I want to show you how to make a homemade salad.
Any salad you want. From scratch. With what you have in your fridge right now. Easy, fast, and convenient.
This is one of the most important cooking skills you will ever master, believe it or not.
I also want to show you how to make a healthy, fat-burning salad, so that you eat clean, lose weight or maintain your ideal weight. Plenty of salad recipes below.
And finally, I want this perfect salad to be convenient, ultra- fast, and easy to make. Because you and I have things to do. We have kids, a job, a busy life and what not. The last thing we want is to spend one hour making a salad. Right?..
If you agree to this, let’s just follow these simple steps…
In fact, composing the best salad is a simple formula.
Now, what’s a salad?..
Greens, sure. Although they are not always essential. A tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad for instance, or an Asian slaw, also are things of beauty.
Here is what makes the perfect salad:
- Vegetables (Greens, or any raw, grilled, roasted, or pickled veggies)
- Optional protein (Meat, eggs, beans, canned tuna, leftover cooked salmon, lentils)
- Optional dairy (Cheese, more cheese)
- Something salty (anchovies, olives, capers) or something sweet (grapes, apples, raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots), but not both (Yuck!)
- Something crunchy (seeds, nuts, croutons, granola)
- A dressing (Vinaigrette type, or emulsified/creamy)
And here is the formula that makes the perfect salad:
Here is our philosophy. I say “our” because I got a lot of this wise knowledge from my husband and his family. As a French chef, he and his family (whom we visit every summer) have a fool-proof way of making salads delicious and super convenient. More on that later.
So our philosophy is that a salad should consist on whatever you have in your fridge, 10 minutes before you’re planning on having lunch. No need for a recipe. Just open your fridge and see what’s in it. If you like each component separately, it will be very hard to not like the salad built with these ingredients.
What vegetables should I use in a salad?
We’re talking about a salad. There is no avoiding the veggies.
Choose at least one, or as many as you want:
Raw greens are what most people think when they hear the word “salad.” Kale, romaine, iceberg, bibb, spinach, arugula, dandelions or whatever, or a combo.
Raw veggies: Lettuce and greens aren’t the only ones who can go raw. Raw asparagus, grated carrots, grated beets, raw zucchini (yes!).
Grilled veggies: Squash, eggplant, zucchini add smokey flavors. Also awesome => Grilled romaine lettuce (just half it lengthwise and boom, on the grill.
Roasted: If you can grill it, you can roast it.
Pickled: adds a funky, fermented note, and bump up the flavor in a big way. Go easy on those. They’re big.
How to add something crunchy to your salad.
Having something to really sink your teeth into makes any salad feel more satisfying.
Choose at lease one, or as many as you want:
Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds too.
Nuts: Toast them first to bring out their flavor, and chop them for easier bites.
Croutons: Homemade is much, much better. Use any old loaf you have on hand. Or even pita bread.
Granola: Watch the sugar content.
How to add protein to your salad.
Protein and vegetables are essentials to weight loss. So don’t hesitate to add plenty of protein.
Leftover roasted chicken works great too. Spicy ground beef or lamb. Classic combo: grilled steak and blue cheese on an iceberg lettuce wedge. Amazing.
How to add something salty to your salad.
This may seem counter intuitive. Maybe because most people don’t like anchovies. That really is too bad because it tastes so good. Try to start with a bit of anchovy paste in the dressing, then move towards tiny chopped up bits of anchovies, then when you’re ready, go for the bad boy anchovy filet.
How to add something sweet to your homemade salad.
Now a touch of sweetness goes a long way. Remember though that it’s salty OR sweet. Not both at the same time. That doesn’t taste good.
My recommendation is dried or dehydrated fruits. Plenty of fiber if you’re trying to lose weight.
Choose fruits that are complementary in flavor to the rest of your ingredients.
How to pair salad ingredients together.
Some combination go better than other. Experience will tell you that, but as a general rule, don’t worry too much about pairings. Again, if you like each component separately, then you will likely love them together.
Here are some classic combos to help you decide:
- Arugula, shaved Parmesan, toasted pine nuts
- Frisee lettuce, dried apricots, hazelnuts, and blue cheese
- Iceberg lettuce, blue cheese, crispy bacon, steak
- Spinach, feta, black olives
- Romaine, anchovies, croutons, Parmesan cheese
- Any greens, dried apricots and pistachios
- Spinach, cranberries and goat cheese
- Mixed greens, pears, pecan, blue cheese
- Mixed greens, apple, walnut, shaved Parmesan
- Garbanzo beans, garlic vinaigrette, parsley
- Couscous, parsley, tomato, lemon juice
- Mixed greens, avocado, mango
- French lentils, bacon, raw carrots
- Grated carrots, Dijon dressing, scallions, raisins
- And many, many more…
Don’t forget fresh herbs
These can be added in almost any combo. They really add to the salad. Add big handfuls of soft and tender herbs, like mint, parsley, cilantro, and basil.
Don’t forget grains
(unless you’re Paleo of in Phase 1 of my weight loss program). The easiest way to bulk up a salad is with a small addition of cooked quinoa, bulgur, couscous, rice or pasta.
Be mindful that the grains will soak up more dressing than the vegetables, but that’s a good thing. Adjust accordingly.
How to make a salad dressing from scratch.
A homemade dressing is what’s going to transform a sad bowl of vegetables into a superb and healthy dish.
Now, it MUST be a homemade dressing, made from scratch, in order to be healthy, delicious, and help your weight loss efforts.
You see, the ingredient list on the back of a salad dressing bottle gives me a headache. Sugar, corn syrup, xantham gum, and other killer “ingredients” I can’t pronounce.
Unhealthy and pricey. Often mislabeled too (no, they’re NOT healthy!).
Big food companies are taking us for fools.
Because you see, making a homemade salad dressing is easy. In fact, it takes 3 minutes to make, costs almost nothing, and helps you lose weight.
Do me a favor: Avoid processed salad dressing at all cost. Make your own from now on. It will help you immensely.
To make a delicious salad dressing, you don’t need a recipe (although I’m including one below).
The only thing you need is to remember the following formula:
1 PART VINEGAR (or something acidic) FOR 4 PARTS OIL (any oil you like), then add whatever herbs and seasoning you want. It’s that easy.
Here are some salad dressing options:
Vinaigrette: A classic vinaigrette is made with fat and acid; traditionally, olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice. But feel free to add warm bacon fat, or experiment with a variety of vinegar’s and citrus juices.
Thick and Creamy dressing: Hearty salads (Like kale) with big flavors can stand up to creamy, rich dressings like a thick, emulsified Dijon mustard dressing for instance.
I really want to emphasize the simplicity of making a salad dressing. Or as the French call it: a vinaigrette. The vinegar (or acidic ingredient) you use doesn’t really matter. It’s a question of preference. Same with the oil you use.
Naturally, I tend to stay away from canola or vegetable oil (heavily processed and rather unhealthy), and I concentrate on extra-virgin olive oil. Your choice of extra-virgin olive oil matters. I always buy the best I can afford, and focus on so-called “estate” olive oil: small producers from California, Italy, Spain, Greece, France or elsewhere who take pride in olive oil making and use a natural process. The best advice I can give you is to taste the olive oil.
Talking about tasting, your first salad dressing may taste strange to you. Remember that a salad dressing is not meant to be eaten by itself; it’s meant to enhance a salad. So the vinaigrette really reveals itself once it is tossed with whatever salad you’re making.
There are a few dressings that I use all the time. One is a classic olive oil, sherry vinegar, and garlic.
Another is avocado oil mixed with a drop of lemon juice and a lot of Dijon mustard.
And yet another is a honey Dijon mustard with olive oil and a drop of balsamic vinegar.
As a general rule, any fresh herbs like Italian parsley, cilantro, dill, or basil really adds a lot of flavor. So do garlic, shallots or onions, as long as they’re chopped finely.
I’ll let you create your own using the secret formula above, but let me give you some advice: don’t sweat it. I don’t measure my ingredients. I just wing it. Who cares if you put a bit more garlic, or a bit less vinegar. It’s all going to end up wonderful anyway.
A vinaigrette dressing is meant to be left as is. You don’t need to mix it, whip it, or work at it. That’s your dressing and it’s ready to help your fat-burning efforts.
Now, if you want an emulsified dressing, then it requires a bit more work. You must add a natural emulsifier (like mustard or if you have to, mayonnaise) for the emulsion to take.
And you need to agitate (whisk really fast) the dressing, adding drops of oil as you go. It’s a bit more work so I usually stay with a classic, non-emulsified vinaigrette. Much easier.
But here is the best part:
A homemade salad dressing can be made ahead in large quantities (try a quart), and kept refrigerated for instant use later. That’s what I do.
On Sunday, I usually make a big batch of dressing that I keep refrigerated in a squeeze bottle. Every time I want to make a salad, it takes me no time: I grab a few greens (spinach, romaine, kale, etc.), take a look at what’s in the fridge that day (maybe a tomato, a hard-boiled egg, canned tuna and leftover green beans?), put it together, and drizzle it with my ready-made dressing. Dinner done!
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Salt to taste
- Ground black pepper
Combine the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil in a container or glass jar with a lid.
Shake vigorously until the oil and vinegar are well-emulsified.
Serve with your favorite greens.
And I explain it all (How to make a salad from scratch, how to make a salad dressing, and how to pack your lunch for work) in this video from my home kitchen in Florida.
One of the best salads I love to make comes from my husband’s native land: the South of France.
It’s the Salade Nicoise. Or Nicoise Salad, as we say in the US. He and I actually made this fun Facebook Live video that got a lot of views.
