You know when you take a bite of a perfect salad. There are layers on layers of contrasting favors and textures - pops of sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy - all coming together to form a cohesive bite. I recently ate a perfect salad when I was eating my final meal of spring break. We had treated ourselves to all the best foods of Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Nashville, and I craved some fresh vegetables. Although I loved eating burgers and fries and donuts all week, in this moment, I knew I would have cried if someone served me fried food.
As a human trying to be kind to my body, I ordered a salad and was thankfully NOT disappointed. It was perfect in every way - tangy, acidic dressing, nuggets of nuts and dried cranberries to mine for, savory grilled chicken, crunchy, fresh mixed greens, and more. Since that day, I have eaten a salad daily in search of the perfect copycat recipe. I haven't created an exact replica yet, but I'll post the recipe when I do! All of the salad recipe testing, however, has got me thinking about what makes a perfect salad. Here are the 5 key aspects that make a salad absolute perfection.
1. Fresh Greens
This is a no-brainer! For a classic, perfect salad, we need fresh, crisp salad greens of any kind. I am a huge fan of spinach, spring mixes, and anything dark, green and leafy. Dark greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins K, C, and A, folate, and iron. I know sometimes that doesn't really mean anything to us. It feels like, "yeah, obviously vitamins and minerals are good for us," but it's actually really cool to understand what's happening in our bodies. Vitamin K, for example, does so much cool sh**, like helps our blood clot and helps us bind calcium in our bones. So really, we can know that eating greens is "good for us," but we need to realize that every time we eat, we set off these badass cascades of reactions in our body. Giving our bodies vitamins and minerals keeps everything going the way it should without causing harm.
2. Tangy Dressing
Wow, I just got really amped up about vitamins and reactions. Time to rein it in. Okay, the second component of a perfect salad is the dressing. The dressing is the vehicle that binds together every other component of the salad in a beautiful, silky flavor blanket. This vinaigrette is my go-to salad dressing. I switch up the vinegars almost every time I make it, so I never get bored! A good salad dressing should have some acidic tang, a good quality fat (such as avocado or extra virgin olive oil), and punches of flavor, from things like seasoning, freshly minced garlic, and lemon juice.
3. Lean Protein
A salad without a lean protein can still be delicious, but it isn't perfect in my book without having the three macronutrients - carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Some tasty lean protein options include skinless chicken breast (for my meat eaters, obviously), chopped up veggie burgers, chickpeas, black beans, and edamame, to name a few. Hard-boiled eggs, salmon, or tuna are also great options. There are endless combinations of proteins, greens, and toppings that can all come together to make a perfect salad.
4. Sweet Stuff
You might be hesitant to add sweet components to your salad if you've never tried it, but it completes the dish! Ease in with fresh fruit, such as strawberries, pears, and apple slices. I also love adding small amounts of dried cranberries or raisins. The perfect salad balances the sweet and savory perfectly, so it's crucial that you don't miss this step!
5. Crunchy Nuggets
No, sadly, I don't mean chicken nuggets. I'm talking about crunchy little toppings, like crispy chickpeas, cucumber slices, chopped nuts, shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, etc. I could write a whole other post about crunchy salad toppings! Crunchy nuggets add in texture and interest to every bite. They are also reminiscent of mining for cookie dough bites in a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream - you have to dig, balance on your fork/spoon, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor! Okay, you might not see it like that, but I do and it makes me happy.
Do you have any other crucial components of a perfect salad? Let me know in the comments! Don't forget to follow me on Instagram @workinggirlnutrition to keep up with all of my latest food creations and salad-related quests!