8 Ways to Spice Up Your Boring Salad
Try these simple steps for taking your salad bowl to the next level.
Salad can be many things—cold or hot, layered or chopped, delicate or robust—but one thing salad should absolutely never be is boring. Thankfully, turning a lackluster bowl of lettuce into one that's brimming with texture and flavor is a whole lot easier than you think. Whether you mix up your add-ins—or even your greens—prep them differently or toss in a few unexpected ingredients, salad can quickly go from obligatory side dish to supper superstar. Read on for eight ways to put a new spin on salad.
Play with Your Greens
Recipe pictured above: Watercress Salad with Sesame-Garlic Dressing
We all have our favorite leafy greens, but why limit the list to iceberg and romaine when there are so many options? If you prefer lettuce that's more subtle and delicate, try tender Bibb, which makes a dynamite pairing with creamier dressings. Looking for more assertive flavor and a bit of crunch? Mix in escarole or its sharper sister, radicchio (or use them together, like in this salad). For a heartier salad, consider kale, which is packed with vitamins and nutrients and won't wilt as fast as other greens. (Try one of our dozens of kale salad recipes.)
Add Fresh Herbs
Recipe pictured above: Watermelon, Orange & Cucumber Salad with Castelvetrano Olive Vinaigrette
Lettuce isn't the only leaf that belongs in a salad bowl. Just about any salad can be improved by fresh herbs, whether that means torn basil, snipped chives or whole mint leaves. Try adding a single herb like dill to a simple beet and feta salad or take a more herb-forward approach by adding generous handfuls of multiple herbs, an especially good option if you have your own herb garden.
Switch Up Your Protein
Recipe pictured above: Peppered Shrimp & Green Bean Salad
Chicken is an easy and versatile protein source to use in salads, but so are steak, shrimp and fish, all of which add an extra layer of flavor and texture, while also making for a more filling and substantial dish. Beans and legumes are great plant-based protein sources, and if you use canned beans or refrigerated steamed lentils, there's almost no prep required.
DIY Your Dressing
Recipe pictured above: Greens & Roots Salad with Citrus-Walnut Vinaigrette
Making your own salad dressing allows you to tailor it to suit your taste buds, while also avoiding the kind of mystery ingredients found in processed versions. Vinaigrette, a mix of an oil and an acid, comes together in seconds and can be varied almost endlessly with different oils, vinegars and citrus juice, along with shallots, mustard, fresh or dried herbs, honey, pesto, yogurt and tahini. You can also make your own lighter versions of favorites like blue cheese or buttermilk ranch or experiment with warm dressings to put yet another spin on the salad experience.
Grab the Veggie Peeler
Recipe pictured above: Shaved Artichoke Salad with Shrimp
You likely use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from carrots and cucumbers, but if you keep going those veggies turn into ribbons that create a more delicate and visually interesting salad. The peeler is also great for taking ingredients you might normally cook, such as zucchini or asparagus, and making them thin enough to enjoy raw.
Fire Up the Grill
Recipe pictured above: Grilled Eggplant Salad
If you like the fire-kissed flavor of the grill but still want something light for dinner, consider cooking your favorite ingredients over coals. Zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, corn and onions are obvious options, but you can even grill lettuce, which makes it warm, lightly wilted and just a little bit smoky.
Go for the Grain
Recipe pictured above: Whole-Grain Salad with Charred Broccoli, Spring Onions & Parsley-Sumac Vinaigrette
Adding your favorite grain, be it quinoa, farro or even pasta, does more than turn salad into a more substantial dish—it also adds texture and flavor, which is a battle won in the fight against boring salads. Add a generous amount if you want grains to be a main player or just a sprinkle to make your salad a touch more interesting—it's a great use of leftovers! And don't be afraid to try less obvious grains, such as freekeh, wheat berries and wild rice.
Keep It Crunchy
Recipe pictured above: Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas
In a bowl of soft and tender ingredients, a little crunch goes a long way. A handful of nuts or seeds—raw or toasted—are effortless and add an extra hit of nutrition. Try adding chunks of grilled bread to make a Panzanella-style salad or go for crispy breadcrumbs if you want a lighter level of crunch. Toasted pita or crushed tortilla chips are other easy options, while grated Parmesan can be toasted into cheese crisps called frico that are perfect for Caesars but will elevate any number of salads.