If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be salad. Before you roll your eyes, rid your head of visions of flavorless iceberg lettuce drenched in goopy ranch or those little side salads of soggy greens and sad, shaved carrot slices. Salads are so much more than these half-hearted, 1950s-esque renditions. I am talking about sexy salads, like those ones you pay $18 at Sweetgreen for with only a little bit of regret; ones with all the crispies and crunchies; ones that you actually feel full after eating; ones that make you question whether what you are eating is really considered a salad.

Now, I am no salad purist, up and arms at the sight of anyone who tops a salad with anything more than a simple vinaigrette; but I would also say that I am not a salad radicalist, categorizing ambrosia and potato smorgasbords with the salads I am discussing here. I am, rather, a salad centrist, stipulating that anything considered a salad in this realm, for all intents and purposes, must contain some sort of leafy green base and a dressing of some oil vinegar situation.

I understand that a salad, while in some ways simple, may be an intimidating feat as while we are often taught how to make a good sandwich or pasta dish, we are rarely taught how to make a good salad. Thus, I am here to guide you through the building blocks, so you, too, can experience the delight of a truly delicious salad. 

Laila Adarkar


Firstly, you have your base. Just like any good relationship, a good salad must start with a strong foundation.

Here the possibilities are endless: we have our lighter, crisper friends, like romaine, little gems, and mesclun, or their darker, more bitter (but equally delicious) counterparts, like arugula or spinach, or the even tougher kale or radicchio that need a little love to become palatable. For the best outcome, try to get the freshest greens that you have access to; if they’re in season, even better.

Of course, we always have the option to add a grain, like quinoa, farro, rice, or bulgur, to give your salad a little more body. The combinations that you choose to put together are entirely up to you. Feel free to do multiple greens or grains, or leave out the grains all together — the beauty of salad lies in its endless flexibility. Though, be sure to let your grains cool before mixing them with your grains, as you do not want to wilt your beautiful greens.

Laila Adarkar

Here are some combinations that I like:

-Kale + Romaine

-Spring mix + Mesclun

-Arugula + Quinoa

-Little gems. That’s it.

-Farro + Radicchio


Now it’s time for the good stuff: toppings. In many ways, the world of toppings is a lawless land. After all, this is your salad, and what you say goes. Though, I do advise several tips to produce the most, to quote Bon Appétit test kitchen editor Chris Morocco, “compelling and dynamic salad.” You may notice that many of the suggestions below are a grasp for balance: hot and cold; sweet and salty; creamy and crunchy. What can I say — as a good student of Samin Nosrat, the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I can’t help but reach towards this sort of palette harmony in my cooking. Also, don’t feel overwhelmed by the many categories that follow. For one, there are many overlaps between the categories — for example fresh candied nuts, occupy the categories of sweetness, fat, texture, and heat. Second, not every salad needs to contain all of these components—I’ve had beautiful salads made of simply fresh greens and good dressing. These are mere suggestions and governing principles to help guide you, not restrict you.

1. Texture

Potato chips and popcorn. Takis and tater tots. Kit Kats and Krackle bars. What do these beloved snacks have in common? The crunch. Which is why you need some crunch action in your salad. Texture adds life and spirit to a simple green salad, whether in the form of nuts, crunchy apples, croutons, lentils, crispy tofu, or a finish of flaky Maldon salt.

2. Heat

This may be the most underrated element of a salad, in my opinion. Heat can come in many forms, from blistered tomatoes, roasted vegetables, toasted nuts, or, my personal favorite, a couple of jammy eggs. Even just one of these will do, for the heat will awaken your palette and provide a much needed contrast from the coolness of your other salad components.

Laila Adarkar

3. Sweetness

Sea salt and chocolate. Prosciutto and melon. Dates and goat cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Sweet and salty go together like, well, peanut butter and jelly, providing your salad with balance and symmetry. Think slices of peaches and persimmons, a sprinkle of candied nuts or pomegranate seeds, cubes of beets, roasted butternut squash, or even a finish of good balsamic vinegar.

4. Acid

Acid comes in many forms, from pickled onions to sliced olives to funky cheese to even just a squeeze of lemon to finish, working to awaken your palette and adds a lovely brightness to your salad.

Laila Adarkar

5. Fat/creaminess

Chunks of avocado, crumbles of feta, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, chunks of tinned fish: a good fat adds richness and creaminess to your salad to give it depth, while also adding another layer of texture.

6. Herbs

When I was younger, I used to say my favorite food was cilantro, and while my palette has since expanded, in many ways I stand by that statement. A small handful of whole or chopped herbs will do wonders for a salad. There are countless to choose from: basil, chives, dill, cilantro, mint, or the many other delightful herbs out there. Choose your herbs accordingly depending on the flavor palette of your salad. I must note Berkeley's fabulous Fava on Vine for introducing me to the beauties of an herb-acious salad.


Last, but certainly not least we must have a good dressing to marry all of your salad friends together. As always, think about the flavor palette of your salad and what dressing will pair well with that, and, most importantly, what you would like your salad to taste like. I have equal love for the sharpness of a shallot-y, garlick-y vinaigrette or the funkiness of a miso vinaigrette, or even just a squeeze of lemon and a glug of olive oil. Choose your fighter and do whatever feels best. 

If this salad guide is too vague or haphazard for your liking, here are some example ingredient pairings to help guide you in your quest:

- Baby kale + roasted butternut squash + dried cranberries + toasted pepitas + shallot vinaigrette

- Baby spinach + sliced apples + jammy eggs + toasted walnuts + balsamic vinaigrette

- Little gems + sliced pluots + toasted hazelnuts + mint + garlicky vinaigrette

- Kale + avo + cannellini beans + pine nuts + chives + lemon + olive oil

- Mixed greens + radicchio + persimmons + pomegranate seeds + roasted almonds + garlicky vinaigrette

- Arugula + sliced nectarines + avocado + corn + basil + drizzle of olive oil + balsamic

- Kale + sliced brussel sprouts + red onion + beets + candied walnuts + avo + lentils + lemon + olive oil

- Kale + romaine + tomatoes + quinoa + avo + cilantro + chipotle vinaigrette

*I must also give a shout out to the salad that nearly all of my nine roomates, myself included, make an embarrassingly frequent amount:

- Kale + radicchio + farro + walnuts + feta + lemon miso dressing

Laila Adarkar

As with any act of cooking, the art of salad making is a process of trial and error, which is another beauty of the simple salad and one of the reasons I love cooking. I am far too flighty and indecisive to be a good baker, for baking is a precise science, and a slight misstep could lead to utter catastrophe in the form of goopy cookies or unrisen banana bread. With cooking on the other hand, you are always free to keep innovating, tasting and adjusting constantly — a prime example, in my opinion, being our friend, the salad.