How to Troubleshoot Your Salad

Making a bad salad is easy: Throw together ill-matched ingredients of questionable freshness, and pour gloopy bottled dressing over the top. Bad salad, done. The good news is that making a good salad is easy too. Just follow a few simple guidelines and think about the components: You'll be tossing sweet with salty, crunchy with juicy in no time. Or look at our recipes—consider them cheat sheets, direct access to quality salad time.

The most important part of the salad is the base, whether it is delicate leafy greens, hearty greens, thinly sliced cooked or raw vegetables, or a combination of the three. Play around with different lettuces, vegetables, even fruits.

1. DELICATE LEAFY GREENS: Delicate greens take best to lighter dressings, like a simple vinaigrette or just oil. Arugula, mâche, mesclun, watercress, red leaf lettuces, fresh herbs (like chervil, chives, tarragon, parsley, dill), pea shoots, edible flowers.


Example: Mixed Greens Salad

2. HEARTY LEAFY GREENS: Heartier greens can stand up to thicker dressings, like Caesar, Green Goddess, or a puréed avocado dressing. Young kale, romaine, radicchio, Belgian endive, curly endive, dandelion, spinach, escarole, Bibb lettuce, little gem lettuce, butter lettuce, young chard


Example: Bitter Greens Salad with Caper Vinaigrette

3. SLICED RAW OR COOKED VEGETABLES OR FRUITS: Thinly slicing raw vegetables like celery root or artichoke, or fruits like apples and pears, can make a delicious and substantial salad base. Same with sliced cooked vegetables, like potatoes and beets. Cabbage, fennel, radish, celery, cucumber, celery root, artichoke, carrot, jicama, roasted beets, napa cabbage, boiled potatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash


Example: Shaved Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Oil-and-vinegar is a salad dressing at its most basic. But the oil can be nut, olive, grapeseed, or a combination of several. The acid can be in the form of red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or lemon juice. The addition of creams, eggs, or fruits, like avocado, can sweeten or change the dressing's texture. If you want a little umami, add some soy sauce, anchovies, fish sauce, or Worcestershire sauce.

1. VINAIGRETTE: acid + optional binder (a touch of mustard) + oil + salt + pepper Acids (red wine, white wine, champagne, sherry, tarragon, rice wine, and balsamic vinegars; citrus juices), oils (olive, peanut, grapeseed, sesame, almond, walnut, pistachio, pumpkin seed), mustards (Dijon, whole grain, honey)


Example: Red Wine–Parsley Vinaigrette

2. EGG-BASED: acid + egg + oil + salt + pepper


Example: Caesar Dressing

3. CREAMY: acid + creamy ingredient + salt + pepper
Yogurt, crème fraîche, Mexican crema, sour cream, silken tofu, mascarpone, cream cheese, tahini, miso, coconut milk


Example: CHOW's Green Goddess Dressing

4. VEGETABLE-BASED: puréed vegetable + acid + oil or creamy ingredient + salt + pepper
Avocado, English peas, sautéed tomato, roasted garlic, grilled peppers, caramelized onion


Example: Sherry-Tomato Vinaigrette

5. VINEGARLESS VINAIGRETTE: oil + salt + pepper

Mixing up the flavors that appeal to you and finding a balance are the keys to salad innovation.

Cheeses (goat, feta, blue, mozzarella, queso fresco, cheddar, Manchego, Parmesan, pecorino, ricotta salata), cured meats (pancetta, bacon, salami, speck), capers, olives, anchovies


Example: Shaved Celery, Celery Root, and Radish Salad

Tomatoes, fresh fruit (kumquats, grapefruit, pineapple), dried fruit (cherries, cranberries), pickled foods


Example: Chicory, Tangerine, and Pomegranate Salad

Dried fruit (dates, plums, cherries, golden raisins or sultanas, membrillo or quince, raisins, cranberries, sun-dried tomatoes), fresh fruit (apples, pears, citrus, stone fruit, grapes, berries, figs, melon, tropical fruit, Fuyu persimmons), vegetables (roasted beets, sweet potatoes, squash, red bell peppers, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots); for dressings: honey, sugar, agave, pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, fruit juices


Example: Roasted Delicata Squash Salad

Broccoli rabe, radicchio, grapefruit, radish, endive, garlic, eggplant, arugula


Example: Tangy Apple and Beet Salad

Umami implies savory or meaty and usually involves salt, proteins, fermentation, or a combination of these. Seaweed, meats (ham, chicken, turkey, steak), cured meats (salami, pancetta, bacon, speck), fish, cured fish (sardines, anchovies), smoked foods (cheese, tofu, fish, meat, paprika, salt), cheese, fermented foods (black beans), mushrooms; for dressings: miso, broths, stocks, peanut butter, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, smashed anchovies, tahini


Example: Salade Lyonnaisey

Watercress, upland cress, arugula, chile peppers (fresh, dried, in adobo), black peppercorns, ginger; for dressings: Sriracha, Tabasco, horseradish, wasabi


Example: Chicory and Arugula Salad with Honey Vinaigrette

Crunchy is sort of expected in a salad; that's what you get from raw vegetables. But mix and match the crunchy with other textures.

Roasted veggies (squash, bell peppers, beets), toasted nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, pistachios, peanuts), crispy stuff (croutons, frico, tortilla chips, breadcrumbs), poppy seeds, bean sprouts, corn, sliced raw veggies (scallions, onions, sugar snap peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, radish, celery, cucumber, celery root, artichoke, carrot, jicama), sliced fruit (apples, pears, Fuyu persimmons)


Example: Fennel-Apple Slaw

Soft cheeses (goat, feta, blue, mozzarella, queso fresco), eggs (poached, soft-boiled, hard-boiled), beans (cannellini, kidney, chickpea or garbanzo), avocado, tofu, boiled potatoes, roasted veggies (sweet potatoes, eggplant, squash)


Example: Romaine and Watercress Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

Whole grains (farro, barley, rice, bulgur, quinoa, couscous, wheat berries, kamut), dried fruit (thinly sliced dates and plums, cherries, golden raisins or sultanas, raisins, cranberries), lentils, meats, beans (chickpea or garbanzo, edamame), olives


Example: Watercress and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese, Dates, and Almonds

Tomatoes, fresh fruit (apples, pears, stone fruit, tropical fruit, grapes, berries, figs, melons, persimmons)


Example: Pear and Spinach Salad