When I was a kid, my perception of a salad was simply a bowl of iceberg lettuce with a couple of cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, and a creamy, nondescript dressing. All too often, that was the plate that was offered when I went to a restaurant with my grandfather before enjoying some fried fish or some type of all-you-can-eat situation. It was an afterthought, a time killer before the entrees arrived.

The word “salad” is a very loose term for a plate of cold or room-temperature vegetables that are dressed and can be ordained with protein or other interesting textures, such as nuts, seeds, or croutons. But it’s so much more than a bowl of greens.

When I started cooking professionally, I always looked for a “salad option” for the menu that was creative and appealing without being just another take on a Caesar (though I do have one of those below). Working through the creative process, my idea of salad evolved. I now see salad as a way to highlight seasonal greens, complemented with other vegetables and textures, and perfectly balanced with a flavorful dressing.

MORE: The Most Famous Salads in the World

The point is, don’t pigeonhole salads into one set of ingredients or plating arrangements. Salad is a chance for individual expression that should feature ingredients of the moment and spark the chef’s creativity. Salads may still be a complementary prelude to the main course at restaurants, but at home, these types of salads can be the whole meal.

Salad for one

Bitter greens, escarole, endive, and radicchio with sherry vinaigrette

This salad is nice on its own with some grilled bread, or grilled chicken or fish on the side for a complete meal. Tear the bitter green mix by hand and mix in a bowl with a simple sherry vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, blended olive oil, and seasoning. I like to add candied nuts, soft blue cheese, and some raw shaved apple. You can simply toss the nuts, cheese, and apple with the salad or arrange them on top.

Types of salad drawing with a plate of bitter greens and veg.

Salad for two

Chopped salad with arugula, shaved fennel, roasted beets, goat cheese, vinegar-soaked raisins, roasted chickpeas, and some shredded chicken confit

The chopped salad is one of my favorites because you can get creative and empty out the fridge at the same time. It’s all about textures and layers of flavor, and the confit chicken gives it the feeling of being an entrée, making this salad quite filling. This salad for two is also great with some fresh focaccia on the side.

Because of the rich ingredients and number of flavors, I like to do a simple vinaigrette with either balsamic vinegar or some of the vinegar from the soaked raisins. You can cut all the ingredients in similar sizes but different shapes to enhance the texture.

For the chicken confit, take six to eight chicken legs and marinate them with kosher salt, sugar, orange zest, grated ginger, crushed garlic, and thyme for 12 to 24 hours. Wipe the excess marinade off, place the legs in a pot or baking dish in single layers, and cover with rendered duck fat or cooking oil and bake in the oven at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones and mix with a little bit of the fat.

Types of salad with a drawing of a chopped salad on a plate.

Family style

“Sunday Salad” of chopped romaine and cucumbers, cut-up salami, roasted peppers, shaved Parmesan, focaccia croutons, lots of anchovies, and Caesar dressing

My version of an antipasti salad, or something you might see at an Italian steakhouse, is a kicked-up Caesar salad. It has lots of umami flavors and is easy to do on a large platter to share.

Start with your chopped romaine hearts and cucumbers (they add great texture). You can salt the cucumbers before adding them, to draw out some of the moisture. I like to make a Caesar dressing, or you can doctor a store-bought one — they never have enough anchovy or spice for my taste. Dress the salad mix well and spread it on a platter, and then top it with Parmesan shavings, the cut-up salami (I like to use cubed cacciatorini, aka wild boar salami) or sliced finnochiona (fennel salami). For the peppers, peppadews work very well, or you can use roasted peppers from a jar. For the croutons, tear old focaccia or ciabatta bread and toast it in a frying pan with olive oil. And, of course, don’t forget the anchovies: Use the ones packed in oil, and add some of that oil to your dressing.

MORE: How to Make a Better Salad

Types of salad with a drawing of large salad on a plate.


Large slices of Chef’s Garden beets and wine-poached pears, balsamic drizzle, grated walnuts, shaved celery, and dressing made with the poaching liquid, olive oil, and white miso

Finally, a beet salad that makes for a great appetizer or entrée that also happens to be vegan. (Most are served with goat or feta cheese.)

