I love salad, but it's not all about the lettuce. Put me in front of a salad bar and my ratio of toppings to greens is rather skewed. I like all the extra things. I can't help it! I want baby tomatoes that burst in your mouth, I want crunchy candied nuts, soft egg — the list goes on and on. What makes a salad interesting and good? It's all about texture.
Mouthfeel is probably a better word for it, but somehow that word always sounds dirty to me. So I'm sticking with texture.
It doesn't matter if you have three ingredients in your salad or twelve. What will make each one stand out is being different from the next. When ingredients or toppings are too similar in texture they don't really stand out. They might contribute something flavor-wise, but they can't be enjoyed as fully while you're eating.
This might be the point where you say, "Sarah, you're totally over-analyzing this whole salad thing, just eat it and be happy!" Which is probably true, but think about those times when you've hit up a salad bar and gone a little gung-ho on toppings. You pick your favorite dressing at the end and as you are consuming your salad, you realize you could have left half the ingredients behind. It's not usually because you physically need less salad, it's because they're just foods without much memory in your mouth (that's what she said).
If you're looking for the best way to make a salad sing, change things up — but pay attention first and foremost to texture.
Add a creamy sliced avocado in with some juicy grapefruit and call it a day, after adding your crisp greens. Roast your tender tomatoes, add in some crunchy grapes and caramelize some soft onions. Change things up, make them memorable, and most of all — use different textures.
What are your favorite ways to add different textures to your salads? What texture, to you, is essential in a good salad?
(Image: Leela Cyd Ross)