We actually took some liberties from the actual classic. Something NOT to do with the French LOL! In fact, one of my husband’s childhood friends jokingly called him out on Facebook, and sent him the real, authentic recipe!
Here is a screenshot of the conversation if you speak French. If not, it’s still funny how food is so serious in France.
And here is the recipe of the Salade Nicoise.
- 1 pound red-skinned potatoes sliced 1/3 inch thick
- Himalayan salt
- 10 ounces green beans trimmed
- 1 red pepper sliced
- 1 green pepper sliced
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 leaves head Boston lettuce separated
- 2 5 1/2 - ounce cans Italian or Spanish tuna packed in olive oil drained
- 1 small can of anchovies
- 1/2 cup nicoise olives
Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water and season with salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl and let cool. Reserve the saucepan.
Meanwhile, bring a separate saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with salted ice water. Add the green beans to the boiling water; cook until crisp-tender and bright green, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into the ice water to cool; drain and pat dry.
Place the eggs in the reserved saucepan and cover with cold water by about 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover, remove from the heat and let stand, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, then run under cold water to cool. Peel under cold running water.
Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified.
Toss the tomatoes, green and red peppers in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/4 cup dressing to the potatoes and toss. Quarter the hard-cooked eggs.
Divide the lettuce among 4 plates. Arrange the potatoes, green beans, hard-cooked eggs, tuna, anchovies, and olives on top. Add the tomatoes to the plates. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.
Homemade salads to go: Mason Jar Salads.
The best part about mason jar salads is that they are super fast and easy to make, requiring very little to no cooking. It takes you way less time to make these salads than standing in front of a greasy food truck on lunch break, or even worse, a fast food line.
Not to mention, it saves you a ton of money!
As a busy working mom, the first thing I cut off my task list is packing my own lunch. Who has time for that? However, not packing a lunch usually leads to eating unhealthy foods and unintended weight gain. Having a healthy salad for lunch can change the whole day.
That’s why mason jar meals are the best! Mason jar salads have been gaining popularity lately — and rightly so!
Every Sunday, I grab a bunch of mason jars and pack my lunches for the whole week. I layer fresh, yummy, and healthy salads with the dressing on the bottom so I don’t have to worry about the lettuce getting soggy.
Try a healthy lentil salad packed with protein and fiber, which help with weight loss while keeping you feeling full longer. This healthy recipe will fill about three mason jars, which can stay fresh in the fridge for a week. When you leave for work, just grab and go!
- FOR THE LENTIL SALAD:
- 1 inch small whole acorn squash unpeeled, halved, seeded and diced into 1/2 pieces
- 2 inch medium carrots unpeeled and diced into 1/2 pieces
- 1 inch medium celery root peeled and diced into 1/2 pieces
- 3 inch small beets peeled and diced into 1/2 pieces
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
- 4 slices (4 ouncebacon cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 cups brown or green lentils
- 2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- FOR THE DIJON VINAIGRETTE:
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large pot, combine lentils, 6 cups water, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.
Meanwhile, place vegetables and bacon in one layer on a sheet pan, toss with olive oil and salt. Sprinkle oregano on vegetables, cover pans with foil and roast for 30 minutes or until vegetables are nice and golden.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt, and olive oil.
Drain lentils and discard bay leaf. Toss lentils with half of the vinaigrette while still warm. Add more salt, olive oil and vinegar as necessary.
Combine lentils and roasted vegetables, adding more of the vinaigrette to taste. Drizzle with more olive oil if needed.
One last word about salads…
Everyday clean eating is about simplicity.
That’s hard to achieve. Many artists, chefs, and home cooks often try to add on to their masterpiece to make it better but more often than not, less is more. In other words, we’re trying too hard.
In my husband’s native South of France, which we visit often, the summers are swelteringly hot and dry. Juicy tomatoes burst with freshness, taste, and a profusion of flavor, and summer means it is time to use them or lose them.
Because in-season tomatoes are so perfectly tasty there is no need to do much. As long as you pair them with fresh, simple ingredients that enhance — not overpower — their subtle taste.
Think delicate extra-virgin olive oils, salt, pepper, and a bit of basil. Simple.
The ingredients must speak for themselves.
Here is a recipe for Caprese salad (named after the Italian island of Capri) that is all about three ingredients: tomato, mozzarella cheese, and basil.
Choose these three wisely. Fully ripe, dark red organic tomatoes. Choose heirloom if you can. Or beefsteak.Buffalo artisan mozzarella balls, which are usually kept in brine. Do not settle for cheap, rubbery, mass-produced “mozzarella.” And perfectly fresh basil.
Sure, you can add salt (“Fleur de sel” if you’re fancy!), pepper, and a drizzle of estate olive oil, but not much.
4 cups baby tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs fresh basil, torn
1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
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