Start by placing a layer of kosher salt on a baking tray, and then wrap your washed beets in foil and place them on the tray. Roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the beets. When a knife penetrates easily, they are done. When cool enough to handle, use a towel to wipe the skins off the beets. Cut them into slices or large chunks and dress them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and black pepper.

To poach the pears, place 2 quarts of water, one bottle of Riesling wine, 6 ounces sugar, a few cloves of garlic, two pieces of ginger, three sprigs of thyme, two bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons of peppercorns in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium simmer, add the peeled pears to the liquid, and place a cover on the pot. Cook for 15 minutes, and then turn the heat off and allow them to cool in the liquid.

To make the dressing, put 1 tablespoon of white miso paste in a small bowl, add a half cup of the warm poaching liquid, and stir well to dissolve. Then add 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon of mustard, and drizzle in 1-1/2 cups blended oil while whisking.

Drawing of vegan salad with pears and vegetables.


Grilled pieces of slab bacon, frisée lettuce, escarole, mustard dressing, poached egg, and, if you have it, crispy chicken skin.

This is a take on a frisée lardon, the classic bistro salad from Lyon, France. We are replacing the lardons (small pieces of rendered bacon) with thick slabs of steakhouse-style grilled or griddled bacon. The salad is a simple mix of frisée and torn escarole tossed in a vinaigrette with a nice kick of Dijon mustard. The poached egg on top mixes with the vinaigrette to dress the salad in a rich creamy vinaigrette. The chicken skin is gilding the lily, but the texture and flavor are terrific on this binge-worthy salad.

Types of salad with a drawing of a salad topped with meat.

Tin fish

More of a tartine; thinly sliced bread grilled, smoked mackerel, pickled vegetables, bibb lettuce, with a gribiche-style dressing.

To start, make the gribiche, a cold egg sauce. In a medium bowl, mash two hard-boiled eggs and two raw egg yolks with mustard. Slowly drizzle in blended oil while whisking continuously, making sure all the oil has been emulsified into the yolks before adding more. Once you have a very thick and creamy emulsion, whisk in white wine vinegar and mix in chopped cornichons, capers, and parsley. Chop the hard-boiled egg white and mix in, and season to taste.

To assemble the tartine: Spread some of the gribiche on the toasted bread. Top with the mackerel pieces and arrange some pickled vegetables on top of the fish. You can serve Bibb lettuce cups on the side and eat along with the tartine, or put the tartine in a lettuce wrap.

Types of salad with a drawing of tinned fish salad.

Salad dressing 101

Salad dressing allows you to create versatile and unique dishes using your basic salad ingredients while controling the quality of ingredients you use to dress your salad.


The basic oil-to-acid ratio is three parts oil to one part acid. Next, decide if you want a loose dressing or an emulsification. If you are using emulsification, you can use egg yolk or mustard as the emulsifying component.


Think about the salad you are creating. You can use a specific oil for flavor, such as sesame or coconut, and acids like wine vinegar, citrus juice, or balsamic vinegar. You can also add purees to help emulsify, such as garlic paste, butternut squash puree, or hummus. Finally, use spices and herbs you prefer to complete your salad.


If you are feeling creative or have dietary restrictions, you can turn to other items for your bases, such as nondairy yogurts, miso paste, and vegetable purees.

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Chef Bradford Thompson's culinary palate was formed by his summers spent lobster trapping and picking fresh blueberries with his grandmother on the coast of Maine. The classically trained chef has worked in the kitchens of such culinary luminaries as Vincent Guerithault, Alessandro Stratta, and Daniel Boulud. After being named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2004, he won a James Beard Award as the Executive Chef at Mary Elaine's in 2006. Since leaving the back of the house, Thompson, a Level 1 Certified Sommelier, founded Bellyfull Hospitality, a full service culinary/hospitality consulting company. He's also an instructor at the ICC Food Business Program and the ICE Restaurant Management program, where he teaches and inspires the next generation of restaurateurs. A diehard sports fan, Thompson can often be found in the MetLife Stadium parking lot, tailgating and cheering on his beloved New York Giants, whom he has cooked for several times.

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