How to make the most divine salads at home. Picture: Instagram
How to make the most divine salads at home. Picture: Instagram

How to make the most divine salads at home

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Feb 17, 2021

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Watery lettuce, pungent onion and wet tomatoes – there’s a reason most people avoid eating salads.

From choosing the right greens to playing with the boldness of fresh herbs and fruit, salads should be seen as more than just a mundane side dish, because with the right ingredients, they can be transformed into the main event.

How to make the most divine salads at home:

Greens

Salad greens go beyond iceberg lettuce. Add a medley of different greens, ranging from soft butter lettuce and romaine lettuce to spinach, shredded cabbage, watercress and micro herbs for a thrilling mix of flavours and textures that will form the foundation of a beautiful salad.

Vary textures

You want crunch, creaminess, crispness, juiciness and tenderness in a salad. When one texture dominates, it can overpower the salad and make it unappealing to eat.

For example, avocado, soft cheeses, butter lettuce and roasted butternut are all soft and creamy, creating a mushy mouth-feel when combined.

Vary cutting techniques

You can enhance the texture of foods by roasting, toasting and serving them fresh.

The way you cut up your veggies can also make a huge difference. Julienne-style veggies are crunchy and sharp, whereas ribboned veg has a more crisp texture. Integrate a few different styles of chopping for variety, creating a visually stunning look when serving.

Fruit

Melon, mango, fresh berries, crisp apple and pear slices, juicy pineapple, pops of sweetness from grapes and the glory of red pomegranate rubies, there are so many delicious fruits that can help bring life to salads.

You don’t need to go overboard, just one or two thrown into the mix will help take your flavours to the next level.

Sweeter fruits like pears and grapes marry well with tart, lemony dressings and vinaigrettes, whereas sharper flavours can be subdued by a honey mustard or raspberry glaze.

Protein

When you add a protein to a salad it becomes more of a filling meal. Creamy Gorgonzola, crumbly feta, sharp shards of Parmesan are a few cheeses that can bring powerful flavour and texture to a salad.

There are also a number of meats that are so delicious just grilled and sliced up, including steak, chicken and fish (canned tuna, salmon etc), seafood like calamari and prawns and so much more.

Soft-boiled eggs also add creaminess and flavour, while bulking up the meal. For vegans and vegetarians, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and tofu are equally delicious and filling.

Just make sure that whatever is added is well seasoned and, if cooked, placed in the salad only once it’s been cooled down (unless you are making a warm salad).

Roasted veggies

Not all of the vegetables in salads have to be raw. Roasted vegetables add a new dimension to dishes as the natural sugars become caramelised, enhancing the depth of flavour.

Sweet potatoes, beetroot, butternut, chickpeas, peppers, carrots and kale can be transformed in the oven.

Marinate the veggies in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic before roasting for the ultimate crispiness.

More elaborate flavours such as paprika, thyme, rosemary, honey and balsamic vinegar can be used if the veggies are the star of the meal and you want them to stand out.

Herbs

Liven things up with some flavourful greens. Iceberg lettuce is useful for bulking up a salad and adding a fresh crispness, but it can be bland and watery in big amounts.

Break up your lettuce choice with the tantalising flavours of mixed herbs.

Basil, rocket, dill, cilantro, mint, parsley, chives and tarragon are a few examples.

Pick a few that complement each other well so as not to overwhelm the other flavours, but instead highlight them.

Seeds and nuts

Looking for more crunch? Nuts and seeds are the way to go, plus they’re an excellent source of healthy fats, fibre and protein.

To bring out their flavours, toast them in a pan and add a mixed variety to your salad before serving.

Walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and pomegranate rubies are all delicious options to consider.

Grains/carbohydrates

Brown rice, barley, farro, couscous, bulgar wheat, pasta, croutons, potatoes and so many other carbs and grains can really make a salad, while also remaining healthy and nutritious.

It’s a great way to bulk up a meal and make it more of an event that can work perfectly as a side or main dish.

Dice up your leafy greens

Eating an entire leaf of wet lettuce that slaps against your chin as you shove it into your mouth has got to be one of the most unappealing aspects of having a salad.

When you chop up herbs and greens, you help all the flavours mix together and will be able to get a little of each ingredient with every forkful.

Don’t go too fine, as you’ll release too many juices and risk ending up with a soggy salad with limp leaves.

Dressing

Make your own dressing.

It can be as simple as a light drizzle of olive oil, lemon and some dried herbs, or an emulsified glaze of mustard, balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of zesty orange juice.

Home-made is always better as the flavours are more pronounced and fresh, rather than being dulled down by poor quality ingredients and preservatives. Remember to dress and toss the just before serving.

If you toss too soon, the heartier ingredients may squash the delicate greens. Adding the dressing too soon can also cause major wilting of crisp greens that you want to remain fresh for contrast of texture.

The salts on the dressing can also draw out moisture from fruit and veg, making everything soggy and unappetising.

Seasoning

This is ultimately a step that can make or break your salad.

When any dish lacks basic seasoning like salt and pepper, the rest of the flavours tend to fall flat and can easily be missed.

You can put the seasoning in the dressing, which can be added right before serving and tossing.

Freshly grated garlic, ginger, paprika and dried oregano are a few examples.

Just ensure what you add will not be too overpowering or clash with the other ingredients.

Oils

There are so many different oils to consider for your salad dressings, each bringing their own unique flavours.

From avocado oil to olive and canola, oils can have robust or delicate notes, so pick one that best suits the dish you are trying to create and the flavours you would like to highlight the most.

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