If I asked you to picture a salad in your head, I could probably guess what it would look like. A large plate of iceberg lettuce with 3 carrot shreds, and if you're feeling ~fancy~ maybe a few whole cherry tomatoes. A sad collection of blandness!

This is not how things have to be; salads can, and should, be freaking awesome and flavorful. Salads are sometimes stigmatized, by they don’t actually suck if you know how to make them well. 

So buckle up kiddos, I am about to revolutionize the way you think about salads with a few simple tips and rules. Sweetgreen who? 

Three General Rules To Follow

1. Excellent Quality of Ingredients

A salad is basically just an amazing compilation of veg and produce. The best way to ensure that your salad is flavorful is to secure fresh produce. Eating seasonally and locally is an easy way to get quality ingredients, as most products in a farmer’s market are picked within 24 hours of being sold.

Eating seasonal is also cheaper, and eating local is better for the environment. Look at you, eating healthy, being sustainable, and saving money, you superstar! Here is a very helpful website that tells you what produce is in season right now in your area.

cabbage, broccoli, carrot, vegetable, swiss chard, kale, local produce, fresh vegetables, farmer's market
Sam Jesner

2. Variety

Having a variety of ingredients, textures, shapes, and sizes is key to making a kick-ass salad. Diversifying these components will help you develop a more complex flavor and texture profile on a seemingly bland dish. 

3. Chopping

Chop everything very finely, especially your lettuce or greens. The smaller each piece is, the more different items are able to fit onto one forkful. Again, more components = more flavor = happy salad. Think about getting a small bite of arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, paprika-roasted chickpeas, hemp seeds, sweet potatoes, and roasted walnuts, all glistening with balsamic reduction, in one bite!

Also, learning to chop things into different shapes and styles will really elevate your green game. Think outside of the box: use a potato peeler to make vegetable ribbons, julienne some carrots, mince some celery, etc. This is a good time to learn different knife cuts and/or sharpen up your knife skills.

Greatness starts with the basics! Investing in a sharp chef’s knife will make chopping and prepping a whole lot easier. Don’t get pulled into buying fancy types of knives, a good chef’s knife is all you really need. 

Finally Making Your Salad 

Go for a variety of greens. Mixing types of lettuce not only makes your salad less boring but diversifies the nutrient content. Adding some chopped cabbage can go a long way in terms of texture and substance. Do not use iceberg lettuce unless you want your salad to taste like water; the only acceptable time for iceberg lettuce is in a wedge. 

Also, feel free to explore beyond leafy greens. Some great bases are grains, other vegetables, or even legumes and beans. Ideas include Israeli Eggplant Salad, Grilled Corn and Zucchini Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette, or Asian Tofu Broccoli Salad.

Season your greens. Season your greens with salt and pepper before adding dressing or any toppings. Just like when you are cooking, you should be seasoning your food at every level to develop a more complex flavor profile. 

Also feel free to add in fresh chopped herbs and citrus zest. Including a little of these bad boys goes a long way in brightening up your greens. 

Dressing. Lightly dress your salad - most salads don’t need more than a tablespoon or two of dressing if tossed well enough. Remember that since we already seasoned our greens, we do not need to go overboard on the dressing.

Add dressing little by little, tasting as you go, to make sure that you don’t overdress your salad. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty - tossing your salad with your hands will ensure an even coating of dressing. 

Make your own dressing. It can be so tempting to just buy a bottle of pre-made dressing at the grocery store, but I promise that homemade dressing is worth the extra effort.

Packaged salad dressings tend to be very high in sugar and salt, and have long ingredient lists packed with unnecessary emulsifiers and chemicals. With a homemade dressing, you can control what you put in it! Dressings should have a good balance of fat, acidity, and flavor, depending on the type of lettuce. Think of pairing your lettuce and dressing like fine wine and cheese: bold flavors compliment bold flavors, and light flavors compliment light flavors. 

