By Anna Stockwell, Epicurious
To really understand my four-step process when building a great salad, I have to first explain how my brain works in relation to food. I crave food not just by flavor but by texture and temperature. In creating a new recipe or a meal, I imagine how I want each bite to feel in my mouth. I've always been this way--my mom would ask "what should we make for dinner?" and I'd answer with descriptions of how I wanted things to feel: "I want something I can really chew on.""Something soft." "Something crunchy."
So it's no surprise that I'm a sucker for salads, where chewy, soft and crunchy easily coexist. But that brings me to my second craving: temperature. Unless it's the hot height of summer, I don't really like to eat an exclusively cold dinner. So I make sure my salads have a mix of cold and warm parts.
The resulting salad might be kale with warm cubes of sweet potato, warm quinoa, cold slivered apples and creamy goat cheese. Or maybe spinach with hot roasted cauliflower florets, creamy avocado slices, and some extra crunchy pumpkin seeds, all topped with a fried egg. Or thinly sliced lacinato kale tossed with cold brown rice, crunchy cold cucumbers, creamy feta, lots of fresh herbs and some hot grilled steak.
Of course, it all depends on what I have on hand at the time. But as long I stick to the rough plan below, I end up with a salad that satisfies on every level.
STEP 1: START WITH HEARTY GREENS
Since my salads have both cold and hot/warm elements, they should start with raw greens like spinach or kale--greens that benefit (rather than suffer) from a little bit of wilting.
STEP 2: ADD SOMETHING COLD
Cold and Crunchy
Thinly sliced or shaved raw fennel, carrots, radishes, beets, cucumbers, bell peppers, or zucchini. Sliced apples or pears are always great here too, as are bean sprouts.
Cold and Creamy
Any kind of cheese always makes salad better. Ditto avocado. Cold hard boiled eggs and cold cooked beans fit in this category too.
Cold and Chewy
Cold leftover meats, salami, olives, or any dried fruit are nice cold, chewy additions. Leftover cooked grains used cold work too.
STEP 3: ADD SOMETHING WARM
Warm and Crispy-edged
Try any roasted vegetables that are caramelized and crisp on the outside and tender inside, like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, or any kind of squash.
Warm and Creamy
Eggs: soft boiled, fried, or over-easy--so long as they have a runny yolk that turns into a creamy warm dressing over your salad. Cooked beans warmed in a little olive oil also satisfy the warm and creamy itch.
Warm and Chewy
Steamed beets, asparagus, green beans, or broccoli; reheated leftover chicken, pan-seared and sliced steak, duck, or pork tenderloin are all good additions. Warm cooked brown rice, quinoa, or other whole grains fit in this category too.
STEP 4: DRESS TO TASTE, FINISH WITH CRUNCH
The dressing is where you get to really play with flavor: make your own and the sky's the limit on what kind of ingredients you can use. The dressing is also another place you can add texture: a creamy yogurt dressing can be amazing on an otherwise crunch-forward salad. Once it's dressed, add even more crunch (the dressing will help the crunchy bits stick to everything else). Nuts and seeds are never out of place in any salad. Neither are croutons. But the adventurous salad maker may want to go even further.
More from Epicurious:
20 Must-Try Ways to Pair Items You Already Have In Your Pantry
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