Take your salad from healthy to “holy moly, this is delicious!”

By Susan Hall Mahon
May 14, 2020
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Photo: Jennifer Causey Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

We all know salads are a healthy meal option and that we should probably eat more of them. And while it seems like an easy problem to fix (Just throw some veggies in a bowl and chow down, right?), making a salad that’s as appetizing as it is healthy can be a challenge.

Enter our friend Nicole McLaughlin, star of Mom Vs., recipe developer, and all around hilarious human being (If you’re not following her on Instagram, what are you even doing?). Nicole has six secrets for making a salad that’s so good you’ll actually crave it. 

Before we get into the six tenants of a gorgeous, mouthwatering salad, let us remind you that Nicole is known for being a master architect of “the perfect bite,” i.e. putting together the most ideal possible combination of flavors and textures. Here are the building blocks she uses in her salad to make sure every bite is perfect.

1. A Good Dressing Is Everything: Yes, you can make your own, and you will be so glad you did. Not only will you know exactly what’s in it, but you can whip one up in minutes. Better yet, whip up a big batch to stash in the fridge for salads all week. Here’s one of our favorite all-purpose dressings to keep on hand for those salad-for-dinner nights: Multipurpose Vinaigrette. If you’re a store-bought dressing fan, that’s fine too. Here’s how to make a store-bought dressing taste homemade.

2. Your Favorite Greens: Most importantly, says Nicole, “choose what you like.” If you try to veer too far into salad for the sake of health and not preference, you’re not going to enjoy it—or want to make it again. Popular choices include romaine, baby spinach, arugula, mixed greens, and butter lettuce. And make sure you know how to store your greens so they’re as fresh as possible when salad making time hits.

3. Protein Punch: “This will take your salad to full-meal status and keep you satisfied longer,” Nicole says. The options are vast: grilled chicken, tofu, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, deli meat, and fish are no-fail options. 

4. Cheese, Please: “Cheese adds richness and saltiness to help round out flavors and adds a different, softer texture to your cold crunchy salad,” Nicole says. Crumbly cheeses (like feta or goat cheese) are common picks, but using a vegetable peeler to add wide shreds of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to your salad is also a delicious route. You can also cut cheeses like cheddar or swiss into very small cubes and toss them on in. 

5. Sliced Fruits and Veggies: “Obviously this is a broad category,” Nicole says, but these are the side kicks to your base of greens. “Fruits and veggies can be raw or cooked, fresh, or dried, even pickled. Pickled veggies add great acidity, juiciness, crunch, and a great contrast to textures and temperatures within the salad.”

6. Bonus Crunch: “This is so important in order to achieve the perfect bite,” Nicole says. “Your crunch factor can come from nuts, seeds, croutons, or crushed up chips or crackers.

Ready to chop up a delicious salad? Here’s a little inspiration: