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Salad Recipe: Create Your Own

Scott Phillips

Learn the basic method for a great first-course salad, bursting with diverse flavors and textures, and you have hundreds recipes at your fingertips. Our basic method builds from a base of lettuce and greens, then fruits and vegetables, then zesty accents like croutons, nuts, cheeses, and herbs. Toss it all with a homemade salad dressing for maximum flavor.

Master First Course Salad Recipe

Serves 4

Make your dressing

No salad is complete without dressing, of course. Homemade dressing is light-years ahead of the bottled stuff in terms of flavor, and takes only a few extra minutes. Click the links below for recipes. Keep in mind you may  not use an entire recipe for one salad.


Choose 1 dressing


Balsamic Vinaigrette

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

Red Wine-Dijon Vinaigrette

Classic Sherry Vinaigrette

Orange-Fennel Seed Vinaigrette

Black Olive Vinaigrette

Toss the salad


When choosing your greens, aim for a mix of textures, color, and flavor, with some mild lettuces and some bolder ones. Fruits and vegetables give the salad its personality; again, you want to aim for contrasts in flavor and texture. Pair sweet pears or apples with bitter greens; crunchy radishes or carrots with soft Boston lettuce. When adding the dressing, go slowly; add too much and it will sog out your greens.

In a large bowl, combine 4 lightly packed cups of greens (see options below) and one to three fruits and/or vegetables (see options below). Add 1/4 cup of the dressing, season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and toss well. Taste the greens, and adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, or dressing as needed (you may not need all of the dressing).


Choose up to four types of greens for a total of 4 lightly packed cups


Baby arugula

Baby spinach

Boston lettuce leaves, torn

Endive, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick strips

Frisee leaves, torn

Green leaf lettuce, torn

Mache leaves

Mixed baby greens

Radicchio leaves, torn

Red leaf lettuce, torn

Romaine lettuce leaves, torn


Choose 1 to 3 fruits and/or vegetables (optional)


Steamed broccoli florets: 2 cups

Steamed cauliflower florets: 2 cups

Halved cherry tomatoes: 1-1/2 cups

Canned, drained chickpeas: 3/4 cup, rinsed

Red or gold beets: 3 medium, roasted, peeled, and diced

Fresh figs: 6 to 7, quartered

Grapefruit: 1 medium, peel cut away, flesh cut into segments, segments halved crosswise

Grapes, halved and seeded: 1-1/2 cups

Canned, drained kidney beans: 3/4 cup, rinsed

Oranges: 2 medium, peel cut away, flesh cut into segments

Thinly sliced radishes: 3/4 cup

Carrots: 2 medium, peeled and julienned

Apple: 1 medium, thinly sliced

Avocado: 1 medium, pitted, peeled, and cut into thin wedges

Cucumber: 1 small (or 1/2 large English cucumber), thinly sliced

Fennel: 1 small bulb, cored and thinly sliced crosswise

Thinly sliced mushrooms: 1-1/4 cup

Red onion: 1 small, thinly sliced

Pear: 1 medium, thinly sliced

Scallions: 3, thinly sliced (white and green parts)

Plate, top, and serve


Think of finishing touches like cheese, herbs, nuts, bacon, and dried fruit as your salad’s accessories. They add a jolt of color, flavor, and texture, but shouldn’t detract too much attention from the greens themselves. They’re best scattered on top of the salad once plated, so they don’t fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Divide the salad between four salad plates. Scatter your choice of cheese (see options below) and finishing touches (see options below) evenly over the four salads. Drizzle with a bit more dressing, if you like.


Choose 1 cheese (optional)

Fresh goat cheese: 4 oz., crumbled

Blue cheese: 3 oz., crumbled

Feta: 3 oz., crumbled

Aged gouda: 2 oz., thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler

Parmigiano-Reggiano: 1-1/2 oz., thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler


Choose 1 to 3 finishing touches (optional)


Sliced almonds: 1/3 cup, toasted

Sliced bacon or pancetta: 4 oz., cooked until crisp and crumbled

Cashews: 1/3 cup, toasted

Homemade or store-bought croutons: 2 cups

Dried cherries: 1/3 cup, soaked in hot water 10 minutes to plump

Torn fresh basil leaves: 1/4 cup

Fresh chervil leaves: 1/4 cup

Thinly sliced fresh chives: 2 Tbs.

Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves: 1/4 cup

Coarsely chopped fresh mint: 1/4 cup

Fresh tarragon leaves: 1/4 cup

Hard-cooked eggs: 2 large, peeled and coarsely chopped

Toasted, chopped hazelnuts: 1/2 cup

Toasted, chopped pecans: 1/2 cup

Pine nuts: 1/3 cup, toasted

Shelled pistachios: 1/2 cup, toasted

Hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas): 1/3 cup, toasted

Toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts: 1/2 cup


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