I’ll admit it, some salads just plain suck. Nobody likes bland flavors, wilty greens, ratios that are less than on point (think all lettuce and no toppings or vice versa), and leaves overly drenched in dressing. It’s honestly no wonder some have sworn off salad completely. Life is too short for bland, boring, icky bowls of vegetables. But I have good news–nay, the best news! While there’s nothing worse than a bad salad, there’s nothing better than a great salad, and I promise you–salads can be just that. It’s really not difficult to swap your boring mix-ins (just say “no” to chalky croutons) for fresh, choice, and seasonal ingredients. Friends and coworkers alike will be impressed with your oh-so sophisticated and refined taste when you start showing up with homemade goat cheese croutons to show off (but really). And part of living your best salad life possible is embracing the season, which means embracing the most vibrant, flavorful ingredients available right now. It’s time to transition off of berries and and tomatoes. Fall is here, and we’ve got new flavors to address.
Here are a few simple tips for making full-on, fall-flavored al desko salads that you’ll actually look forward to eating.
How to Autumn-ate Your Salad Making:
#1. Use dark, leafy greens.
In the fall especially, light greens are out and dark are in. If you’re not ready to go all-out kale yet, we get it (baby kale is tender and less bitter by the way), but at least try swapping out your iceberg and romaine for a bag of mixed greens. Look for one that contains some kind of blend of spinach, arugula, swiss chard, oak leaf lettuces, etc. Since dark greens are more nutrient-dense and contain more fiber than the more water-laden lettuces, you’re not only making your salad more in-tune with fall, but you’re making it healthier too. Sounds like a win-win to me. In my opinion, darker greens offer much more intriguing and satisfying flavors than light greens anyways (although I am, at times, a sucker for the crunch of iceberg).
#2. Roast those veggies.
If you want a salad that’s brimming with the flavors of autumn, I suggest roasting a batch of peak-season fall vegetables. My preferences are acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash (the pre-cubed variety at the store saves a lot of time), sweet potatoes, onions, and carrots–not all together of course, but select a few of your favorites. Simply cube a few cups-worth of your chosen vegetables and toss them in olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast them on a rimmed baking sheet for 20-25 minutes (or until tender) at 450°.
#3. Apples, apples, apples.
Take full advantage of the fact that apples are at their best in autumn by embracing this juicy-crisp fruit in your salads. My all-time favorite variety of apple is the honeycrisp (so sweet, so right), and for green apples, Granny Smith are delightfully tart and delicious. As it gets later into the season and your apple palate is spent (not likely, but possible), try slicing up pears instead–Bosc or Anjou are best for salads. Also, since we’re talking fruit, I should mention that dried fruit is also a good play in your autumn salads–a good rule of thumb is to always keep a bag of golden raisins and/or dried cranberries on deck.
#4. Crunch-itize it:
Every good salad needs some crunch, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pine nuts, and pecans are perfect mix-ins for full-on fall flavor. Just make sure to toast any nut or seed you choose for 5-7 minutes at 375°–this is the simplest way to ensure toasty depth of flavor. My pro-tip? Candied pecans. These sweet and toasty nuts add the perfect autumnal crunch factor to any salad situation. Learn how to make them now. Trust me, they’ll change your life.
#5. Think deep dressings:
The spring and summer are great for bright, citrusy vinaigrettes, but as the weather gets cooler, I opt for deeper, more robustly flavored dressings–think balsamic, maple, etc. Here’s my current favorite dressing I’ve been whipping up: Simply whisk together 2 parts extra-virgin olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar, a dash of kosher salt and black pepper, a few cloves of fresh minced garlic, 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (to help it emulsify), and a dash of sugar. For the maple-lemon dressing used in the Roasted Autumn Veggie Salad above (which P.S. is basically the archetype of the ultimate autumn salad), whisk together 2 parts olive oil, one part maple syrup, a dash of kosher salt and black pepper, 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice.