Kiss boring salads goodbye.

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Credit: Victor Protasio

Salads have come a long way from limp leaves topped with three sad tomatoes. Thanks to salad chains with cult followings, we’re discovering a whole new world of vibrant greens bowls with seasonal produce, whole grains, and toppings galore. 

The key to a show-stopping salad lies in balancing contrasts. Magic happens when mixing raw with roasted, toasted, puréed, and candied elements. Don’t know where to start? These non-green salad ingredients are simple and humble, but have the power to transform any salad from a light bite to a filling meal.

Soft-Boiled & Runny Eggs

Credit: Greg DuPree

Low in carbs and calories, eggs are a quick-cooking, inexpensive source of protein. Poached, sunny-side, or soft-boiled—whenever there’s a runny yolk, you automatically have a built-in sauce. Try a runny egg on a bed of kale with lemon vinaigrette and creamy avocado. 

Crispy Bacon

Wedge salads easily win the hearts of bacon lovers—and we completely understand why. Whether it’s chopped, crumbled, or candied, a sprinkle of salty, crunchy bacon has the ability to elevate every dish. Try tossing bacon in with grilled corn salad, creamy broccoli salad or spinach salad with apples, goat cheese, and pecans. 

Leftover Meats

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If you’re lucky enough to have leftover turkey, ham, rotisserie chicken, or flank steak in your refrigerator, slice it up for your next salad. Cold slivers of meat can be re-purposed without reheating—just let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes. Steak shines beautifully when paired with peppery or bitter leaves like radicchio and arugula.

Seafood 

Omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, naturally occur in salmon, anchovies, and light canned tuna. The American Heart Association suggests eating seafood low in unsaturated fats at least twice a week to reap its heart-protective and brain-boosting benefits. Good news: For the sake of last-minute meals, the pantry has your back. Canned catches save you time and money with our tuna salad, anti-inflammatory salmon salad and grilled shrimp caesar salad.

Legumes

There’s a reason three-bean salads are a classic—they’re cheap and easy to throw together. But you can go wild experimenting with these pantry staples. Try a spinach salad with lentils, a Mexican-inspired taco salad with black beans, or a lemony arugula salad with cannellini beans.

Chickpeas

Credit: Jennifer Causey

Chickpeas are technically included in the legume family, but they’re so terrific in salads that they deserve their own category. These heart-shaped jewels will make you swoon whether  blended into hummus, mashed into falafel, or baked like croutons. Roasted chickpeas are addictive and so simple to prep ahead of time. Just empty canned, drained chickpeas on a baking tray and toss with olive oil and seasonings of your choice. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes, or until almost burnt for maximum crunch. Store in an airtight container for a week. 

Tofu & Edamame

As plant-based diets become more mainstream, tofu and edamame—both products of soy—are picking up steam. The soy duo contain calcium, iron, and all nine essential amino acids. Tofu is generally bland, but it absorbs the flavors of whatever sauce, marinade, or spices you cook it with. Just remember to press out the excess liquid before cooking. Our air-fried tofu is ideal for Asian-inspired salads.

Dried Fruit 

Stripped of their water content, dried fruits boast a higher concentration of nutrients and are much higher in sugar than fresh fruit. To avoid exceeding your daily sugar allowance, look for dried fruits that only list the fruit as an ingredient. Also, use it in moderation. It’s best to rehydrate shriveled figs, raisins, apricots, cherries, and cranberries before adding them to your salads. Steep or gently simmer in water to plump them up again.

Corn

Leftover corn on the cob is a gift from above and you better not let it go to waste. If you already love and know elote (the Mexican street corn covered in cotija, lime, and cream), then esquites—the salad form—will make you swoon. If you can’t find fresh corn, we completely approve of canned and frozen kernels. 

