Choose Your Own Salad Adventure

We here at Mark’s Daily Apple love salads. And lets face it, what’s not to love? Not only is it healthy, but there is so much opportunity to change it up. You could literally go years without repeating the same salad!

However, coming up with new salad “recipes” can be a bit of a challenge…until now. Read on to learn a list of the best salad ingredients, toppings, dressings and (gasp) even some forbidden add-ins, and learn new ways to combine them all!

Base: While this doesn’t necessarily comprise the bulk of the salad, it’s a good place to start. Depending on your hunger level, start with 1-2 cups of any of the following (or a combination of several!)

Bok Choy
Dandelion Greens
Endive (all varieties)
Iceberg (just remember, a dark leafy green packs a better nutritional punch!)
Mizuna (an Asian green leaf)
Savoy Cabbage
Tot soi (similar to Mizuna, but with a stronger, more peppery flavor)

Add Ins:
Salads are typically better when the portion of vegetable add-ins are in quantities either equal to or exceeding the base layer. So, for a salad that uses 1 cup of “greens,” you’ll probably want to add between 1 and 2 cups of a combination of the following!

Artichoke hearts
Banana Pepper
Bell Pepper (all colors served either raw or roasted)
Broccoli (fresh or pre-cooked)
Chilies (hey, some like it hot!)
Green Beans
Jalapeno Peppers
Snow Peas

Proteins: Although we love our salads, the reality is a few cups of vegetables probably isn’t going to keep you satiated until dinner time swings around. Stave off the munchies by adding about 1 serving (which, when we discuss protein, is equivalent to the size of a deck of cards) of any of the following into the mix – just steer very VERY clear of deli meats, which are loaded with sodium and other preservatives and often have hidden sugars!

Beef (grass-fed)
Chicken (organic)
Egg (Hard Boiled)
Shrimp (cooked and served chilled)
Tuna, Salmon or any other Wild Fish (either seared or canned)

Occasional Add Ins: While these shouldn’t ever be considered a salad staple, every now and again it’s nice to add one or two in to change up the routine!

Apple slices
Cottage cheese/Ricotta cheese
Cheese (feta, goat, mozzarella, romano and blue are among our favorites!)
Beans (Black, red, garbanzo etc.)
Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts)
Water chestnuts
Honey (and we’re talking really occasionally and in very small doses here!)

“Oils”: While some people would say that adding an oil to an otherwise healthy salad is counterintuitive, the oil actually adds flavor and helps keep you satiated long into the afternoon!

Avocado Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Plain Yogurt
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Oil (an Austrian import, but adds a robust, nutty taste to salads or marinades)
Sour Cream
Truffle Oil (pricey, but totally worth it!)

Who’d of thought there were so many options beyond the run-of-the-mill balsamic/red-wine varieties? As a general rule of thumb use 3 parts oil to 1 part acid for a balanced dressing.

Apple Vinegar/Apple Cider Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar
Champagne Vinegar
Chingkiang Vinegar (best for Asian-inspired salads!)
Cider Vinegar
Ice Wine Vinegar (hard to find, but impressive when you do!)
Lemon Juice
Lime Juice
Red Wine Vinegar
Rice Vinegar
Sherry Vinegar (best when aged, so you’ll need to know your stuff regarding good “years”)
Tarragon Vinegar
Tomato Juice

Spices and Herbs: When it comes to salads – and salad dressings in particular – a little bit of spice can transform the entire dish!

Celery Salt
Dijon Mustard
Garlic Salt

With these ingredients alone there are millions of combinations. Now go forth and eat yourself a big salad!

Still seem a little daunting? Try some of these outside-of-the-box salad dressing ideas:

Caesar Vinaigrette:
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp Oregano
2/3 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (fresh is best)
Salt and pepper to taste

Stir the white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, honey, oregano, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil to make a thick-ish vinaigrette mixture. Stir in garlic. Add Parmesan cheese just before serving (otherwise you get sludge!)

Cucumber Dill Dressing:
3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
3 tbsp fresh dill (chopped)
1 tsp sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and seed cucumber. Chop into small chunks and blend in a food processor until smooth. Add all other ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Lime Almond Dressing:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp finely chopped unsalted roasted almonds
2 tbsp fish sauce (available in the Asian Specialty section of most major grocery stores)
1 tbsp fresh ginger (minced)
1 tbsp fresh cilantro (chopped)
4 garlic cloves (minced)
Add all ingredients to cruet or large mason jar. Shake until all ingredients are mixed! Doesn’t get any easier than this folks!

Garlic Vinaigrette:
3 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp dried oregano
3 cloves garlic (pressed)
Salt & pepper to taste

Uhh… pour all ingredients into cruet or large mason jar and shake until blended.

Orange Citrus Vinaigrette:
2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp honey

And yet another simple one! Blend the vinegar, orange juice, oil, cilantro, mustard, garlic, and honey in a bowl. Serve chilled.

We certainly haven’t covered everything in our “Choose Your Own Salad Adventure” list. What are we missing and what are your favorite salad additions?

madnzany Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Mark’s Daily Apple Recipe Ideas

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32 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Salad Adventure”

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  1. This is a great post! I did a similar one in my Healthy Eating Blog here: Salad Making 101. The only thing I mentioned that you didn’t was toasted sesame oil; it adds a delicious, nutty flavor to salads. I also like diluting a little sesame tahini for a dressing as well.

  2. Mmm, salad. I’m hungering for one right now.

    My wife usually makes me a salad for lunch, and it often consists of romaine lettuce or spinach leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, garlic-stuffed olives, sliced almonds, red onions, tomato slices, balsemic vinaigrette, dried cranberries and tempeh (we’re vegan). Yum.

