5 Tips for Making and Serving a Better Party Salad

updated May 1, 2019
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Why don’t we make salads the center of our party table? It seems like an obvious idea once you get to thinking about it — especially in spring when the season is gifting us with tender greens, edible flowers, and ripe berries. But salads are too often sidekicks rather than scene-stealers when it comes to party food. Are we worried they will seem fussy? Or perhaps too insubstantial? All that is easily remedied with a little forethought and the right balance of flavors, textures, and ingredients, plus a little strategy for serving.

So, how do you make and serve a party salad that your guests will crave? My five tips for making a salad will have your friends and family begging for a recipe — or at least asking you to bring the salad next time too!

1. Plan for a pretty salad.

While monotone color palettes can be beautiful, keeping everything in your salad bowl one color doesn’t do much to sell the lettuce — even if you’ve got the freshest, tastiest greens from your backyard. Since we eat with our eyes, appearance is the first key to making a better party salad. Choose ingredients that are vibrant and colorful, but do it with care: Pick just two or three colors in addition to the green on the lettuce and your salad will catch everyone’s eye. Now you’ve got to deliver on the promise and make sure it’s tasty.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

2. Your salad needs all the things.

A stunning party salad just doesn’t have a stunning color palette — it also includes a variety of textures and flavors. Every salad needs something creamy, something crunchy, something salty, and something sweet. Get even more color and visual texture by using more than one type of lettuce.

  • Creamy: Soft cheeses are an obvious addition, but avocado and olives make excellent creamy additions too.
  • Crunchy: Crisp vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, and carrots, but also croutons, nuts, and seeds all fall in the crunchy category.
  • Salty: Nuts, salty cheese like feta and Parmesan, and olives or capers can each give a salty pop to your party salad.
  • Sweet: Fruit in a savory salad is playful and unexpected, but sweetness can also be added through candied nuts or seeds and a sweeter dressing.
(Image credit: Christine Han)

3. Make your own dressing.

Guests are always seriously impressed by a homemade dressing. Easy to whip up, homemade dressings also give you complete control over the final seasoning and flavors in your salad. If your salad’s ingredients are well-balanced (i.e., a mixture of creamy, crunchy, salty, sweet), then your dressing should have both acidity and plenty of oil. Both of these ensure that the salad tastes as good as it looks.

The dressing master list: 10 Salad Dressings to Know by Heart

4. Arrange for serving.

Composed salads were once quite vogue for entertaining because they are so visually stunning. Rather than toss your salad before guest arrive and risk a soggy salad, artfully arrange the ingredients on top of salad and toss it with the dressing just as the guests arrive. And don’t forget: The dressing goes on only the moment the party starts.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

5. Toss at the table.

Make your salad a bit of a show and dress and toss it right at the table. This is impressive but also practical, as this keeps the salad from getting soggy before serving and ensures every salad-eater gets a little bit of everything on each plate.