Soggy leaves, too-sharp dressing, flavourless veg; it’s hard to look forward to a salad, just as it is to really perfect one. But when you fix everything that can wrong when making one, well then, you’ve got a summer staple that’s hard to compete with in the nutritious, feel-good stakes.
So, to help you master the fine art of salad-making we’ve asked Amy Lanza, friend of Form and the culinary talent behind the brilliant, plant-based food blog Nourishing Amy, for her sterling expertise. From creating your own leafy lunches to cracking that oh-so-difficult dressing, this guide has you covered.
Top Tips For Building Your Salad
Herbs Are An Essential
Herbs are essential for all salads; they add so much freshness and flavour. I love fresh mint as we have a big mint plant outside, but I also love basil if I am leaning towards more Mediterranean flavours in a Panzanella or pesto-dressed salad. Then for an all-round pleaser, it’s all about added heaps of fresh parsley or coriander.
Don’t Skip Your Proteins
Proteins are another essential part to salads — one of the main reasons people are disappointed in salads is if they skip the protein. I love to add crispy roasted chickpeas — just bake for 20 to 30 minutes in some oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper — or my pan-fried tofu cubes. That said, any bean will do, with black beans working especially well in Mexican-inspired salads with lots of sweetcorn and fresh coriander. Also try giving butterbeans a go, coated in pesto with tomatoes and rocket.
Think About Colours And Texture
Salads can get a bad reputation for being bland and boring but there are a few things that can really elevate your meal. Think about the colours you’re using in your salad and make sure to include a few different colours to make it look for appetising. Textures are also so important.
We usually have crisp salad leaves, and maybe some softer beans or tofu, so then a creamy dressing can add a lovely, contrasting element. Don’t be scared to mix warm and cold. Try roasting some of your vegetables like sweet potatoes and serving them with cooling fresh tomatoes.
Before serving, always add something crunchy on top for the best salad. I love to use homemade dukkah, a spiced nut and seed mix, or lightly-toasted pine nuts.
Seasonal And Fresh
Fresh is always best. Work with produce that’s in season for the best flavours and always aim for as fresh as possible. And don’t be afraid to add fruits to your savoury salads, especially in the summer when they’re in season. A handful of chopped blueberries or strawberries work so well with crunchy lettuce leaves and creamy avocado.
Say Goodbye To Soggy Leaves
Soggy salads are the saddest thing. If you are going to eat your salad straight away, then you don’t need to worry, but if you are planning to make your salad ahead of time or have leftovers, don’t mix all the add-ins and dressing with the softer leaves until just before serving them.
Softer leaves include lettuce, watercress, rocket, and spinach, while other leaves like kale are much sturdier. It’s better to massage these with some salt and lemon juice before mixing them into salads. Once dressed and tossed into salads, kale will last for up to two days after.
How To Make Salad Dressing
Dressings are crucial for a great salad, and they really take a salad from bland to wow. My favourite dressings rely on tahini as I think the slightly savoury, nutty taste works well with pretty much all flavours and carries other spices and flavours really well.
As far as choosing what salad dressing goes with what salad, think about the ingredients in the salad and the overall mood of the dish. Is it light and zingy or is it creamy and cooling?
When you do want a creamy dressing, start with your fat like tahini, nut butter, mayonnaise or unsweetened plant-based yoghurt, and then add something zingy like lemon, lime juice or apple cider vinegar. You could also use a really good balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar.
Then you need to balance out the tang with some sweetness, either with a splash of maple syrup or a small amount of coconut sugar. Don’t forget to add some seasoning too; salt and pepper are an essential. If you want a dressing with a kick, add some freshly crushed garlic, chopped chill or sriracha hot sauce.
The same goes for a thinner dressing, too. Instead of starting with a nut butter or mayonnaise, start with a good extra virgin olive oil. The better the quality of oil, the better the taste of the dressing. A trusty dressing would be a mix of extra virgin olive oil, Dijon or wholegrain mustard, lemon juice, maple syrup and lots of salt and pepper.
How To Make Hummus & Kale Panzanella Salad
I have so many favourite salad recipes that I return to regularly. My Herby Hummus and Kale Panzanella is a particular winner. The dressing is made from hummus, which makes this easy and quick to throw together, and packs a lot of flavour into the salad. There are lots of vegetables in there as well as beans for protein and delicious stale bread to absorb all the lovely flavours and dressing.
- 1 batch of herby hummus
- 100g kale, de-stemmed
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 100g cucumber
- 8 radishes, ends removed
- 1 tin butterbeans, drained
- 2 thick slices old bread, torn
- 3 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh basil, chopped
- 2-3 tbsp mixed seeds
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper
- Wash the kale and add to a large mixing bowl with the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and massage with your hands for one minute.
- Peel the carrot and cucumber into ribbons or chop into thin strips. Thinly slice the radish and add all to the kale. Add in the butterbeans, the torn bread and fresh herbs.
- Stir 100g of the herby hummus with 3-4 tablespoons of water to reach a pouring consistency and pour most of this over the salad.
- Toss well with a spoon or your hands. Season to taste.
- Serve the salad topped with the mixed seeds, smoked paprika and the extra dressing.