A lot of people want to eat healthier but get stuck in the standard lettuce-and-ranch salad mixes. It can be difficult to know how to boost flavor and health at the same time. Personally, I like to start with a bed of greens (lettuce, spinach, or kale) and add avocado, beets, red or yellow peppers, cucumbers, celery, and carrots. You can add all kinds of veggies — any you have in the fridge! The more variety in color, the better it probably is for you, as each color of vegetable has different, necessary vitamins. That is the first step in making an interesting salad, but don’t stop there. There are tons of protein options, ways to add crunch without the croutons, and lots of ways to boost the flavor profile without adding the too many calories. Below I’ve listed six of the easiest ingredients to add into your salad to make it both interesting and delicious!
1. Roasted chickpeas
Roasted chickpeas are an excellent source of protein, and the beauty of chickpeas is that you can roast them with all kinds of spices to match whatever kind of salad mood you are in. First, preheat your oven to 425° and, in a bowl, toss your chickpeas and mix some spices or sauces to make some awesome flavor combinations. There are many delicious combinations, so you can get as creative as you want with this:
Here are a few:
1) Combine a few teaspoons of cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder. Dust the chickpeas with the spices and and then roast them for a Mexican flavor.
2) Roll your chickpeas in a barbecue sauce and roast for a smoky-sweet flavor.
3) Roll your chickpeas in a buffalo sauce and roast them to complement a creamy ranch or blue cheese dressing salad.
4) Or, just crisp up the chickpeas with a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper for a simple, healthy crouton replacement.
2. Nuts + seeds
Another great source of protein are nuts and seeds! Tossing a few raw (or roasted) nuts or seeds onto a salad can add a much-needed crunch to your salad. My favorites to add are walnuts or hemp seeds, but there are so many options out there, including almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds (if you don’t mind picking them out of your teeth sometimes). Just like chickpeas, most of the nuts and seeds can be roasted with some spices to add some flavor and are a great alternative to croutons.
3. Hard-boiled eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are a great option to add to a salad to make it healthy and delicious. Hard-boiled eggs are such a simple ingredient to add, especially considering you can make them at the beginning of the week and then refrigerate them for salads throughout the rest of the week. These are great options for people who have to pack their lunches in the mornings — it’s super quick and easy! Hard-boiled eggs are also super versatile and can be added to any flavored salad for a healthy protein and some creaminess to boot!
4. Fresh and dried fruit
This is salad ingredient that I never liked when I was a kid. Sweet fruit in a salad? No way! Now that I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize the error of my ways. Now, I rarely make a salad without some kind of fruit. Some of my personal favorites are fresh strawberries, apples, pears or dried figs. There are so many great options, though. Cranberries, orange slices and grapes are also great options. The list goes on. Basically, there is no wrong fruit to add into your salad — including the shape-shifting tomato. Is it a fruit? Is it a veggie? Either way, you should add it to a salad! P.S. tomatoes are technically fruits.
Quinoa is another great source of protein that lasts in the fridge for those who need a quick way to boost their salad-game. Make a big batch of quinoa at the start of the week, top any salad with a spoonful or two of it, and fall in love with that hearty little grain. Another thing to keep in mind is, if you’re wanting a different take on a salad (also known as a ‘no lettuce salad’), quinoa is an excellent starter for a salad, and you can add all kinds of ingredients to make it protein-rich and delicious.
6. Fresh herbs
The other day, I had a bunch of cilantro that was starting to go bad and I wanted a salad, so I rinsed and chopped it all up and tossed it in (you know what they say: “waste not, want not”). Adding in cilantro completely changed the game of my salad! It made the salad so fresh. Some other herbs that you can try in a salad include basil, mint, dill, parsley, and fresh oregano. If you want more of a Mediterranean flavor, add fresh oregano, parsley, or dill. If you want more of a Mexican flavor, add cilantro. I personally enjoy cilantro the most! If you have a salad with some fresh fruit, add mint or basil, as these herbs add such a depth of flavor and complement fruit really well.
So, there is hope for healthy and delicious salads. Fear not! If you’re still stumped, I’ve listed a few combinations that you can try for your next salad that I know you’ll love.
- Fresh herbs + literally any other food combination
- I love fresh herbs because they add flavor without the calories, and they bring freshness to any salad.
- Fresh or dried fruit + mint or basil
- We’ve all had fancy drinks with fruit and mint or basil, so why wouldn’t it also be amazing in a salad? Fancy up your salad with this flavor combo and top it with a balsamic reduction of some sort.
- Hard-boiled eggs + flavored, roasted chickpeas
- Both eggs and chickpeas are great sources of protein, and together they are unstoppable. Seriously, they are a power couple on a salad. The eggs add a creaminess and the chickpeas add flavor to your salad.