Roasted Vegetables

Credit: Victor Protasio

At the dead of winter, warm and hearty oven-roasted vegetables—like parsnips, beets, and butternut squash—brighten up any bowl of greens. But when it’s sunny in the summer, it’s time to hit the grill. Throw mushrooms, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, red bell peppers, and summer squash on the fire and wait until each side is sweet and blistered. Use skewers for softer, more delicate vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato, and cherry tomatoes.

Mushrooms

Buttons, portobellos, ​​shiitakes, chanterelles—different types of mushrooms taste drastically different from one another, but all are rich in umami flavor and meaty texture. Rescue your ‘shrooms from the sidelines of your plate and put them center stage in our raw mushroom carpaccio. Since mushrooms act as tiny sponges, avoid rinsing them in water. Just wipe them gently with a damp cloth or paper towel. 

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Seduced by sun-dried tomatoes? There’s a reason they’re commonly referred to as flavor firecrackers. Intensely tart yet slightly sweet, the best sun-dried tomatoes are packed in extra virgin olive oil, which makes for a killer salad dressing. Test them out in our briney, umami-packed pasta salad.

Radishes

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

There are many varieties, shapes, colors, and sizes of crisp, peppery radishes. The jewel-toned vegetables are often served raw, shaved into salads. (We absolutely love them pickled, though.) Other times, they’re roasted in the oven at high heat until caramelized. 

Whole Grains

This may not be your first thought when building a salad, but whole ancient grains are superfoods packed with tons of fiber and protein to help you feel full longer. The chewiness of cooked quinoa, barley, sorghum and freekeh are unparalleled in a bowl of greens—but fried farro and pickled rye berries change the game entirely. 

Nuts

Walnuts, pecans, almonds, and more are amazing raw, but toasting them amps up the flavor and brings out their natural oils. We love sweet pine nuts paired with peppery arugula. Raw and roasted peanuts and cashews are perfect for Asian-style salads with orange segments and crispy rice noodles.  

Sourdough Croutons 

Homemade croutons taste way better than store-bought. Plus, they can be made with less unwanted calories and fat. We prefer sourdough for its presence of healthy bacteria, which allows for better nutrient absorption, improved gut health, and lowered blood sugar levels

Toasted Coconut

If you love the mild, nutty flavor of unsweetened, shredded coconut in trail mix, toss it into your salad. One quarter cup carries six grams of saturated fat, though, so moderation is key. Feeling slightly more adventurous? Vegan coconut "bacon"  is reportedly just as smoky, sweet, and crunchy as the real thing. Give it a try, and if you can’t find liquid smoke, smoked salt or chipotle powder will do. 

Seeds 

Because they’re smaller, seeds such as hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame are easier for our bodies to digest than nuts. In addition to adding crunch, seeds are rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Just two tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds boasts over six grams of protein. 

Cheese

All of the world’s most beloved salads call for cheese: Greek salads are nothing without feta, Caesar salads are bland without Parmesan, and Cobb salads would never exist without blue cheese crumbles. Tip: If you opt for a soft cheese like feta, burrata, or mozzarella, always buy in brine for smooth, creamy goodness. If you prefer hard cheeses like cheddar, manchego, parmesan, or gouda, grate your own to avoid the preservatives in prepackaged bags. 

Cooked Onions

Credit: Elizabeth Laseter

Caramelized onions are the secret to making every meal taste better. But the little wisps that typically top green bean casseroles are extremely special, too. The air-fryer saves the day once again by removing almost all the saturated fat and extra calories from store-bought versions. Thinly slice the onions and soak them in buttermilk for 10 minutes. Dredge in seasoned flour, spray lightly with oil, and cook on 265°F for 30 minutes, shaking the basket a few times in between. 

Olives

Depending on the variety, olives range from strong to mild, buttery to nutty, and spicy to bitter. To lower your sodium intake,  sprinkle olives over your salads (in moderation) in place of added salt. Kalamatas are no stranger to Greek salads, but all olives shine beautifully alongside sweet citrus and pistachio.