Fun Toppers for Spring Salads

It’s spring and lettuce is in full bloom! Whether you’re a fan of open-head lettuce like red or green leaf, crisp lettuce like Romaine, or buttery lettuce like Bibb or mâche, the toppings make the salad. In the mood for bitter arugula or hearty baby spinach? The toppings still make the salad. Here are some suggestions for making the most of the season’s freshest greens:

Simple dressing ideas:

Every salad needs dressing, partly because dressing adds flavor and partly because it’s a good idea nutritionally—most vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning you need healthy fats to access those vitamins. Luckily, dressing is a snap to make!

  • Choose a fresh, unprocessed oil like extra-virgin olive oil, unrefined walnut oil, or unrefined avocado oil.
  • Choose an acidic ingredient to pair with your oil: lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, or your favorite vinegar.
  • Start with a 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar. Place your ingredients in a glass jar, close tightly, and shake well to combine. Alternatively, whisk your ingredients together in a small bowl.
  • If you want to add “extras” to your dressing, try whisking in dried or fresh herbs, freshly smashed fruit (how about a raspberry-walnut vinaigrette?), and/or Dijon mustard.
  • Mustard and egg yolks act as emulsifiers, which means that they help the oil and acid stick together. If you include mustard or egg yolk in your dressing, whisk it with the non-oil ingredients first, then slowly trickle in the oil last, whisking constantly. This will create a smooth, thick dressing. If you want it thinner, trickle in water or more of your acidic ingredient until the dressing reaches its desired consistency.

Fun toppings to try:

  • Raw or toasted seeds, especially hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds/pepitas, chia seeds, and sesame seeds add interesting texture to salads (poppy seeds are best whisked into dressings).
  • Raw or toasted chopped/sliced nuts lend loads of flavor and nutrition, especially almonds, pecans, and walnuts.
  • Raw or toasted cacao nibs add a burst of (non-sweet) chocolate flavor.
  • Edible flowers like nasturtium, violets, and pansies (as well as well as flowers from herbs) are flavorful and pretty atop salads.
  • Roasted chickpeas make great croutons! Make your own by frying cooked and well-drained chickpeas in ghee or extra-virgin olive oil for about 20 minutes over medium heat, then sprinkling with sea salt and/or your favorite spices.
  • Dried fruit chips can be cracked into smaller pieces and used as croutons (look for non-sweetened varieties).
  • Dried coconut chips are great faux croutons in Asian salads (again, look for non-sweetened varieties).
  • You can use corn chips as croutons, too, and it’s easy to make your own: cut stone-ground tortillas into bite-sized pieces and then fry them in ghee or extra-virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes over medium heat or until they’re crisp and starting to turn golden brown.
  • I love to use cut up bell peppers of various colors to brighten up my salad and give it a little crunch as well!

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