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How to make the greatest salad ever?

Introduction

Salads are boring! Watery green leafs that don’t taste like much, have almost no calories and have to be drowned in a sugary-fatty-solution aka “dressing” aka the stuff we want to avoid to be palatable!

Compare that to a hot and steamy slice of pizza. It has so many components that deliver a variety of different flavors and textures, from the crunchy crust to the fruity tomato sauce, spicy, salty pepperoni and smooth cheese. I am totally honest with you, it’s hard to compete with that! But we can learn a lot from the pizza and use it to make the greatest tasting salad(s) ever.
 
Lets face it. Salads are a staple for so many. And for a reason! Salads are healthy, (relatively) low in calories and can be an explosion of taste. How, you ask? Didn’t I just make a point of salads being boring and pizza being heaven?
 
With the right ingredients and their combination they actually can be awesome! A nice dressing doesn’t have to be a fatty-sugary-solution to make the greens have at least some taste! And it’s not just taking a bag of pre cut salad drenched in ranch-dressing and topped with several hands of cheese and croutons!
 
Hope you are still here or at least return from ordering that pizza I talked about!
 
So, within this article you will find some general ideas about taste and what makes any meal delicious and irresistible. All that can be applied to other meals, but we are looking at salads specifically.
 
Additionally you will get some tips on storing and prepping to make your salads stay fresh and pretty longer. To give you a jump-start and spark some inspiration for your next round of salad(s) you will find 5 simple recipes at the end of this article.
 

Today’s topics:

  1. The science of taste. What makes food tasty and what make us want more and more?
  2. How to make everything taste awesome?
  3. The Nutritionally rich salad (balancing ingredients & macros) and super-foods
  4. Preparation and storage
  5. Anatomy of great salads
  6. Sample Salads (5 x 1 for every day of the week)
Conclusion

1. The Science of Taste

What makes food tasty and what make us want more and more? Let start with our taste in general and then we move over to what food designers and cooks have up their sleeves to make food awesome.
 

The Humane Taste

Our tongue is covered with taste buds which are little receptors that help our brain identify what we just put into our mouth so it can figure out if it likes it or not.
 
LOLNOPE Credit: LaKirr/Shutterstock.com
 
For starters we have bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami. But of course you can identify many more different flavors and textures which deliver a certain feel of mouth.
 
The lists below are of course of desirable features, we want to enhance the experience of eating not degrade it! And the lists are not complete, I picked those that make sense for a salad and it’s ingredients. No need to blow things up here for no good reason.
 
Basic taste
  • bitter
  • sweet
  • salty
  • sour
  • umami
 
Mouth-feel
  • crunchy
  • smooth
  • contrasting
  • juicy
  • mouth-coating (think oil and fat that covers the inside walls of your mouth)
 
Flavor
  • nutty
  • fruity
  • exotic
  • sea food
  • meaty
  • cheesy
  • fresh
 
What’s interesting and what we are going to exploit a lot for our super-salad is the combination of these treats. Food designers and scientist have found combinations that literately short-cut the brain and make you want to eat more and more.
 
The reason why these combinations are so powerful can be found by looking at our ancestors. The human brain is trained to want anything that is scarce and important for survival.
 
Salt, for example, was very scarce to our hunting and gathering predecessor. It is an essential mineral, the brain rewards eating salty foods a lot.
 
Fat is super dense energy resource, that’s why we enjoy it’s smoothness so much when we bite into a juice steak.
 
Now combine the juicy hot steak with salt and you get a taste explosion! Your brain rewards you big time for eating this because it fulfills so many important things that ensure survival.
 
And in a similar way, as scientist and food designers exploit these features (for reasons everybody knows and which I am not going to elaborate on), we are going to, as well.

2. How to make everything taste awesome

Put simply, through the combination of taste, flavor and mouth-feel. It creates contrast and variation which keeps a meal interesting and exciting. All chefs know that salt brings taste out, that’s one reason why commercial foods are heavily salted.
 
 
TIP 1: Add different tastes and flavors. A variety of high quality foods will serve as the base for your salad.
 

TIP 2: Mouth-feel. The crunch of lettuce is very different to the crunch of nuts and croutons. Avocado is creamy and berries are literately small fresh and fruity explosions when popped. Have those different sensations in your salad.

TIP 3: For contrast and variation put all those different components into your salad. Fruits for freshness and sourness, countered with a crunchy, lightly salted nut.

 
TIP 4: Basic-Taste: Sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Choose your ingredients to satisfy all taste buds. BTW: It was shown that people who eat all basic tastes in one meal are less likely to crave for instance a sweet snack after a savory lunch meal later that day.
 
TIP 5: Don’t be shy and experiment with combinations that might look a little odd. Diced ginger from a lump size of a grape brings a whole new dimension to a salad. A salad can also be spicy! Chili-sauce dressing or spicy seasoned fried chicken works great.
 