Here's a quick guideline of dressings that compliment certain greens: 

1. Arugula- Arugula is a slightly bitter and peppery green, which needs to be balanced with a little sweetness. Add sweeteners like maple syrup or honey to your dressing, or use something that is already sweet, like a balsamic reduction. 

Brianna Sa

2. Kale- First, make sure you massage your kale thoroughly, or else it will taste like you're eating dried grass. Kale should be dressed with an acidic or creamy dressing, and dressed lightly! Think of things like Caesar dressing, a citronette, chilli-lime dressing, or miso dressing

#spoontip: letting your kale marinate in the dressing will make your leaves very tender

3. Spring/Summer mixes and tender lettuces (Boston bibb, butter lettuce, etc)- Simple pairs with simple. These work best with simple vinaigrettes and citronettes—think olive oil, acidity (citrus juice or vinegar), and salt and pepper. 

4. Spinach- Spinach wilts very easily so dress your salad at the last minute and be wary of drowning your leaves. Spinach works best with a simple dressing, like honey vinaigrette, bacon dressing, or dijon vinaigrette

salad, spinach, salmon
Hannah Hazy

5. Romaine- Romaine is very versatile and can really work with any type of dressing. Go crazy. 

6. Watercress- Watercress can be extremely bitter, so it is best to embrace fat, creaminess, and sweetness when dressing your salad. Any dressing with a base of buttermilk will work well. 

7. Iceberg- As I said before, I do not recommend using a base of Iceberg lettuce in your salad. But if you are going to do it, make sure to use a creamy dressing to really bump up the flavor that the lettuce lacks.

8. Grains- Grains are super versatile as well, and, in my opinion, can handle really anything you throw at them. Just make sure to incorporate the dressing when the grains are still warm for better absorption.

Texture and Toppings: Try to have at least one from each category for real #saladgoals.

Crunchy Things: Give your salad some texture! This will help make your salad feel more interesting and satisfying than just leaves in a bowl. Things like nuts, seeds, croutons (homemade are the best!), parmesan crisps, roasted chickpeas or lentils, etc.

Grains: Grains help bulk up your salad and keep you full. Things like quinoa, bulgur, couscous, barley, farro, and wheat berries are fun and filling additions to your salad.

Protein: Protein helps round out the salad and keep you satiated. Beans, lentils, roasted tofu (Trader Joe’s soy chorizo is amazing on a taco salad), poached eggs, falafel,  grilled chicken, salmon, etc. are all satisfying and give your salad that extra dimension. 

#spoontip: Make sure your protein is seasoned. Nobody wants a bland piece of tofu or chicken on their salad.

Becky Hughes

Optional Items: Adding in some extra toppings can really bring the flavor profile of your salad over the top and can help make your salad more satisfying. Feel free to add in some extra fat (ie. avocado, cheese), some fresh fruit (ie. pomegranate seeds, tart green apples), or roasted vegetables (ie. broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash). 

Putting It All Together

I know this whole article of information can be overwhelming as there are many moving parts. But just remember that leftovers serve as the best salad toppings. Had tacos for dinner on Monday? Later in the week use your leftover ingredients to make a taco salad. Leftover falafel combo from Saturday night's halal cart run can turn into an amazing falafel salad.

It also helps to be prepared ahead of time. I am not a fan of "meal prepping" in the typical fashion (cooking all of your meals for the week in advance). When you think about it, meal prepping is just you eating leftovers for the entire week, which is sad.

vegetable, pepper, zucchini, meat
Christin Urso

But I do think it is super helpful to have an idea of the types of meals you want to make for the week before going grocery shopping in order to ensure that you have all the right ingredients. And then, when you get home from the store, do some prepping. For example, wash and dry all of your produce, chop up your vegetables, or make a large batch of grains. So when it comes time to make a salad with many components it doesn't take forever because you got some of the grunt work out of the way. 

If you are having trouble thinking of good combinations, you can always look on Pinterest for inspiration or check out a few of these recipes below. 

*The 15 Best Green Salad Recipes You Won't Get Bored With

*31 Salads To Celebrate National Salad Month This May

*27 Salads Recipes For When You Really Need To Detox