Salad Days: My Simple 4-Step Salad Guide

In the early days of The 52 Week Salad Challenge, I asked the question What is a salad? I didn't have the definitive answer back then and I've since realised there isn't really one. The key question to ponder is What makes a great salad for me?

One of the reasons I started the Challenge 3 years ago was to prove to NAH salads needn't be boring and I believe I've done that many times over. I've found it takes just four simple steps to ensure we have a great tasting salad every time. All ingredients are raw, unless stated otherwise.

Step 1 - Make a large base layer of seasonal greens

Choose from:
  • Lettuce
  • Rocket, especially wild
  • Watercress
  • Land cress (aka American cress)
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Foraged greens e.g. hairy bittercress, fat hen, young dandelions
  • Winter purslane
  • Lamb's lettuce
  • Kale
  • Pea shoots
  • Oriental leaves e.g mustards, pak choi
  • Endive or chicory
  • Sorrel - small amounts give a deliciously lemony kick to a salad (thanks Janet for reminding me)

Step 2 - Add colour contrast(s)

  • Red lettuce e.g. Lollo Rosso, Relic, Red Salad Bowl
  • Radicchio
  • Beetroot - leaf and/or root, especially 'Bull's Blood' for leaves
  • Rainbow chard
  • Tomatoes - especially sweet cherry types such as Sungold or Gardener's Delight
  • Carrots - grated, cubed or sliced
  • Pumpkin or squash - cooked (I like them roasted), then sliced or cubed
  • Radishes
  • Peppers (not green - I especially like the elongated type for their flavour)
  • Fruit e.g. orange segments, pomegranate *
  • Edible flowers

Step 3 - Make it crunchy
  • Cucumber
  • Salad onions
  • Sprouted seeds and pulses
  • Sliced green beans (or whole French), shelled peas (or mangetout), or broad beans (all lightly cooked first)
  • Bulb fennel
  • Pulses cooked al dente e.g. chick peas, puy lentils
  • Toasted nuts & seeds e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, peanuts
  • Croutons (as suggested by Anna)
  • Sliced or grated fruit e.g. apple, pear *

Step 4 - Intensify the taste
  • Herbs - e.g. basil, chives, coriander, chervil, dill, mint
  • Microgreens
  • Capers
  • Oils, vinegars (as they are, or flavoured - like the above preparations for making raspberry vinegar) or a dressing
  • Dried fruit e.g raisins, apricots *
* = select just one of these, or not at all e.g. if orange segments are selected for colour contrast, don't use other fruit to add crunch or intensify the taste.

The amounts used gets progressively smaller - at least half of the salad is selected from step 1 and the smallest amount is added from the list in step 4. The amounts and numbers used in each step depends on what you like and have to hand that's in season. The final size of the salad is up to you, depending on your appetite.

Mix all the ingredients together to accompany a serving of cheese (e.g. feta crumbled through for a classic Greek salad) or an omelet, or grilled meat or fish. We only occasionally have a slice of quiche for a change as we're trying to avoid having too much pastry.

How do you make your ideal salad?


  1. Great salad making guide!
    Have a wonderful day!

  2. I've never really thought about my favorite salad constructions, but I appear to be following your recipe! Certainly never boring - assuming you don't have all your salad plants munched by molluscs leaving you leafless in the middle of summer! Sorrel was my big discovery this year, a small amount gives delicious oomph, but flowers? Nah, unless they are rocket or some other strong tasting type, I just don't like the texture in my mouth!

    1. Thanks Janet - I'd forgotten about the sorrel. I love it - especially the buckler leaf variety. It gives a deliciously lemony kick to a salad.

  3. Lovely ideas. I'm a big fan of sorrel, I'm eating it every day at the moment. I'm wishing I had some rocket too, that's another favourite. I've done a little better this year, but I've got a long way to go with salad provision. My late sown rocket that I was hoping would last into the winter bolted very quickly. I'm wondering if I should sow some now.

  4. Hmm CJ, I'd say it's slightly on the late side for rocket as we're now past the equinox and the plants need good light as well as the late season's warmth we're currently enjoying to help them grow. If you can get hold of some rocket seedlings, these will be a better bet. I did that this time last year with some wild rocket and had a good crop to pick over sparingly over the whole winter. Those plants are still going strong a year later!

  5. A good reminder of all the ingredients that so often get missed. Personally I avoid stuff that slides off a fork too easily, so seeds don't really make it into my salads, not unless they're bound by mayo or something (like waldorf salad and walnuts). Same reason I grate, rather than cube usually, but yours is a great list to demonstrate that salads certainly aren't boring. The question is, Does NAH think you've proved the point?

    1. Thanks Helen, and yes he does! There are particularly strong murmurs of appreciation (murmurs because he has his mouth full at the time) particularly when I use fennel, basil and coriander. It shows that just small additions can make a great deal of difference.

  6. Brilliant! I especially like the advice on ratios (they're my kind of thing). And despite my initial scepticism I am a total convert to the fruit vinegar, not only for salads.

    1. Thanks Colleen :) Fruit vinegars were a revelation to me last year. I thought they'd never work.. and then... oh yes!

  7. Oh a most informative post VP with some excellent suggestions. Thank you :) The addition of a few croutons to some salads is another crunch ingredient that we like.

    1. That's a great idea, Anna - I'll add that to the list :)


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