Even though Chicago has stayed stubbornly chilly over the last few days, the buds on the trees and the sun in the sky are hopeful reminders that someday, summer will be here. With farmers’ market season approaching and vaccine news looking better and better every day, I’m going full steam ahead on salads for days.
Salads are the underdog of the dinner table, and I blame the sad, wilted Romaine lettuce mix at 90s salad bars for that. The truth is, salads don’t have to be the side dish you eat to make yourself feel like you did your body a favor. More often than not in the summer, we find ourselves making a salad as the star dinner dish.
If you’ve never had a good salad, you’re probably staring at your screen in disgust right now, feeling sorry for me and even worse for my poor fiancé. But the truth is, we feel bad for you if you think salads are boring because you’re missing out! Today, I'm sharing the secret to cracking the salad code with you so you don’t have to miss out anymore.
1. Skip the Romaine
I have nothing against Romaine lettuce, okay? Let’s just get that out there. What I do have a problem with is a sad, boring pile of something that used to be delicious being passed off as a salad. It’s time for some tough love: if you’re using a delicate green, like spinach, Romaine, or arugula, hold off on dressing those greens until you’re just about ready to eat. This will keep the texture nice and crunchy and flavorful! Look beyond those traditional greens, though. Try kale. Or dandelion greens. Or even herbs! Be sure to dress tougher greens early so they have time to soften slightly so as to be the most delicious they can be.
2. Add the crunch
My biggest complaint about subpar salads is that they lack texture. Greens are soft (and get softer when you add dressing), and proteins add a little bit of something new, but nothing crazy. That’s why I love adding a crunch into my salads. You can buy some at the store — Chicago chef Stephanie Izard just developed a new line of Everything Crunches that I’ve been lucky enough to sample while photographing, and I am obsessed — or you can raid your pantry for pepitas, chickpeas to crisp up, or even garlicky breadcrumbs!
3. Dress up your dressings
If I have one more boring house salad dressed with subpar olive oil and weak red wine vinegar, I’m going to scream. There, I said it! I have nothing against a simple olive oil + acid dressing (the most common one at my house is just olive oil and fresh lemon juice), but let’s get creative. What about tahini, lemon juice, and grated garlic? How about soy sauce, ginger and a hint of sesame oil? Or pesto with a little bit of extra oil and lemon juice added to thin it out! Don’t settle, my friends. Your salad deserves better.
4. Add a protein
This may seem obvious, but adding a protein to your salad is the best way to level it up and make it more than just a forgotten side dish. Grilled chicken is a summer classic, but what about some dill and lemon roasted salmon? Or some grilled shrimp? If you don’t eat meat, make some fried tofu and add that in. The possibilities are truly endless — and I think The Chopping Block has some grilling classes that can help you out with figuring out how to get the best charred chicken you’ve ever had.