10 Ways to Build a Bigger, Bolder, Better Salad and Call It Dinner

updated May 1, 2019
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“Salad night” was a tough battle to win in my house. It took some convincing that salad for dinner wouldn’t be boring, and most importantly that it would be filling enough that we wouldn’t have to reach for frozen pizza 30 minutes after dinner.

Here are my favorite tricks for assembling dinner salads that are guaranteed to be bolder, more flavorful, and 100% satisfying for dinner.

1. Start with a seriously big bowl and never apologize for it!

If anyone tries to tell you that the mixing bowl you’re using for your dinner salad is too big, you’ll know you’ve got it just right. Remember — this salad is your whole meal, so go big. All that ample room leaves you plenty of space to toss the ingredients around and eat without anything spilling over the sides.

2. Season your greens like you’d season anything else you eat.

Part of what makes restaurant salads so reliably tasty is that they always season the greens. I now do the same thing at home and it makes a world of difference. A pinch of flaky salt, or even kosher salt, is a small and simple step that makes the flavor of the ingredients pop. After adding the greens to the bowl, sprinkle a pinch of salt over top and toss to combine. You don’t want to go overboard here, so start small, taste, and if necessary add a little more salt.

3. Include cooked vegetables for a dose of bolder flavor.

Go beyond a big heap of chopped raw veggies. I’ve always been a proponent of adding a cooked ingredient or two to dinner salads, and after writing a cookbook on Buddha bowls, with recipes that thrive on mixing cooked and raw vegetables, I’m positive this approach makes a far better dinner salad. Including a mix of things like roasted sweet potatoes, squash, or cauliflower or sautéed peppers, snap peas, or asparagus instantly brings more flavor and texture to the bowl.

This is just one of the reasons I always include a bunch of different vegetables during my weekend meal prep.

4. Be generous with the protein.

A truly satisfying dinner salad must have plenty of protein. Since the most common concern with dinner salads is that they won’t be filling enough, I’m always sure to top them off with a generous amount of protein.

They way I see it, a really good dinner salad is topped with the same amount of protein that would normally be served for dinner, which can be a chicken breast, sliced steak, a salmon fillet, shrimp, or a generous scoop of beans or lentils. Don’t hold back just because there’s some lettuce involved.

5. Let your salad embrace fat because fat = flavor and satisfaction.

A really good dinner salad always has some fatty ingredients. Not only does fat add more flavor, but these ingredients also make salad more filling. Some of my favorite picks are avocado, nuts and seeds, smoked salmon, avocado oil or olive oil, or cheese. And of course the dressing, which is perhaps the easiest opportunity to bring flavor and fat to a salad.

6. Crunchy toppings are always a good idea.

A really good dinner salad needs something bold to make it stand out, and something crunchy is how to get there. In fact, I have a rule that my dinner salads must contain at least one crunchy thing no matter what. Take inspiration from the way chopped almonds balance out a roasted carrot and chickpea salad, crumbled tortilla chips round out a salad inspired by shrimp tacos, and buttery, spiced croutons make a zucchini noodle salad pop.

7. Don’t forget the flavor boosters.

Flavor boosters are a step beyond the regular toppings and crunchy things in your salad. These are the additions that bring big, bold, assertive flavor that instantly perk up any run-of-the-mill dinner salad. For example, have you ever mixed a big forkful of super-tangy kraut or kimchi into your salad? Give it a try! Quick-pickled vegetables, tinned fish like anchovies or sardines, or everything bagel seasoning are also great flavor boosters.

8. Never use a dressing you don’t love.

Let’s be real: Dressing is the most important part of any salad because dressing has the power to totally make or break your salad. A really good one will instantly take your salad from good to this salad is incredible. A dressing you’re not really into can drag your salad down, making it all around unsatisfying.

A simple homemade dressing is easy to whisk together, but when time is tight and energy is low, there is nothing wrong with reaching in the fridge for a bottle of your favorite store-bought stuff.

9. Use a warm dressing.

I’m sharing this tip as a reminder to myself as much as one to you. Despite not using it all that often, I am a strong advocate for warm dressings, particularly when it comes to dinner salads. Not only does it make dinner feel a touch more fancy, but adding a warm element to an otherwise cool bowl of salad also makes it more satiating.

Here’s how! Rather than whisking your dressing in a bowl or shaking it in a jar, heat the oil (or rendered bacon fat!) in a skillet or small saucepan, then whisk in the remaining ingredients. Or just heat up your dressing (homemade or store-bought) in the microwave.

Read more: Why You Should Microwave Your Salad Dressing

10. Make your dinner salad a hybrid of two things you love.

Worried you’re still going to be craving that taco or slice of pizza after eating salad for dinner? If that sounds like you, it’s time to turn to salad hybrids. Salad hybrids straddle the line of salad and the meals they’re inspired by. For example, our steak fajita salad skips the tortillas, but delivers spice-rubbed steak and charred peppers and onions over a bed of romaine and shredded red cabbage, while our chicken caesar orzo salad shows you how to tackle salad night and curb your craving for pasta at the same time.

Try These Dinner Salad Favorites