If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen on Stories the other day Dr. Megan of Mind the Mat and I talking while we ate lunch, a delicious summer salad, about what made the salad so perfect. A perfect summer salad is one that’s both delicious and nutritionally dense. Every element should deliver not just flavor but pack a ton of nutrients, so that means selecting ingredients that maximize healthy benefits, and it’s a lot easier to pull together than you think. Here are the 10 elements I recommend for a salad you’ll be excited to eat.
Seasonal produce often is the difference between an okay salad and a really great one. When selecting, don’t focus on what “type” of salad you will make. Instead pick up what looks best (or better, buy what is within driving distance) and go from there. Having three simple and very high quality ingredients will provide a much better eating experience than a half-dozen mediocre items. You can add them raw, roast them (see my previous post), pickle them, whatever!
I am not a fan of Romaine (unless you grill it), Mesclun Mix, or Iceberg. They are boring and bitter. If you love the “crunch,” you can find it in much more interesting and nutritional sources (think radish, snap peas, carrots). I am a fan of buying two or even three different types of greens and mixing them. This will help give you more complex flavor and texture. Other greens to consider: baby kale (yes, baby — it’s more tender!), watercress, mache, mizuna, baby Swiss chard, sunflower shoots, Bibb, baby beet leaves, dandelion…I could go on and on. If you are not sure, taste them! You can find these greens at Whole Foods, Moms, or the farmers market. The secret is to mix and match. If they are dirty, simply dunk in cold water (cold; you can add ice) and then wrap in paper towels. Further, if you are using very delicious greens with lemon juice, you don’t need to dredge them in dressing.
Toss ‘em in! Pick basil, cilantro, mint, tarragon. They add little bursts of flavor and nuance. This is also the best way to use up extra herbs.
Fat equals flavor and will help make your salad taste even better and will keep you full longer, so be sure to include you favorite fat. Avocado, cheese, hummus, mayo, olives, dressing, nuts, beans (I like white beans, tossed in lemon juice and zest). If you are worried about calories, pick two of your favorites and use a tablespoon of each one.
A little heat helps your palate from fatiguing while you eat. Read: it helps keep your salad from being boring ol’ veggies. Jalapeños, chilis, red pepper flake, hot sauce, and black pepper (enough so you can taste it) are all great options.
You need a little sweet. During the summer, I wouldn’t recommend dried fruit simply because during this time of year this is a bounty of fresh, bright, and delicious fruit. Again, if you are really paying attention to calories, you can go light, but I like to add apricots, any kind of berry, peaches, nectarines, cherries (personal favorite), or green apples.
A little crunch helps add texture and excitement to your salad. Nuts, crisped quinoa, toasted sesame seeds are BOMB, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, chia seed, all of these are great substitutes for croutons, which often don’t have nutritional density. You can even toss your nuts in purchased ranch seasoning packets for extra flavor.
Think tuna, cold leftover chicken, hot ground lamb, any egg the way you like it, cheese. Leftover hamburgers (seriously, chop it up and toss it in). ANYTHING. You can add any protein; don’t limit yourself to chicken.
Vinaigrettes. I’m not saying a lot about them here because you don’t really need them. If you follow this outline, a few squeezes of lemon, lime, or even orange juice will give you the moisture you seek. If you are using dressing, this simple trick of tossing your salad in a bowl allows dressing to evenly distribute and coat all the ingredients. Pouring it over your salad leaves you with pools of dressing that can overwhelm every few bites. Start adding a little at a time; you can always add more, but a salad can go from great to overdressed quickly, so take heed and taste as you go! Add dressing, taste, add a little more, taste.
Yes, that is in all caps for a reason. Seasoning your greens and vegetables helps them shine. Add a few pinches, taste, and maybe add a few more. This should be your last step and is non-negotiable.
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.
2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301