7 Tips for Show Stopping Salads

7 Tips for Show Stopping Salads

7 Tips for Show Stopping Salads ~ take your salad from so-so to stunning with a few secrets I’ve learned over the years. When something looks this fabulous and fresh it’s a pleasure to serve, and even more fun to eat.

kale and herb salad with pansies

It dawned on me recently that so many of my personal favorite posts are salads. They’re fun to put together and to photograph, and I feel good about sharing them because a beautiful salad can entice everybody to eat healthier, and maybe even steal some thunder away from the meat and potatoes. The fresher and more vibrant the ingredients, the bigger the nutritional boost, so it’s a win win for everyone. Here are my top 7 tips for constructing the perfect centerpiece salad at home ~ all the photos are clickable and will take you to the recipes…

Tip #1  Keep it Fresh

A healthy detox salad to help give you a new start

This sounds like a no-brainer but seriously, if you want a gorgeous salad you’ve got to get the freshest greens, and that’s not always easy. If you can’t make it to the farmer’s market, or grow your own, I suggest picking up the greens packed in the plastic tubs over the bags. And check dates, even if it means making a nuisance of yourself. Some stores are notoriously bad about stocking past-their-prime greens (I’m looking at you Trader Joe’s.)  Ideally I like to buy salad greens like I buy fresh fish — to use the same day. Of course you can also buy lettuce by the head, but then you have to wash it and dry it really well. There’s nothing like wet greens to ruin a salad.

Striking Mexican Street Corn Salad

Green salads aren’t meant to be made ahead of time, so plan accordingly and put together your masterpiece shortly before serving. Fresh greens, especially baby lettuces, can wilt after just a short while at room temperature, or even when they’re exposed to the cold air of the fridge.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad

As for herbs, living is best, so if your grocery store has them I suggest buying the herbs planted in little pots…they’re grown hydroponically, or in soil, with the roots attached. If you can’t find those it even makes sense to stop by your local nursery and pick up a few small pots, not for planting, but to keep on the window sill and plucking as you need them. Unless you need scads of herbs for a recipe, they’ll be more cost effective and so much fresher. Fresh plucked herbs are not only beautiful as garnishes, they pack quite a flavor punch, and a few go a long way. The fresh herbs in my Saffron, Chicken and Herb Salad, above, and in my Jeweled Tabbouleh, below, make statement both ways.

Jeweled Tabbouleh is studded with colorful nuts and fruits

Tip # 2  Get the Right Stuff

lacewood bowl from Nelsonwood

Fabulous salads don’t just happen, they are crafted, and a craftsman needs the right tools. A great bowl is essential. The one above is a handmade by Nelsonwood, one of my American Artisans. A good quality wooden salad bowl like this can become a family heirloom — I like the broad shallow shape because it allows you to showcase your ingredients, whereas a deep bowl just buries them. You can find beautiful and inexpensive ceramic salad bowls at discount department stores like Marshalls and Home Goods. It’s best to keep to a plain neutral color if you want to show off the salad itself.

Purple kale with herbs and pansies

From there you need great knife, and a mandoline slicer for finer jobs like my Blood Orange and Jicama Salad. The mandoline makes it possible to instantly slice up almost anything into ultra thin, even slices.

Blood Orange and Jicama Salad

Crisp even slicing can mean the difference between an everyday salad and a sloppy one and sometimes even a sharp knife can’t cut it. A mandoline gives your dish a professional look. If you want to slice sweet peppers like I did for my Bell Pepper and Onion Salad, slice the whole pepper and remove the veins and seeds after slicing.

Sweet Bell Pepper and Onion Salad 2

If you loved chopped salads, a handy Veggie Chopper comes in very handy.

Israeli Chopped Salad is a great example of the healthy vibrant cuisine of the Mediterranean

Tip # 3 Show your Colors

Healthy and colorful Fattoush Salad is a Middle Eastern masterpiece of fresh veggies, and toasted pita, in a tangy lemon dressing

There are tons of choices in the produce aisle and farmers markets these days, so don’t get stuck in a color rut…tomatoes don’t have to be red and peppers don’t have to be green, in fact there’s a rainbow of varieties for each. And you might not realize it but the color variations in vegetables also signal flavor and nutritional variation, so branching out can pay off in a lot of ways.

A wonderful contrast of textures and flavors in this simple salad of figs, fried goat cheese, and arugula

I deliberately chose the yellow heirloom tomatoes to play against the rosy figs in my Fig and Fried Goat Cheese Salad. Red tomatoes just wouldn’t have been as appetizing, both in color, and taste. The heirlooms have a softer, less astringent flavor and pair well with the other ingredients. Edible flowers are another fun way to add a pop of color to a salad. Lots of common varieties are edible, you probably have some growing around you. You can use the whole blossoms, or just the petals.

edible flower salad

Tip # 4  Layer Don’t Toss

Shaved Apple and Radish Salad

If you want to create a truly spectacular salad, layering is the way to go. This way all the components are displayed to their best advantage, allowing the colors and textures to play off each other. You can arrange the ingredients on a platter, like I did with my delicate Shaved Apple and Radish Salad, or you can also arrange your ingredients on top of a bed of greens like the Harvest Salad.

