We don't know when the salad became either a sad weekday lunch affair or an overly priced bowl that's worse for the environment than we all thought, but it doesn't have to be that way. Healthy eating need not be boring nor excessive. With just one or two pantry upgrades, you can build boldly flavored, exciting salads that are worth looking forward to. Check out some of our favorite power ingredients.
What it adds: A balance between bitter and sweet as well as a tangy, vibrant acidity akin to tangerines."
How to use it: In olive-oil vinaigrettes and mayonnaise-based sauces, especially with bitter arugula or sweet hazelnuts.
Why we really love it: It's the best, most flavorful vinegar we have ever tasted, hands down.
What it adds: The crunch of fresh vegetables, but with more flavor, from sweet to salty to tangy.
How to use it: Experiment with different textures and flavors, such as the thin carrot rounds in our Pickled Vegetables (Escabeche), refreshing Quick-Pickled Cucumbers with dill or our versatile Pickled Red Onions.
Why we really love it: The quick-pickle method is super easy, customizable and imbues vegetables with bold, bright flavor. And they're great on more than just salads; we eat them with everything from tacos (carnitas, anyone?) to cheeseburgers. Try some pickled red onions on our Garlic-Rosemary Burgers with Taleggio Sauce and you’ll thank us later.
What it adds: A silky mouthfeel and citrusy freshness without the acidity.
How to use it: Substitute for extra-virgin olive oil in vinaigrettes, or drizzle over winter vegetables or bitter greens as a refreshing counterpoint.
Why we really love it: Don't have fresh lemon zest on hand? This finishing oil has got you covered.
What it adds: An intense nutty aroma and buttery richness balanced by a subtly bitter finish.
How to use it: Use it as a foundation for dressings, especially as a counterpoint for tangy, funky cheeses, or as a flavor boost in salads that feature the nuts themselves, such as our Shaved Pear and Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Pecans or our Apple and Fennel Salad with Candied Pecans.
Why we really love it: It's made from a native Texas nut variety and tastes like fresh pecans in liquid form.
What it adds: Satisfying, crunchy texture and heft to turn salads from a side into a full meal.
How to use it: No need to buy the packaged versions, which are often salty and greasy. Our food editor, Matthew Card, has an easy method for making homemade croutons out of stale bread.
Why we really love it: Not only can you adjust for seasoning and degree of toastiness, you can also use up that baguette from a few days ago.
What it adds: Just a small amount adds tons of bright, salty and tangy flavor.
How to use it: Mash the pulp and stir it into dressings, or finely mince the rind for a topping with textural contrast.
Why we really love it: These lemons are well-rounded and complex, not overly bitter like other brands. Try them in Moroccan Chicken Tangia by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rind to the dish during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
What it adds: Authentic Italian flavor, with fruity extra-virgin olive oil and an oregano accent in every meaty bite.
How to use it: Dice and add to salads featuring contrasting textures, such as crumbly feta cheese and tender artichoke hearts.
Why we really love it: They're both softer and meatier than most brands, with a caramelized, umami-rich flavor.
What it adds: Briny bursts of flavor and a piquant accent.
How to use it:Think beyond tuna niçoise. Capers are a great counterpoint for naturally sweet vegetables such as celery root or fennel; try them in our Celery Root and Frisée Salad with Mustard and Capers or Orange, Fennel and Caper Salad.
Why we really love it: These Sicilian capers are plumper, fruitier and bolder than grocery-store brands.
What it adds: A sea-salt brininess and deep, umami-rich flavor.
How to use it: We pulverize toasted seaweed and blend it into the dressing for this green salad, inspired by Portland, Maine’s Eventide Oyster Co.; the nori provides a savory backbone for the sweet mirin and rice vinegar.
Why we really love it: Enjoyed as a snack on its own in Asia, dried seaweed packs an amazing depth of flavor in small amounts.
What it adds: Crunchy texture, tingly spice and a sweet finish.
How to use it: Chop fine and sprinkle over tomato salads, or cut crosswise into rings to accent bulgur or pasta salads. And don't throw out the oil—it's great in vinaigrettes.
Why we really love it: These skinny hand-packed Italian peppers have a delicate crunch yet bold spice that wakes up the senses.
What it adds: Pops of spicy, floral flavor and a chewy, addictive texture.
How to use it: Scatter over salads as you would capers; we especially like them with pungent herbs such as basil or cilantro.
Why we really love it: We discovered bright, complex Kampot peppercorns during our travels—unlike typical dried peppercorns, these have a softer texture that's great for eating straight from the jar.
What it adds: A tart vibrancy similar to lemon juice—think of it as a dry acid.
How to use it: Incorporate into dressings or sprinkle over your salad for a bright accent and pop of color. We use it to balance out the sweetness of tomatoes in our Tomato-Herb Salad with Sumac.
Why we really love it: It’s an easy way to brighten and sharpen a dish without adding citrus juice or vinegar. Learn more about the popular Middle Eastern spice here.
What it adds: Crisp, clean salinity, loads of umami and a delicate crunch.
How to use it: The secret ingredient for most restaurant salads? Salt, which enhances other flavors. We especially like to use this black garlic salt over salads with chicken or other lean proteins for a complex, savory boost.
Why we really love it: This hand-harvested sea salt from Oregon has a bright, clean flavor, and black garlic's mellow caramelized flavor adds instant umami.