TIP 6: To balance sour you don’t add sweet, but salty. If your meal got a bit salty and you don’t want to water it down, add lemon squeeze. The fruity and sour juice will balance the salt and bring even more taste.

3. The nutritionally Rich Salad

If you make a salad it’s almost always a healthy treat. But if you were to just eat a bowl of dry greens, some carrots and a pepper you will be pretty hungry – if you fight through the boredom and actually finish it. And besides some vitamins and minerals you will not have a lot of nutritional value (=calories) from it.
 
To make sure a salad can be counted as a full meal and not only as a snack or a side, it has to cover the macro-nutrients needs that you are allowed for that meal.
 
So, your salad should have at least some protein and fat in it. Depending on your diet, carbs are an option. This is also a great place to add super-foods like Kimchi and Sauerkraut.
 

Protein 

  • Chicken breast stripes
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Bacon
  • Fish
  • Shrimps
  • Mozzarella
  • Feta
  • Eggs
 
Remember to consider the fat content from some of the protein-sources. Especially cheese has a considerable fat content.

 

Fat

  • Olive oil, hemp oil, sesame, walnut, peanut, …
  • Nuts/ seeds (walnut, pecan, sunflower, macadamia, …)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
 
Carbs
  • Bread (as a side to take bites from. Sorry, croutons can be a bit too fatty)
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Couscous
  • Pasta
 

Greens and vegetables

  • Spinach, iceberg, lettuce, kale,
  • Arugula
  • Peppers (all colors)
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Rhubarb
  • Onion/ spring onion
  • Cucumber
 
Fruit
  • The classics: apple, pear, orange
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Strawberry
  • Grapes
  • Melons
  • Banana
  • Lychee
  • Pomegranate seeds
 
Herbs and spices
  • Peppermint
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Ginger
  • Celery
  • Caraway seeds
  • Herbs of Provence
 
Condiments
  • Vinegar (from grapes and other fruits/ berries)
  • Vinegar creme
  • Tabasco/ chili sauces
  • Honey
  • Mustard
  • Soy sauce
  • Fruit juices (orange, lime, lemon, cherry, apple, ..
 
Super-foods
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Eggs
  • Berries
Mix and match, try, like, discard. Most of the foods listed work well together. Just follow your personal taste and push a little to explore new worlds of taste.

4. Preparation and Storage

Storing salads and vegetables follows the same rules as for most foods. Keep them cool and in a dark place. The challenge: Keeping food pretty that has been cut and mixed with other ingredients.
 
The biggest enemy of any salad is water. It just makes the salad look sad.
 
The problem: When you cut something you also destroy some of the cells holding water. Tomatoes and cucumbers can loose quite a bit. If you eat the salad right after you made it, this is not that big a deal. But if you prepare a salad for the next day this can bring down quality and therefore joy of eating.
 
Two things that are very important for “sticking to a diet”. Check this article if you want to learn more. 

 The nutritional-qualities wont be effected, but who likes to eat a watery, mushy paste of anything? Well, I certainly don’t! So, what can we do about it?

If you plan to eat several salads a week cut each ingredient and store them in individual containers. Carrots, peppers, broccoli and anything that is rather hard wont water a lot.
Tomatoes and cucumbers on the other hand are best cut fresh.
 
I know, how can that be “prepping” if you have to cut the foods every day? Here is a little trick I picked up from my dad: Put a plate of the same size that your containers have at the bottom – but, upside down! This way all fluids will go away from your veggies and under the plate. The food is now raised high enough so it wont sit in its own juice. Works great for pasta as well.
 
For easy eating cut everything in bite-sized pieces or smaller. Not all foods need cutting: Iceberg can be ripped, carrots can be broken and nuts can be smashed. Little time-savers, you know.
 

Tips for dressings:

  • The dressing should be kept separate. Add it to your salad right before eating.
  • A great base for any dressing is a high quality oil and vinegar. Add some honey and mustard, some salt, shake and enjoy!
  • You can also put some seeds like sunflower seeds into the dressing. The seeds help mixing oil and vinegar.
  • Make the dressing a little bit too salty. This brings enough taste as it’s spread out on the whole salad.

5. Anatomy of a great salad

What does this cake and a great salad have in common? The might of a great salad lies within the combination of the ingredients. But how you arrange everything has a huge impact on the joy of eating and how long it will stay fresh and pretty.
 
The way I have found to work very well is, in a sense, like a layer-cake.
 
Each “area” has it’s place for a reason. For example, I put the leafy-greens (aka salad) on top of anything that has a harder structure like peppers. If they where at the bottom they would sit in all the juices that other vegetables loose and that makes salads mushy. I don’t like that, I like crunchy. That’s why they moved up. 
 
