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10 Unexpected Ingredients to Make Delicious Salads

<p>In many kitchens, salads are relegated to the sidelines and treated as an afterthought to the <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/best-things-to-serve-at-a-dinner-party/” target=”_blank”>main course</a>. However, when done right, a well-composed salad—fresh, balanced, and unexpected—can easily steal the show. Choosing surprising ingredients and making creative calls on how to combine them will make the most lasting impression.</p>
<p><strong>Olivier Rousselle</strong>, a chef for <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://www.godfreyhotelhollywood.com/alk.html” target=”_blank”>The Godfrey Hotel Hollywood’s ALK</a> (About Last Knife) in Hollywood, California, adds that if you want your salad to take center stage, quality control is key.</p>
<p>”I always like to pick farmer’s market ingredients, as opposed to store-bought—the difference is huge in terms of flavor and texture,” he tells <em>Best Life.</em> “For example, tomatoes in stores are all shiny and perfectly shaped but sometimes bland. Heirloom tomatoes grow to funky shapes and colors, but they burst with flavor and are full of nutrients.”</p>
<p>But don’t head to the farmer’s market just yet—you’ll need to make your grocery list first. These are the 10 unexpected salad ingredients you’re going to want to try, according to top-tier chefs.</p>
<p><strong>RELATED: <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/best-foods-to-serve-at-a-bbq/” target=”_blank”>12 Best Things to Serve at a BBQ, Experts Say</a>.</strong></p>
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1. Watermelon </div>
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<p><img fetchpriority=”high” decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-547769″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/05/Watermelon-salad.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Watermelon greek salad” width=”2560″ height=”3840″ /></p>
<p>Taking cues from seasonal changes is a great way to keep your ingredients fresh and to always introduce something new to your salads, says <strong>Nate Molina</strong>, executive chef for <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://www.instagram.com/genesee_store/” target=”_blank”>The Genesee Store</a> in Taylorsville, California. As summer approaches, he recommends adding watermelon for a light, sweet, crunchy addition.</p>
<p>”Spring and Summer are great times to brunch as there are so many wonderful seasonal ingredients available to play around with,” Molina tells <em>Best Life</em>.</p>
<p>He says that one of his favorite recipes includes watermelon, arugula, and pickled red onions with toasted pepitas, feta cheese, and balsamic glaze. This pairs easily with steak and scrambled eggs or bagels and lox with cream cheese and capers, he notes.</p>
<p>”I will often make this salad when we are hosting a late spring or early summer brunch. It always surprises our guests as the ingredients are unusual, the flavors work well together, and it’s a very vibrant addition to the table,” he says.</p>
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2. Purple cabbage </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-509832″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2023/11/Healthy-bowls-of-food.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Grilled chicken, rice, spicy chickpeas, avocado, cabbage, pepper buddha bowl on dark background, top view. Delicious balanced food concept” width=”1200″ height=”832″ /></p>
<p>Flavor isn’t the only factor to consider when making a salad—your goal should be to stir all the senses.</p>
<p>”When building a salad, I like to keep color in mind and use a variety of leafy greens so that people can start to enjoy the salad before they eat it,” says <strong>Donnie Forehand</strong>, chef de cuisine for Cambria Hotel Austin Downtown’s <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://limestoneaustin.com/” target=”_blank”>Limestone Rooftop</a>.</p>
<p>”One of my favorite combinations for a base is baby spinach, baby arugula, finely shredded carrots, and finely shredded purple cabbage. It makes a beautiful flavor and color combination, and it is a great base for many additional ingredients,” he says.</p>
<p><strong>RELATED: <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/pantry-staples/” target=”_blank”>36 Pantry Staples Every Home Cook Needs</a>.</strong></p>
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3. Candied or roasted nuts </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-442612″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2023/03/shutterstock_1843837840.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”pecans in cup” width=”1200″ height=”800″ /></p>
<p>Including candied or roasted nuts can also add a surprising twist to your salad, says Forehand. Try choosing a flavor profile that contradicts the rest of your salad: For instance, put sweet caramelized pecans atop an otherwise savory salad or roasted walnuts over a sweeter salad with pear, cranberries, and goat cheese.</p>
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4. Sumac </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-547776″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/05/Ground-sumac.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Ground sumac” width=”2560″ height=”1707″ /></p>
<p>Sprinkling certain spices over your salad can also pack a major punch. Rousselle recommends trying Sumac, ground berries with a bright and tangy flavor.</p>
<p>”I like to sprinkle some on a salad—it brings a zesty lemony flavor that works great with Mediterranean salads like Fattoush or Greek salad. With a good finishing olive oil, they cost more, but you don’t need a lot and they taste terrific,” the chef says.</p>
