How to Make Salad That’s Anything But Boring

Dull, lifeless salads are so yesterday. We're breaking down how to make salad the right way by covering the different types of salad, topping ideas and more.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

Everything you know about how to make salad is getting turned on its head. We’ll run through our best salad recipes, dressings and salad tips that’ll make you think twice about the dish. It’s time to say goodbye to sad, wilted lettuce and plain bottled dressing and start enjoying your leafy greens. Follow our ultimate guide on how to make salad.

Types of Salad

types of salad-graphicSydney Watson/Taste of Home

One of the most exciting things about salad is the sheer variety of recipes there are. Just about every cuisine in the world has its own types of salad that have made their way into countless cookbooks, restaurant menus and likely even into your lunchbox at once point or another. From leafy to cheesy to coated in Miracle Whip, there are salads recipes that fit every taste.

The two main types of salads are:

  • Composed salads—or if you’re feeling fancy, salade composée. The ingredients of these salads are arranged on a plate in a thoughtful and deliberate way before serving. Popular composed salads include chef salads and Cobb salads. Even a Caprese salad could be considered a composed salad with its artful layering of basil, mozzarella and tomato.
  • Tossed salads are a little more chaotic. Ingredients are tossed together before serving. Classic tossed salads include Caesar salad and Italian salad.

While there are infinite variations of salads, most can be boiled down to three main components:

  • A base of raw or cooked vegetables, often lettuce
  • A dressing
  • An assortment of flavorful toppings

Of course, there always exceptions to the rule. Fruit salads and pasta salads, for example, are a popular potluck staple across the country. And many Mediterranean salads, like tabbouleh, rely on grains and herbs instead of lettuce. However, with this basic formula, you can make countless combinations of healthy green salads without a recipe. Simply pick a few components and measure the ingredients to your heart’s content. The following salad ideas will help get you started.

Salad Ideas

Types of Lettuce

lettuce types graphicSydney Watson/Taste of Home

Lettuce or other salad greens are a great base for salads. Different types of lettuce have their own subtle flavors and textures that can contribute to your dish.

  • Crisphead, otherwise known as iceberg lettuce, is one of the most popular lettuce leaves in the United States. It has a very mild taste and it usually takes on the flavor of the salad dressings its paired with.
  • Romaine is also known as cos lettuce, is most notably known for its delicious appearance in Caesar salads and pre-made salad kits. Romaine lettuce has a bit more flavor than crisphead and it keeps its sturdy shape—even when paired with oil-based vinegarettes or while making a grilled salad.
  • Loose-leaf has a mild flavor, but its ruffled edges add a playful texture to any simple salad. The most popular loose-leaf varieties are red and green.
  • Butterhead lettuce comes in two popular varieties: Boston and bibb. It’s mild and sweet in flavor and fragile and soft in texture. You’ll see this type used in lettuce wraps and light salads.

Apart from lettuce, we also encourage you to use other leafy greens as your salad base. Popular choices include arugula, kale, endive and spinach.

Types of Salad Dressing

Taste of Home

While you may be familiar with ranch dressing or balsamic vinaigrette, there are many salad dressings that’ll gussy up even the most basic salads. And while we love using bottled dressing as a shortcut, there’s really no match to the flavor and brightness that come from homemade salad dressings. Here are the two main types:

Vinaigrettes

A basic vinaigrette is made of a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar, plus herbs and seasonings. Apart from balsamic, Italian, lemon and strawberry vinaigrette are popular choices. They’re known for being the “lighter” dressing in comparison to cream-based salad dressings. Most vinaigrettes can be used in other recipes as a marinade or glaze.

Cream Dressings

Made with mayo, cream or buttermilk, creamy salad dressings are a great way to add delicious healthy fats into your salad. They are perfect for rough-and-tough lettuces leaves, like romaine, that can hold and handle a heavier dressing. Some of our favorites are buttermilk ranch, blue cheese and cilantro dressing.

Psst! Don’t have time to make from scratch? We tried 11 brands and found the best salad dressing.

Salad Topping Ideas

salad ingredientsSydney Watson/Taste of Home

Once you’ve chosen your lettuce and salad dressing, it’s time to pile on the toppings and really make your salad pop. Mix and match your favorite healthy salad toppings to create a dish that’s all your own.

Protein

Whether you’re a meat-lover, vegan or vegetarian, protein-packed salads give you extra energy and nutrients. We recommend adding protein for boosting your metabolism, preserving muscle and even for weight loss. Plus, it makes for a much more filling (and tasty!) salad. Popular salad ideas include:

Veggies

Chopped vegetables are one of our favorite salad toppings. Options include asparagus, broccoli, beets, bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, corn, eggplant, onion, peas, radishes and zucchini. These taste great cooked or raw. Also, don’t be afraid to add fresh herbs like mint, basil or cilantro for extra brightness.

Fruits

Sweet and refreshing, fresh fruit can add a punch of flavor to your salad. Plus, they’re a welcome ingredient for picky eaters. Try dressing up your salad with apples, avocado, blackberries, blueberries, figs, oranges, mango, pears, plums, pomegranates, raspberries, tomatoes or watermelon.

Carbs

Don’t run away from adding carbs like croutons, pasta, quinoa, cooked potatoes or rice to your salad. They will keep you full while offering you an extra boost of energy.

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds all have great health benefits. Plus, they add a nice texture and a satisfying crunch.

Our Best Salad Recipes

Taste of Home

If you’re looking for a tried-and-true salad recipe that’ll impress the family, we have hundreds ready for you. Try our main course salad dinner recipes or take a look through our collection of side salad recipes that’ll complement any meal.

And we know that finding recipes for any specialized diet can be challenging. These salad recipes will teach you how to make a salad that’s healthy and delicious.

More Salad Recipes to Try
1 / 73

How to Store Salad

Due to their delicate nature and fresh ingredients, most leafy salads do not make great leftovers. If you’d looking to eat your salad the next day, we recommend storing the dressing and any wet ingredients separately. Otherwise, your salad may end up a soggy mess! Store each of your ingredients in individual containers and assemble day-of. Well-dried looseleaf lettuce will keep fresh in a lettuce keeper or vented container for 7-10 days.

Here are some of our favorite salad containers and produce keepers that will keep your salads crisp.

  • This large bento salad container has sections for greens, toppings and dressing.
  • Every salad lover needs this salad dressing shaker. It lets you mix, measure, serve and store dressing all in one container.
  • Keep greens crisp with this produce keeper. It features both an air vent and a water reservoir to keep your produce as fresh as can be.
  • Have a prepped salad? Store it a glass salad container. They’re perfectly portioned to meal prep salads for lunch and dinner.
  • Store lettuce heads for longer with this lettuce keeper. It’ll keep your lettuce in place while keeping it fresh.

Christina Herbst
Christina is an Assistant Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in content creation and SEO optimization. She enjoys trying out local foodie restaurants and coffeehouses and adding copious amounts of garlic and cheese to any recipe she can get her hands on.