There's no better season than summer to upgrade your salad game.

By Laura Fisher
Updated: June 27, 2019
Getty Images

The warm summer months are typically a time for lighter fare. We gravitate towards balanced and bright foods that won’t weigh us down, and recipes that don’t call for turning on the oven or standing over a hot stove. Salads are the perfect easy summer food, but they get a bad reputation as being simply “rabbit food” or not satisfying enough to be more than a side dish. It turns out that it’s easier than it seems to turn greens into an actual meal, as long as you know what components are key to include.

It can be useful to have a general formula on-hand to create healthy, hearty, meal-sized salads that you can take in endless directions by using whatever ingredients you have in the fridge. Using seasonal produce keeps your salads interesting and varied throughout the year, so hit up the farmers market and see what you can find! Of course you can always add on to the basics listed here - shredded cheese, chopped scallions, and roasted vegetables all make wonderful salad toppers. However you spin it, you’re sure to have the perfectly satisfying salad every time.

Greens

Greens are your starting point for a crisp, bright, and balanced salad. Don’t limit yourself just to iceberg or romaine—there are myriad greens to choose from, including spicy arugula, tender baby spinach, creamy butter lettuce, and many more. If you’re preparing a salad in advance, like for lunch the next day, choose a sturdy green like kale that won’t wilt in the fridge. Include enough greens to create a solid base, but don’t overload the bowl so much that the other components get lost in a sea of green. A good guideline is roughly two cups of greens per person for a meal-sized salad.

Protein

Including a protein source is the key to transforming your salad from a measly side to a hearty meal. Grilled chicken, steak or fish are all fantastic options, especially if you have leftovers from a weekend cook-out. For the vegetarians, tofu, tempeh, eggs and beans are the way to go. Aim for at least 15 grams of protein per eater, and say goodbye to the stereotype of the skimpy salad.

Grains

Grains are often overlooked when thinking of salad ingredients, but they add a heft and substance to a bowl of veggie goodness that ups the satisfaction factor by multitudes. Chewy farro is my favorite salad addition, but quinoa and brown rice are also good options. Cook the grains according to the package directions and then let cool before adding to avoid wilting your greens.

Sweetness

I’m a sucker for any salt-and-sweety combo, and salads are no exception. A touch of sweetness in an otherwise savory salad adds a complexity of flavors that makes it honestly crave-able. Dried fruit like cranberries, cherries or raisins, fresh fruit like crispy apple chunks or sliced strawberries, or glazed nuts all work. Even a handful of corn kernels will get the job done if you want something a little more subtle, and even better if it’s the fresh, summer variety that you can find at farmstands and markets across the country during the summer months.

Crunch

Texture plays a huge role in creating a balanced and memorable salad. Toasted nuts or seeds, carrots or radishes, or homemade croutons all add that satisfying bite. Wait to add your crunchy bits until after tossing your salad in dressing (see below) to prevent any sogginess from ruining the mouthfeel.

Dressing

Keep the dressing simple and light; this is just the finishing touch, and shouldn’t overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. For a basic dressing, a good rule of thumb to follow is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil, and little salt and pepper in your dressing helps bring out all the rest of the flavors. Olive or avocado oils are excellent choices for dressing, combined with lemon juice or vinegar. Try balsamic for a subtle sweetness or red wine for a tangier dressing. Another great option that’s only slightly more involved is this fantastic, go-to vinaigrette recipe. Make a big batch and store in your refrigerator for up to a week. Wait until right before serving to add the dressing, add just enough to coat the leaves but not so much that excess pools at the bottom of the bowl after you’ve tossed it all together.

RELATED7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat Every Day for Long-Term Health and Happiness

Advertisement