…from the Perspectives’ Kitchen
How you doin’? Last week, we took a walk through the salad garden introducing and discussing many of the lettuces that might find their way into your salad bowl. Today, we’re going to cover some of the many “orts” that help to make salads more interesting and flavorful. Orts are the toppings and add-ins that contribute color, texture, aroma, sometimes temperature (hot and cold), flavor and hopefully lots of nutrition!
Below are the top 20 healthy salad toppings, but there are no rules when it comes to making salads. If you like it, put it in the bowl and mix it up. It’s a great way to get your 5-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables for better health!
1. Chopped Raw Vegetables
A typical salad starts with raw greens, such as lettuce, spinach, kale, mixed greens or arugula. However, you can also add several other raw vegetables. Some popular raw veggie toppings include chopped carrots, onions, cucumbers, celery, mushrooms and broccoli. These vegetables are packed with fiber and plant compounds that offer health benefits.
2. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds such as pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts and chia seeds, among many others, are highly nutritious salad toppings. When choosing nuts or seeds to add to your salad, look for raw or dry-roasted varieties without added salt, sugar or preservatives.
3. Dried Fruit
Salads and dried fruit are a delicious combination. Using dried cranberries, apricots, mango or raisins as a salad topping is an easy way to add some sweetness along with various nutrients. To avoid added sugars and preservatives, look for dried fruits that only have the fruit listed as an ingredient. Use this tasty treat sparingly to top off your salad.
4. Whole Grains
Some popular whole grains to use as salad toppings include cooked brown rice, quinoa, farro and barley. These grains add texture and flavor to your salad. Research links whole grain consumption to a variety of health benefits, including weight loss and reduced cholesterol levels.
5. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are excellent sources of plant protein to add to your salad. A 1-cup (172-gram) serving of both cooked black beans and kidney beans provides over 15 grams of protein in addition to vitamins, minerals and fiber.
6. Fresh Fruit
Even though salads are typically thought of as a combination of vegetables, fresh fruit can be a delicious salad topping with added health benefits. One study of more than 800 adults found that each piece of fruit consumed per day was associated with a 10% reduction in heart disease risk. Popular fresh fruits to add to your salad include berries, apples, oranges, melons and cherries. You can also use blended fruit or freshly squeezed fruit juice for homemade salad dressings.
7. Baked Tortilla or Pita Chips
Crushed tortilla or pita chips add a crunchy texture and delicious taste to your salad. Tortilla chips are a great addition to Tex-Mex salads that include beans, salsa, avocado and shredded cheese. On the other hand, pita chips are a good complement to salads with Mediterranean flavors. Just a little though, as chips can add calories without adding much nutrition.
8. Shredded Hard Cheeses
Using shredded hard cheeses, including Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan and Manchego as a salad topping adds more complex flavor and nutrition. One ounce (28 grams) of shredded parmesan cheese has over 10 grams of protein for just over 100 calories.
9. Roasted Vegetables
Roasted vegetables are a delicious complement to raw salad greens. Depending on the vegetable, roasting brings out different flavors and textures. Research also suggests that cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest and improves the absorption of some nutrients.
10. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Eggs can be a highly nutritious addition to your salad. One large egg provides 6 grams of protein and more than 15 vitamins and minerals for only 77 calories. Their protein content can also help you feel fuller.
11. Fresh Herbs
Herbs are the leaves, seeds or flowers of plants that can add flavor or fragrance to your dishes. Popular fresh herbs to add to salads or salad dressings include basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, sage and cilantro. Herbs not only add flavor but may also provide various health benefits.
Meats, such as baked or grilled chicken, pork or beef, can be great as salad toppings. Meats are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality protein that can help you feel full and satisfied.
Adding seafood to your salad can boost its nutrition and flavor. Salmon, cod, halibut, shrimp, lobster and even sardines are incredibly healthy sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Studies show that eating fish can boost heart health and brain function.
14. Avocados or Guacamole
Avocados are a versatile food and a great addition to salads. They’re loaded with nutrients that can improve heart health and support healthy aging, such as monounsaturated fat, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. One avocado provides over 50% of the DV for vitamin K and 41% of the DV for folate. You can add sliced or cubed avocado to almost any salad or use guacamole as a topping.
15. Soft Cheeses
Soft cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, feta, ricotta, goat, bleu and burrata, make excellent salad toppings. They provide a creamy texture and delicious flavor, along with protein, calcium and other micronutrients. What’s more, soft goat and feta cheeses made from goat’s or sheep’s milk are lactose-free and good options for those who cannot tolerate cow’s milk.
Soft cheeses are widely available at grocery stores and specialty markets. When searching for mozzarella, burrata or feta cheeses, look for those packed in brine that inhibits bacterial growth and maintains the creamy texture.
16. Pomegranate Arils
The red seeds of pomegranates—known as arils—make for a decorative and nutritious salad topping. They not only make for a pretty salad but may also provide impressive health benefits. Studies have found that pomegranate arils are rich in compounds called anthocyanins that can have antioxidant properties.
17. Corn and Salsa
Using corn and salsa as a salad topping is an easy way to create a flavorful and nutritious Tex-Mex salad. A 1/2-cup (128-gram) serving of corn kernels has over 9% of the DV for fiber and is rich in vitamin C and folate. Eating tomato-based products like salsa that contain lycopene may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
18. Tofu and Edamame
Tofu and soybeans, known as edamame, are excellent sources of plant protein to add to a salad. One cup (155 grams) of cooked edamame has close to 17 grams of protein, while 1/2 cup (126 grams) of tofu provides close to 20 grams. Both foods are loaded with folate, vitamin K and several other micronutrients.
Olives are a nutrient-rich and flavorful salad topping. They’re loaded with healthy fats — packing over 2 grams of monounsaturated fat in 1 ounce (28 grams). Research has linked monounsaturated fat consumption to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.
20. Oil-and-Vinegar Dressings
A salad is not complete without a dressing. One small study found that participants who ate salads with full-fat dressings absorbed more nutrients from the vegetables than those who used reduced-fat or non-fat dressings. Go easy on the dressing. Add a little, toss a little. You can always add more, but too much can make a mushy mess of a great salad.
The Bottom Line
Adding healthy toppings to your salad can boost nutrition and flavor. The above suggestions make it easy to put together a healthy mix that will help you feel fuller and more satisfied. These nutritious toppings can add flavor and texture to a balanced diet and may provide a variety of health benefits.
ChefSecret: As you build your salad, think about presentation. Some ingredients are meant to be mixed in with the dressing, while others should be added atop the salad to keep them crisp and dressing-free until the eater is ready. There’s nothing more disappointing that a soggy crouton.
Quip of the Day: “What did the DJ say at the salad bar? Lettuce turnip the beet!”
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To you and everyone dear to you, be strong, be positive, stay well, stay safe and be kind. Take a breath and count your blessings, and if you have a little extra to share with others, please consider donating to Feeding America.
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