Ready for a truth bomb? Salads don’t have to be boring. In fact, they can take you on a flavor journey that leaves yesteryear's sad pile of lifeless lettuce and mediocre dressing in the rearview mirror.
Don’t believe us? Follow along and get ready to love your next salad.
8 ways to add flavor to your salad
1. Season your ingredients—all of ‘em.
Say it with us: It’s not all about the dressing! Treat each component of your salad as equally important, and you’ll see them come to life: For instance, a little salt and pepper can go a long way in bringing out the flavor in cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes, and avocado tastes better with a squeeze of lemon or lime. When each ingredient pulls its own weight, you won’t need to rely on magic for the flavors to pop.
2. Remember there are many types of lettuce—and use them!
We all know that classic romaine is a tried and true staple of salads. But it can get old—fast. The next time you’re in the lettuce aisle, try a variety or blend that you wouldn’t typically go for. From the bitterness of arugula to the soft mouth feel of butter lettuce, there are so many ways to infuse your salad with texture and flavor. And don’t forget they work well together: Mix your spinach with arugula, pair your butter lettuce with radicchio, or blend your kale with romaine.
3. Skip the lettuce.
Here’s the thing: There’s no real definition of what a salad is or could be. With that, why reduce it to just lettuce-based dishes? WW registered dietitian and recipe developer Leslie Fink, MS, says that her favorite salads forgo lettuce entirely. Her go-to mix is shredded Brussels sprouts, or a combo of shredded carrots, shredded broccoli stalk, and shredded red cabbage. “Having lettuce in the mix is not important to me,” Fink says. “To me, salads are just a combo of veggies and other ingredients that you eat with a fork in a bowl. No lettuce required!”
4. Spice things up.
Don’t be afraid of adding a bit of heat to your salad. Worried about overpowering the rest of your ingredients? Try jalapenos, which can be cut lengthwise and seeded to deliver a slight kick; radishes, which serve up a subtle spiciness some describe as peppery; or spicy olives, which can be chopped and tossed into the mix.
5. Add all the herbs.
We’re talking basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, and rosemary—they’re all bursting with flavor. Don’t know quite where to begin? Try a Mexican-themed salad with chopped cilantro for that extra oomph of freshness. (Thank us later!)
6. Befriend flavorful cheeses.
Don’t get us wrong; there’s a time and a place for mozzarella. But when you add a weaker-tasting cheese to an already bland lettuce mix, you won’t like the results. Instead, opt for something like pecorino, feta, or even blue cheese. These varieties are loaded with salty, briny bite can pull a lot of weight in a salad. Because they’re presence is so strong (and SmartPoints® values can be high), use a small serving chopped up very finely to spread the flavor.
7. Try a homemade dressing.
Dressing has two very important jobs: To work well with every ingredient and unite them. While bottled dressings can do the trick, they often contribute lots of SmartPoints. It's why Fink follows a foolproof plan for SmartPoints-friendly and flavorful homemade vinaigrette: “I'll flip the typical oil-to-vinegar ratio so it's three parts vinegar to one part oil, and then thin it out with some water, fruit juice, fresh squeezed citrus, or broth,” she says. Alternatively, top your salad with a teaspoon of hummus or salsa and toss as a stand-in for traditional dressings.
8. Go rogue.
The perfect salad combinations are fully-loaded with different colors, texture, and crunch—just open up your pantry to see your options. Adding ingredients like sunflower seeds, fruit, nuts, chickpeas, or edamame can make a salad more filling and ensure you never get bored.
Lucy Shanker is a copywriter at WW (formerly Weight Watchers). Beyond WW.com, the Chicago-born, NYC-based food and culture writer's work has appeared on Consequence of Sound, The Independent, Spindle Magazine, and more.