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How to Build the Perfect Salad

avocado spinach salad with feta cheese, pecans and bacon

Making a salad at your favorite salad bar shouldn’t be a difficult task, but building the perfect one is really an art form. It’s especially important to master this skill when your company’s cafeteria is out of other healthy options that meet your dietary needs. At Zipongo, we believe in personalization and appreciate the beauty of a salad bar where you can build the best and most delicious meal for yourself.

So, what’s the secret to building the perfect salad? Here’s a foolproof formula:

Leafy Greens + Vegetables + Crispy Foods + Dressing + Something Extra = Perfect Salad

Leafy Greens

Opt for 1-2 cups

To build the perfect salad, you’ll need a great foundation. In this case, that foundation should consist of leafy greens. Whenever someone tells me “salads are boring,” I immediately challenge them to mix up their base. The most commonly used greens are tender ones like spinach, Bibb or Little Gem. They are easy to use and make for a nice, gentle salad. If you want something that pushes the taste portfolio a bit further, try winter greens like chicory, arugula or dandelion greens. They tend to be more bitter and spicier, which brings an extra level of complexity to your salad. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, opt for sturdier greens like kale or collard greens. These are best served massaged and/or chopped.

Vegetables

Opt for at least 3 varieties

Now that you have a solid base, you can start building your all-star salad with other vegetables. There are countless possibilities when it comes to raw veggies, and these will help mix up the texture. For a crunchier spin, add bell peppers, kohlrabi or broccoli. You can chop these into bite-size pieces and you’ll be good to go.

You can also add cooked vegetables to your salad to mix up the flavor. Grilled or roasted vegetables result in a smokiness that creates a unique flavor for your salad. Some of our favorite ingredients to grill or roast include mushrooms, squash, eggplants or beets.

Finally, don’t forget the pickles. Pickled vegetables can take your salad to the next level by adding a sharp, fermented note. Pickled onions, pickled jalapeños and pickled carrots are the usual suspects that pair well with most salads. Make sure you only add a little bit, as their flavor might overwhelm the rest of the dish if you’re not careful.

Crispy & Crunchy Foods

Opt for 1 tablespoon

At Zipongo, we like to create nutrient-dense meals. In order to achieve this in a salad, we recommend adding something crunchy, like nuts or seeds. Walnuts, chia seeds or ground flax seeds are great because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you’re looking for different flavor enhancers, try adding roasted pumpkin seeds, pistachios or sesame seeds. In addition to being high in healthy fats, these crunchy options are also great sources of fiber, meaning they’ll help you feel full long after you’ve finished your salad.

Dressing

Opt for 1 tablespoon

Without dressing, you’re just eating a bowl of vegetables; dressing ties all of the ingredients in your salad together. Vinaigrette is made with oil and a source of acid that brightens up the whole salad. Olive oil is always a good choice for dressings, and we recommend pairing it with different types of acids, like vinegar and citrus juices.

Something Extra

One of the great benefits of building your own salad is that you can make last-minute decisions about what to add based on your diet and taste buds at that moment. If you choose to add protein to your salad, we recommend going with a 3-ounce portion of lean protein like poultry, seafood or tofu. Interested in bulking up your salad? Whole grains can help with this. Quinoa, bulgur, farro or wheat berries all make for great additions.

Now you know the formula for building the perfect salad. Don’t be afraid to rock it next time you’re at the salad bar!

What’s your list of go-to salad ingredients? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published on October 27, 2015. It was last updated on May 24, 2017. 

Show Comments
  • JMK

    Carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, red, green or yellow pepper.
    Spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber, red onion, mushrooms.
    Hard boiled eggs, tuna, salmon, chicken.
    Dried cherries or blueberries
    Walnuts or almonds
    Homemade Honey mustard dressing or make a vinaigrette or balsamic

  • Rob Paczkowski

    Great guidance on making a great salad. Helps to mix things up.

  • Samantha Teece, MPH RDN

    Love it! 🙂 Nice to see this

  • Justine Stahl

    looks good

  • Ketan

    Delicious

  • Cobibest

    great tips!

  • jrc

    good

  • Joanne

    perfect

  • dan

    wow

  • nhi

    I will try this recipy this weekend

  • nokiruza

    sounds good!

  • Sara

    Great ideas!

  • Bob

    mmm good

  • Trish

    My perfect salad…spinach, kale, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, 2 pieces roast beef..1tbl light ranch dressing

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