  3. “… the oil actually adds flavor and helps keep you satiated long into the afternoon.”

    Since so many vitamins and antioxidants are fat-soluble, the oil also helps you absorb the nutrients in the salad. Humans seem to have stumbled on a lot of classic culinary combos (sorry for the alliteration) that combine a plant with a fat and enhance the nutrients of both: berries and cream; fruit and cheese; salads with olive oil; cooked veggies with butter; borscht with sour cream; even coffee or tea with milk or cream. Plus there are all those classic one-pot meals where veggies stew along with a tough and fatty cut of meat …

  4. The entire staff of Mark’s Daily Apple did a great job on this one, thanks for posting such a tremendous article.

  5. Thanks for the lists! I make practically the same salad everyday and had been pushing myself to try new things, and now I have a good reference to check when I need an idea.

    Might I also add Escarole & Red Leaf Lettuce to the base list? Every week I buy a package of spinach & another random leafy green to mix together in a large container, and escarole is a common choice because it seems a little sturdier than some of the others.

    I’m surprised you all didn’t list nuts on this post, I just love a salad with pine nuts or sunflower seeds or pecans… I find the coating on walnuts kind of dry & bitter, but when I put them in salad the oil & vinegar coat them & make them yummier. Ok, now I’m hungry, off to make some salad. =)

  6. We didn’t forget the nuts! There sort of hidden in the “Add Ins” section. Though, we didn’t mention sunflower seeds. Good call, Heather!

  7. Beets! I don’t know if these are considered too starchy but I love slicing up a raw beet in my salad. Gives it a crunch and some more color.

    Thanks for list guys! I’m printing this out and sticking it in the front page of my recipe binder!! I’m so excited you put water chestnuts on there. I love them and had totally forgotten about them until you mentioned it! Can’t wait to try the Lime Almond dressing:)

  8. it’s that line about the greens not keeping you satiated and NEEDING protein and fat that we (the royal) always forget huh?
    and then veeeeeeeeeer off path into the bad transfat choices in a fit of famishment.


  9. You forgot Seeds in the salad, I love to put some sunflower seeds in my salad, lots of good fibre and taste.

  10. Don’t forget Tempeh and Tofu for vegetarians!(any variety, baked, grilled, etc.) I also like to add a small dollop of hummus for extra protein.

  11. I like putting a sprouted bean mix on my salad.

    One of my favorite salads is a minted feta salad. All you need is romaine, mint, feta and the a dressing similar to the garlic vinagrette above.

  12. Sorry Aaron, must have skimmed right past where you listed nuts. I didn’t really read it carefully, just skimmed & bookmarked for later use. =)

  13. Chives are pretty tasty on a salad as well, just that little extra bite.

  14. Hey, does anybody have a really good honey mustard recipe? Something that tastes like the kind you get at Bennigan’s or Chili’s restaurants. Thanks very much!!!

    1. Lemon Honey Mustard Dressing
      1 cup olive oil mayonaise
      1/2 cup dijon mustard
      1/2 cup honey
      juice of 1 lemon
      4 TB olive oil

      Tastes exactly like Chili’s Honey Mustard. Enjoy.

  15. Hello, Terri!

    This is a copycat recipe of Chili’s honey mustard dressing:

    3/4 cup sour cream
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
    1/3 cup prepared mustard
    1/3 cup honey
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Check out this post for more salad dressing recipes:

    10 Delicious DIY Salad Dressings

  16. Agree with the above, what a terrific post! Fairly new to Primal eating, I had been struggling to make my calories and skimping on the vegetables. I began to over-substitute dairy where I had previously had a serving of non-gluten grains, and since I’m sensitive to dairy it’s no wonder I wasn’t feeling much better. Now I am eager to up my calories from pure veggies, and have been having mega salads with fish and oil and feeling great for hours.

    I will print this and tack it in my kitchen for inspiration!

  17. I am wondering if ground flax or any form of flax seeds are considered grains or seeds.

  18. In the cucumber dill recipe you said something about “nonfat” Greek yogurt. That kind of seems to go against everything i’ve ever read on this site. Still this is a great article!

  19. I am confused. Chick peas are listed under the Add-Ins. Garbanzo beans are listed under Occasional Add-Ins. They are the same thing so what gives?

  20. Why not list cooked beans in the protein section? They’re an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. 🙂

  21. I have copied some of your dressings, and will try them right away.

    However, I am looking for a dressing with honey, olive oil, dijon mustard and apple cider or rice wine vinegar. I know the ingredients but need the amounts of each.
    Hope someone can help me. Thank you very much

    Lenore Gray.

  22. The simplest salad dressing ever:

    A little bit of olive oil, a little bit of juice from a jar of peporincinis, salt and pepper. It’s unbelievably good and simple.

  23. For the canned tuna to have with the salad, I tend to eat my tuna with mayo to make sandwiches. Can I still eat the tuna and mayo, sans bread, with my salad? Or should I just eat the tuna dry?

  24. I like to take two tbsp of fruit juice(s) or vinegar(s) or a combination of the two and a tsp of oil and some spices and put them into a teensy-weensy little container and shake until emulsification occurs. Fresh dressing suited to whatever salad you make every time and probably about the same amount of calories as a Bolthouse Farms vinaigrette.

    Also, where would beets be in the list above? I like beets on my salad sometimes.

  25. I thought beans and sugar were not allowed, and only to have full-fat dairy. Confused 🙁