In general that will look like this:
 
Layer 1: harder, non-leafy vegetables and super foods
Layer 2: fruit and berries
Layer 3: green leafy salads
Layer 4: Protein
Dressing
Toppings
Herbs & Spices
 
The numbering is an example to help illustrate the idea.

In detail it looks like this:
  1. Begin to fill your bowl with 2-3 different non-leafy, harder vegetables (peppers, broccoli, cucumber,carrots, tomato, …).
    A hand-full is usually enough, remember: variety in taste keeps the salad exciting.
    Don’t mix! This way you can pick different combinations with each bite and that brings even more variety.
     
  2. Add a super-food like Kimchi or sauerkraut to your base.
    If you picked eggs or berries, they go on top the layer of leafy-greens (s. Step 4).
     
  3. Try fruit in your salad or a fruity tasting vegetable like beets.
    A small hand-full will go a long way, that could be a quarter of an apple for example, but feel free to add some more. Be careful with fruits that loose a lot of juice when cut! Orange slices should stay intact.
    Diced ginger would also work in this area.
     
  4. Now add a layer of mixed green-leafy salad like iceberg, spinach, arugula, …
     
  5. Next up is your protein.
    Sit fried chicken breast, fish, mozzarella, eggs or what have you on top of the greens.
     
  6. To make any topping stick, pour the dressing slowly over the salad. Make sure to cover as much as possible.
     
  7. Sprinkle slightly roasted seeds and chopped nuts on top.
     
  8. Finally add freshly cut herbs like basil and peppermint.
 
If you plan to eat the salad at work put the dressing in and extra container or jar and pour it over the salad just before eating.
 
The salt will pull water from the vegetables and that makes the salad watery. It will loose water anyway, but it will be a lot less if you add any salt last!

6. Salads You should try

Here I got you 5 salads that are based on the ideas from this article. You can scale the quantities up and down depending on your individual needs. Beware, though, these are intended as complete meals. Don’t add any of these salads to a main dish, unless you want to pack on calories. Give them a try, feel free to add some variation and let me know in the comments how you liked them. Enjoy!

#1 Andreas Classic “Buddha” Bowl

Layer1: Tomato, peppers ( red and yellow), root beets and cucumber
Layer2: Mozzarella and feta cheese
Layer3: lightly roasted sunflower and caraway seed, cashews
Dressing: Olive oil, sweet mustard, honey, salt and pepper
Chopped basil

 

#2 Couscous Salad

This salad is not layered. Mix everything together. So, grab a big bowl, throw in the couscous, add all other ingredients, mix gently.

  • Couscous, add to boiling water, turn off stove, cover with lid, let sit until other ingredients are ready/ cut
  • Chick peas, either boil the dry peas or rinse pre cooked from a can
  • dried tomatoes, cut into little stripes/ pieces
  • spring onion, cut into little rings
  • green pepper, diced
  • black olive (halves)
  • caraway seeds
  • fresh peppermint, chopped
  • olive oil
  • chili flakes
  • lemon/ lime juice
  • mix everything in a big bowl
  • add salt and pepper while mixing

#3 Greek/ Italian Farmers Salad

Layer1: Sliced tomato and cucumber
Layer2: Red onion rings and green pepper stripes
Layer3: Olives (whole, green and black)
Layer4: Feta/ sheep cheese in big chunks
Plenty of high quality olive oil!
Salt and Pepper

#4 Pasta Salad

Leftover pasta (is that even possible?)
Baby spinach
Green pesto
Mix
Tastes great with chicken stripes or mozzarella
No need for salt and pepper, the pesto should have enough.

#5 Beef/ Salmon Salad

Layer1: Peppers (yellow, green), tomato
Layer2: Kidney beans and grated carrots
Layer3: Arugula
Layer4: Beef or salmon (or both), fried
Dressing: Olive oil, lime juice or vinegar, finely diced ginger, salt and pepper

 

Conclusion

Variety is king, I know I repeat my self. But in the context of salads it’s worth mentioning again.
To make any salad awesome follow theses cornerstones:
 
  • Use ingredients that are fresh and of high quality
  • Cover basic taste (sweet, sour, salty and bitter)
  • Combine different flavors, but keep the ingredients separate in the arrangement
  • Feel of mouth: Contrasting, crunchy, creamy all add variety that keep you excited
  • Pick ingredients to meet your caloric and nutritional needs/ allotment if the salad is a meal not just a side
  • Add super foods
  • Think layers to counter watering
  • Bottom: harder veggies like peppers and broccoli
  • Fruit work great on salads and add a sour/ exotic component
  • Center: leafy greens
  • Protein source
  • Top: Nuts, seeds, dressing, herbs and spices
 
Salads don’t have to be boring, they can actually be very awesome and diverse. Some of the tricks ( if not all of them) work basically for any meal. Experiment and let me know what your favorite salad is. Share in the comments below, the most exciting will be featured on the blog!
 
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