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5. Pomegranate seeds </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-380923″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2022/08/winter-salad-with-quinoa-avocado-blood-orange-pomegranate-bulgur-picture-id902922876.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”winter salad with quinoa” width=”1200″ height=”800″ /></p>
<p>Tart and flavorful, not to mention texturally notable, pomegranate seeds can help punch up your salad with minimal prep work involved, says Forehand.</p>
<p>One <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://cookieandkate.com/pomegranate-pear-green-salad-with-ginger-dressing/” target=”_blank”>simple yet popular recipe</a> includes pomegranates, apple, pear, goat cheese, and pecans atop a bed of arugula. Adding a ginger dressing can help cut the sweetness of the fruit.</p>
<p><strong>RELATED: <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/healthiest-superfoods/” target=”_blank”>10 Healthiest Superfoods to Add to Your Diet, Nutritionists Say</a>.</strong></p>
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6. Fresh herbs </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-547778″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/05/Herbs-on-a-salad.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Salad with herbs and olive oil dressing” width=”2560″ height=”1783″ /></p>
<p>Many people forget the simple power of adding <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/best-herbs-for-beginners-news/” target=”_blank”>fresh herbs</a> to a salad, but these can transform a recipe and add a welcome complexity to the flavor profile.</p>
<p>”I don’t think that enough people put herbs in their salads,” says <strong>Reed Adelson</strong>, owner of <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://www.virginiasnyc.com/” target=”_blank” data-saferedirecturl=”https://www.virginiasnyc.com/”>Virginia’s</a> in New York City. “Oftentimes, when I’m making a salad, I’ll reach for fresh herbs over more traditional toppings like tomatoes, cucumber, etc. Be it chervil chives or dill, they add a nice nuance to a salad and pack the perfect punch.”</p>
<p>Some other all-star salad toppers to reach for include fresh basil, cilantro, oregano, and thyme.</p>
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7. Water chestnut or jicama </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-547779″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/05/Jicama-blueberry-avocado-salad.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Salad with blueberries and jicama” width=”2560″ height=”1707″ /></p>
<p>Forehand says that the key to creating a salad that’s both exciting and satisfying is to use a range of textures with intention. “Salads are usually very textural dishes with several crunchy, crisp, and soft texture combinations,” he says.</p>
<p>To that end, the chef says he likes to balance out the extremes of crunchy and soft ingredients with crisp water chestnuts. Jicama is an alternative that serves a similar textural purpose and can be paired with apples and mangoes for a light and refreshing recipe.</p>
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8. A tomato base </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-380920″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2022/08/caprese-salad-with-mozzarella-and-cherry-tomatoes-picture-id1328094218.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”caprese salad” width=”1200″ height=”800″ /></p>
<p>Many people assume that salads have to begin with a leafy green base, but <strong>Rafael Mayoral</strong>, chef for <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://www.hotelzoesf.com/dining” target=”_blank”>Hotel Zoe’s Pescatore Trattoria</a> in San Francisco, says a salad can be more interesting without one.</p>
<p>”The most delicious salad to me starts with no lettuce or leafy greens,” he tells <em>Best Life</em>. “I prefer a base of tomatoes and cucumbers with lots of olive oil and nothing sour. This trio is an amazing launching pad for any flavor. You can keep it light and pair it with some fresh seafood, such as prawns or grilled halibut. Or add a touch of salt with some cheese like crumbled feta or cotija.”</p>
<p><strong>RELATED: <a rel=”noopener noreferrer” href=”https://bestlifeonline.com/fruits-that-work-like-supplements/” target=”_blank”>Fruits That Work Just as Well as Supplements, Science Says</a>.</strong></p>
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9. Cooked and chilled grains </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-16854″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/media/images/ext/448522757/quinoa-salad-10-grains-weight-loss.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Quinoa salad, healthy grains” width=”1024″ height=”750″ /></p>
<p>There’s a fine line between a grain bowl topped with vegetables and a salad topped with grains—but you won’t mind blurring that line once you try it. Forehand recommends cooking and chilling whole grains such as quinoa, farro, bulgar, or black rice and keeping them on hand as an easy addition.</p>
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10. Sliced stone fruit </div>
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<p><img decoding=”async” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-547760″ src=”https://bestlifeonline.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/05/Stone-fruit.jpg?quality=82&strip=all” alt=”Stone fruit” width=”2560″ height=”1707″ /></p>
<p>Finally, stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, and nectarines also tend to be underutilized in salads, Forehand says. However, these can add tremendous amounts of flavor to your favorite salad, especially if you soak them in a <a rel=”noopener noreferrer external nofollow” href=”https://www.theoriginaldish.com/2021/08/13/marinated-stone-fruit-caprese-salad/” target=”_blank”>red wine vinegar and honey marinade</a> to play up their tartness and sweetness.</p>
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