salad template recipe title photo: simple quick wholesome salad

The Salad Template: The Last Salad Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Last week’s post was a bit heavy, so today we’re going to keep it light… with a salad!

This 5-minute recipe is the last salad recipe you’ll ever need. It’s good on its own, and it’s also a template that’s easy to extend to whatever you feel like eating (or whatever you’ve got in the fridge).

The simplicity of this recipe allows the taste of the ingredients to shine through. If you’ve been saving fancy olive oil or apple cider vinegar, use it here! (Just make sure the oil hasn’t gone rancid while you were waiting for this recipe.) Really fresh vegetables are also very nice here. But, feel free to start with whatever you have!

The Salad Template (The Last Salad Recipe You’ll Ever Need)

What you need:

  1. “Leaves” (spring mix, romaine, spinach, whatever)
  2. Oil (veggie, canola, olive, or extra virgin olive, and probably others work too)
  3. Lemon juice (or substitute white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  4. Salt

Step One: Ready the Leaves

Wash your salad leaves, and shake out any excess water. If the leaves are too big to easily eat as-is, cut or tear them into smaller leaf pieces. Put them in your salad bowl.

Step Two: Dress the Salad

Season, toss, taste, and repeat:

  • Season. Drizzle your leaves with oil and lemon juice. (If either liquid is not in a container conducive to drizzling, use a spoon.) Add a light sprinkle of salt (a small pinch, or a few shakes if you use a shaker).
  • Toss.
  • Taste (eat a leaf).
  • Repeat, adding a little more of one ingredient, then another, until you have a balanced, light, and tasty salad.

Note: don’t worry if this step takes a little while the first time – you’re learning! It gets easier and quicker once you know what balance of tastes you like and approximately how much oil, lemon juice, and salt it takes to achieve it.

Really Great Add-Ons

Add-ons are 100% optional – this salad is great by itself! But, just in case they’re helpful, here are some simple add-ons. I typically use one or two of these with most salads I make.

Flatlay of wholesome food, including kale, avocado, strawberry, thyme, and peppers.
Feel free to experiment with a variety of add-ons!

Herbs

Fresh herbs make this simple salad AMAZING. I typically use flat-leaf parsley – leaves and stems – because I regularly have it on hand, but the wonderful Alison Roman (in her book Nothing Fancy) also recommends chives, dill, mint, tarragon, or cilantro.

How much of the herb(s) should you add? However much you want! Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy. I usually use a healthy handful, and Alison suggests an “almost 50/50” ratio with salad leaves (though I personally haven’t gone that far).

The Quick Pickle

This is a quick way to mellow out “sharp” tasting foods like onions and radishes so they meld better with the rest of the salad. You can also apply it to other vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, or bell peppers, for some taste variety. 

To do the quick pickle:

  1. Slice your onions or radishes or whatever you’re quick-pickling, into sorta thin slices. (If the slices are very thick, your quick-pickling may not reach the center, so the center may still taste sharp.)
  2. Put the slices into a small bowl, drizzle them with lemon juice (or white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar), sprinkle with salt, and toss to lightly coat the slices.
  3. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes or so, then add to your salad.

It’s easiest to add your quick-pickle mixture before dressing the salad (step two) because the extra lemon juice from the quick pickle can be incorporated into the dressing.

Whatever You Want Or Have On Hand

As you make this salad more and experiment with various add-ons, you’ll start to get a sense for what tastes you enjoy in a salad. Make what you like, and don’t be afraid to try out new things! I personally like a variety of textures and colors, and recently made a spring mix + quick-pickled daikon radish + extra tomatoes + extra parsley salad which I liked a lot.

Using flexible template recipes like this also helps you to not waste food, because it allows you to be more flexible with your ingredients in the kitchen!

Bonus Tips

Incorporating the Salad Template into a shopping trip

Back when I used to follow more recipes, one of my biggest struggles was buying ingredients which were sold in much larger bunches than what I needed. I’d buy a whole head of celery because I needed a single stalk. You should never have to do that with this salad.

If you’ve got salt, oil, and a bottle of white wine vinegar at home, then all you need to add to your shopping trips are salad leaves, it’s that simple! And if you want to jazz it up, I highly recommend using the flexibility of this recipe to not plan ahead and instead buy small amounts of whatever looks fresh and tasty (or is on sale) at the store to add on – or use any extra ingredients you have left over from preparing a main dish. I almost always have half a tomato or some extra onion that I toss in this salad.

Incorporating the Salad Template into a meal

How you incorporate this depends, of course, on the rest of the meal you’re cooking. Here’s how I typically incorporate this into cooking a whole meal.

This slots in as a veggie side dish for most western food, including steaks, stews, burgers, fish, and chicken. I especially like it with steak or burgers because it helps balance the heaviness of the meat. For middle-eastern food, I typically make a cucumber salad instead (same recipe, but swap leaves for cucumbers), though I imagine this salad would work fine with many meals. I usually don’t make this with central-and-south-American cuisine, and I don’t make it with Asian food.

Wholesome spinach salad with chicken and pomegranate as part of a complete meal
Keep it simple, or adjust the add-ons to make the salad more in-theme.

For a long-cooked meal like a stew, I prepare this at the end, just before serving, so it tastes fresh. Usually I’m already chopping fresh herbs to scatter over the main dish at the end, so the salad is an easy addition. 

If I’m cooking a quick meal, I prep leaves and any add-ons with the rest of the vegetables (and typically before I handle the meat to avoid cross-contamination). If quick-pickling, I do that after chopping veggies, because chopping everything at once is more efficient for me. When I’m waiting on the main dish to finish cooking (e.g. waiting on the chicken to come to temperature), I add the quick-pickled goodies to the salad bowl and dress the salad. When you first start, you might just make the salad at the end, so you don’t burn the main dish if you need more time to adjust the dressing tastes. 

And that, my friends, is the last salad recipe you’ll ever need. Hope you enjoy!

Resources

  • Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. I love both her cookbooks (they are two of the few books I own), but this one contains the herby salad recipe. Her cookbooks are full of colorful recipes with awesome flavors.
  • Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I have been cooking for many years, but this cookbook seriously leveled up my game by teaching me how to use salt (and other things, but most importantly salt). You might recognize that the Salad Template recipe has salt, fat (oil), and acid (lemon juice or vinegar).