Fall Harvest Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

You can create stripes,  or arrange everything in little piles, like in this Chopped Salad.  The possibilities are endless. Just be sure to arrange your salad shortly before serving because you don’t want the toppings to dry out. Cover with a damp cloth in the fridge if you need to keep it for a short while.

main course chopped salad with tomato vinaigrette

You can toss the lot just as everybody is ready to eat. It makes for great theater.

grapefruit and watercress salald

Tip # 5 Lose the lettuce

Healthy Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Salads don’t have to be leafy and green. Think about using grains, or beans, or even fruit as your base. Add a bit of protein like tuna or eggs, and you’ve got a main meal. The Tomato and Pomegranate Salad, below, is a novel ideal for a salad, and there isn’t a leafy green in sight.

A striking new combination from Yotam Ottolengi's new cookbook Plenty More

The salad below makes use of various citrus fruits as a stand in for tomatoes in the classic caprese.

citrus caprese salad is the perfect winter variation of a summer classic!

Tip # 6 Dress for Success

This is one of my favorite tips because I’m passionate about salad dressing. I think it makes the salad, and that’s no exaggeration. They’re super easy to whip up at home, so there’s no excuse for bottles and packets. I believe in strong bright flavors like Rhubarb Vinaigrette, Pomegranate Allspice, and Spicy Tomato  just to name a few. Above I collected 5 of my favorite fruity dressings to get you a summer’s worth of tasty salads.

This thick cheesy 30-Second Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing will blow you away --- use it for salads and dips!

My 30-Second Authentic Caesar Dressing is so good you’ll just want to skip the bowl and dunk your greens right in.

Tip # 7  Think Outside the Bowl

classy and elegant finger salad cups - no fork necessary!

Let your imagination loose a little, salad doesn’t have to be served in a bowl. One thing I like to do is create individual servings in unusual vessels. It can be as simple as clear plastic cups, like my Individual Salad Cups with Rhubarb Vinaigrette. Spoon your best dressing in the bottoms and arrange the veggies on top. Everybody can grab their own and mingle while they nibble.

Micro Caprese Salad

The Micro Caprese Salad above is served right in the tomato itself! I used the tiniest pearl sized mozzarella and micro basil to complete the theme. Below, my 7-Bean Salad is layered into mason jars, with a lemony vinaigrette at the bottom.

healthy layered 7-bean salad in jars is perfect for picnics!

Think about other ways to present your salads…this Summer Melon Salad is literally a checkerboard of mixed melon cubes…

and the simplest salad of all, no recipe needed, is just a slice of a ripe tomato, topped with fresh mozzarella, a little prosciutto, and a basil leaf!

Caprese Salad

Want to see more? Here’s a link to all the beautiful salads on TVFGI.


Don’t forget to Pin these 7 Tips for Show Stopping Salads!

Take your salad from so-so to stunning with these 7 tips --- and when something looks this fabulous and fresh it's a pleasure to serve, and even more fun to eat. #salad #sidedish #composedsalad #arugula #choppedsalad #beansalad #caesarsalad #beansalad #healthy #glutenfree #memorialday #summer #4thofjuly #barbecue


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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    What’s your advice on a mandoline slicer? I read a ton of reviews before getting the OXO Good Grips one and was so disappointed by how inconvenient/dangerous it was to use.

    • Reply
      April 6, 2016 at 7:27 am

      I started out with an inexpensive one, I think mine is actually The Sharper Image brand, and it works fine. I almost always use the guard that came with it. I am thinking of upgrading though, because I use it so much. I honestly think you get what you pay for with these, and the less expensive ones are fine to start with, but a little more flimsy, and the blade does wear out after a couple of years.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Dear Sue, such a gorgeous array of salads…a beautiful salad bowl just completes the tablescape. I love the edible flowers…such an elegant touch! xo, Catherine

  • Reply
    Dawn @ Words Of Deliciousness
    April 5, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    I love all the beautiful salads. I haven’t tried adding flowers to salads before, but I love the salads that you have added them to. Great post!!.

  • Reply
    Mica @ Let's Taco Bout It Blog
    April 5, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I love this post! I love the first point you made: fresh ingredients. I couldn’t agree more!!

  • Reply
    Annemarie @ justalittlebitofbacon
    April 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    I love all your pretty salads and I’m noting down your tips. 🙂 I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to freshen up my salads and give them a twist.

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Great tips and beautiful salads. I love using edible flowers

  • Reply
    Sherri @ Watch Learn Eat
    April 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    I love these tips! So awesome! All of these salads and these photographs are just simply gorgeous! 🙂

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Hi Sue, oh my gosh, you always make such beautiful salads, love THIS POST!!! Great tips…..

  • Reply
    Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary
    April 5, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Oh, I LOVE this post, Sue!! All of your tips are spot on and all of your salads are absolutely beautiful!! Seriously, I want to reach into my screen and taste them all! Drooling over here big time! Cheers! 😉

  • Reply
    April 5, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Had some trouble leaving my comment last time: really slow to load the page and comment (thought you’d want to know). Had to try again, because your post is so gorgeous. WOW! Love everything about this! Amazing use of colours and textures. Beautiful!

    • Reply
      April 5, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Yikes, good to know, I’ll look into it, thanks Heather

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