Step 1: Forget the lettuce

Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Tina Stamos

Even though salads are often considered the “obligatory” part of the meal, they might become your new favorite with these simple steps.

Forget the Lettuce

Don’t misunderstand me, lettuce can be great—but for most of us, we need to think outside the box before getting creative with lettuces again. Soft herbs make some of the best salads, giving both bright flavor and crispness (basil, flat-leaf parsley, mint, cilantro, etc.). Thinly sliced melon, cucumbers, peaches, and plums are sturdy enough to provide good structure for your salad while lending a refreshing sweet taste. Or try boiling peas and asparagus for 2 minutes before chilling them in ice water and cutting them into 1-inch segments. This makes crunchy, bright green morsels that form a fantastic base for a salad. Finally, explore other leafy things (radicchio, arugula, frisèe, mustard greens, endives, etc.).

Layer the Flavor

For every salad, pick ingredients that fall into each of the following categories: salty, savory, sweet, and acidic. By selecting something from each of these groups, the elements contrast and complement each other, making a salad both delicious and interesting. For example, a sweet peach pairs wonderfully with milky ricotta cheese and the tang of sherry vinegar; salty feta cheese and savory toasted pecans mix well with the sweet clean flavor of blanched peas and fresh strawberries.

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Explore Every Texture

How a salad feels is just as important as how it tastes. Whether it’s a crouton or an almond, every salad needs a crunch to contrast with anything soft. Also, consider that a chunk or wedge of cucumber or honeydew is significantly crunchier than if it is thinly shaved. Adjust the thickness of your pieces depending on the textures in the rest of the salad. Similarly, firm leaves like endives or radicchio benefit from tender ingredients like avocados, berries, tomatoes, and boiled eggs.

Dress It Up

When it comes to dressing a salad, you only need acid, oil, and salt. There are many good and cheap acids to keep in your cupboard: any kind of citrus, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar. First dress your salad with whatever oil you are using, and then sprinkle the vinegar over the salad to your taste—this helps to keep the leaves from wilting. And finally, don’t forget to season your salad with salt. If you want to mix in some other ingredients like mustard, peanut butter, honey, or chopped herbs, whip them together with the oil and acid before dressing the salad.