, edamame, and avocado. A fresh lime, cut avocado, and lemon wedge sit nearby on a wooden table.

While protein is certainly not a requirement for a salad, it sure adds nutrition (not to mention flavor). While some salads don’t seem to “stick to your ribs,” a salad with protein can energize you for several hours, stabilize your blood sugar, and reduce cravings. Some protein options that are great on salads are:

  • Egg (hard boiled, fried, or scrambled)
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Steak
  • Beans (kidney, black, great northern, green, pinto, etc.)
  • Nuts (pecans, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, etc.)
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, poppy, etc.)
  • Bacon
  • Quinoa
  • Shrimp
  • Anchovies
  • Tofu
  • Chickpeas
  • Tuna
  • Deli meat
  • Ground beef
  • Sausage
  • Tempeh
  • Lentils
  • Edamame
  • Teff
  • Kamut
  • Cottage cheese

You can also boost the protein in your salad by choose a protein-rich dressing. Choose whatever protein works best with your diet. The above list includes low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, good carb, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and kosher options.

Salad Element #3: Sweetness

Photo of a white bowl that contains salad green mix, red cabbage, raspberries, and blueberries.

Adding sweetness to a salad can create a delightful balance with the bitterness of many greens and other savory elements. A little sweetness can make a salad tastier and more satisfying. While you can always use a sugary dressing, there are many other creative and healthy ways to add sweetness to your salad:

  • Fresh fruit (apple, pear, oranges, mango, pineapple, peaches, persimmon, watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, tangerine, etc.)
  • Dried fruit (craisins, raisins, apricots, figs, prunes, bananas, apples, cherries, pears, blueberries, etc.)
  • Canned fruit (pineapple rings or tidbits, mandarin oranges, peaches, grapefruit, pear, cherries, etc.)
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Roasted squash
  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, etc.)
  • Corn
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Sweet peppers
  • Jicama
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Glazed nuts
  • Pomegranate arils

Another way to add sweetness to your salad without adding sugar is to put fresh fruit juice in the dressing (or use it straight). It’s easy to choose sweet elements that compliment your tastes and your diet.

Salad Element #4: Other

Photo of a blue floral bowl on a gray wooden table. The bowl is full of salad including greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, red onion, chives, and green olives.

We know this element is a little broad and random, but there are just SO MANY great salad ingredients that don’t fit neatly into another category. You (obviously) don’t have to use any of these, but we wouldn’t want to leave any of these foods off the idea list as we explore how to build a salad.

  • Avocados
  • Pickles
  • Radishes
  • Olives
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Rice
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Chives
  • Capers
  • Fresh herbs
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Bulgar wheat

Each of these brings a distinctive taste and nutritional element that just might be the EXACT food you need to complete your perfect salad.

Salad Element #5: Crunchies

Photo of a white bowl on a wooden table. Bowl contains a salad made of mixed salad greens and topped with crushed tortilla chips and two pieces of toasted bread.

Many greens themselves have a nice crunch to them, but we love a salad with LOTS of crunch! No matter what kind of diet you’re on, the following list will have crunchy items you could use:

  • Croutons
  • Potato chips
  • Tortilla chips
  • Veggie chips
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Fried capers
  • Crunchy noodles
  • Jicama
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, etc.)
  • Bell pepper
  • Celery
  • Fried wonton strips
  • Fried onions
  • Toasted nuts (pecan, walnut, almond, cashew, peanut, etc.)
  • Parmesan crisps
  • Toasted bread
  • Cereal
  • Broccoli
  • Water chestnuts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Crackers
  • Finishing salt
  • Cucumber

This list of crunchies is by no means exhaustive, especially considering all the crispy fresh veggies that you could include in a salad. We invite you to think outside the box when it comes to adding some crunch to your salad!

Salad Element #6: Dressing

Photo of green leaf lettuce on a gray table. Nearby are four bottles of salad dressing. One dressing is green, one is red, one is black, and one is cream.

Oh, the beauty and excitement of a good salad dressing! It’s the last essential ingredient when learning how to build a salad. Creamy, tangy, spicy, sweet, savory…anything is possible when it comes to dressing. There is literally no end to the options when it comes to dressing a salad, but here are a few ideas for inspiration:

Other yummy “dressings” for salad that don’t fit into the above categories are salsa, lemon juice, tabasco, infused oil, yogurt, tahini, flavored vinegar, and queso.

Hopefully you’re inspired to try something new with your salads. Let us know what you’d add to our list! And don’t forget the products you’ll need to make a great salad:

Now you’re equipped to make and serve the perfect salad!

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