The Chef Secrets To Making A Salad More Exciting

The Chef Secrets To Making A Salad More Exciting

We all know salads are good for when you want to be healthy, but they can be oh-so dull if you don’t know what you’re doing. So, we asked our favourite chefs from around the UK to give us their top tips – from the healthy-yet-tasty dressings for drizzling to the one secret ingredient they love to use to jazz up a boring bowl, here are the best ways to liven up your salad…

Steve Smith, Head Chef of Bohemia, Jersey

Tell us what ingredients make the perfect salad dressing.
A mix of a really good olive oil, lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, and a spot of mustard. That way you get that mix of acid and heat.

Do you always use olive oil in your dressings?
Not always. Rapeseed and nut flavoured oils are also firm favourites of mine. If you’re using vinegar or mustard in your dressing, the oil is being used to emulsify rather than be the predominant flavour, so you won’t need a mega expensive oil.

Do you put herbs in your salads?
Fresh herbs are always an essential part of any vibrant salad, but you can add a whole host of foraged herbs if you want. Chick weed, Wild Pea shoots, Hawthorn flowers, Elderflower, Pennywort are just a few that you could add. 

What are your top three salad ingredients?
Heritage tomatoes, nasturtium leaves (these are nice and peppery) and baby Brittany artichokes.
And what ingredient always adds flavour?
Smoked sea salt.

Santosh Shah, Executive Chef of Baluchi at The LaLiT London

What are your top three salad ingredients?
The best ingredients for a great salad are green leaves to add freshness and topped with ripe avocado and salmon for your protein.
What ingredients do you always use to dress a salad?
I just mix together some roasted spice, olive oil, lime juice and Himalayan salt. It’s spicy and zingy. All things you can find around the house!

How do you strike that balance between healthy and tasty?
By adding more ingredients with smoky or grilled flavours. Like grilled salmon – this perfectly contrasts the freshness of the salad.

What leaves make a good base for a salad?
Rocket, chard, and water cress are best – they’re light and will keep the salad tasting fresh.  
And what’s your ultimate ingredient for livening up your bowl?
Pomegranate – so fresh and colourful and adds another flavour dynamic.

Guillaume Gillan, Executive Chef at Bokan 37 

What’s the best leaf for a top-notch salad?
In winter, I would say lamb’s lettuce as it’s full of flavour (quite nutty). In the summer, I like using butterhead lettuce – it’s great both in terms of texture and strong taste.
What’s going to take a salad from boring to beautiful?
Using different textures and making the most of seasonal vegetables – have these raw or shaved and it’ll give the salad a nice crunch and extra dimension.

What’s your go-to salad dressing?
I personally prefer just a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and salt; however, you can also add a fruity vinegar and a touch of mustard to really elevate the flavour, whilst still keeping the calories low.
And what’s your secret ingredient?
I use spring onion in almost every salad but any type of cheese in a salad is delicious too.

Henry Omereye, Head Chef of Riding House Café

How do you add interest to a salad?  
I love to add a bit of purple sprouting broccoli, black rice and poponcini peppers – it all adds layers of colour and a burst of flavour.  And a great dressing is a must, but keep it simple it’s all about the type of oil and seasoning you use.
So, what type of oil is best?
Good quality extra virgin olive oil – you have to be prepared to pay the price for good quality olive oil, but it’s always worth it.


Are there any specific herbs that work well in salads?  
I love using basil, spring onions, coriander, cress, alfalfa sprouts - I prefer using fresh herbs rather than dried, as they can taste gritty.
What kind of leaves do you think are best for a good salad?
It’s nice to create a mix of bitter and sweet leaves. I like using trevise leaves which can taste quite bitter and mix them together with curly endive and radish leaves, which are sweet. It’s the perfect balance – and sometimes I’ll add some rocket to add a peppery taste.
And finally, tell us – what’s your secret ingredient?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you!

Jamie Polito, Executive Chef at Hippo Inns

What are your essential ingredients for a good salad?
Well, my top three salad ingredients are soft boiled eggs, green beans and bacon.

And what would you drizzle over these ingredients?
I love dressings Asian influence but can be made healthy with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Alternatively, you can use nut oils to give a depth of flavour to a dressing. Generally, a blend of oils is best for salads, in my opinion extra virgin alone is too strong.

Do you have a key ingredient?
My secret ingredient is pickled vegetables. These can easily made at home and bring even the most mundane salad to life.

Kerth Gumbs, Head Chef at Ormer Mayfair

What three things should you include in a salad?  
I always have some form of Citronette (a dressing made from citrus fruits, vinegar and oil), and I use quite a few different micro herbs or foraged shoots, helping to lend spicy or floral notes while lifting the presentation. Then finish off with Maldon salt – something I use at home, too.
Are there any interesting leaves you add to a salad?
This depends on the salad – some may require a more bitter leaf to add contrast to a slightly sweet or creamy salad. For example, endive or dandelion goes particularly well with creamy rich salads.

What’s the key to a healthy salad dressing?
I like to extract one of the base ingredients of the salad I’m creating and blend it down with a good olive oil, salt, sugar and lemon juice. I tend to also use different infusions of vinegars to help. This can be as simple as grabbing a punnet of raspberries and covering with a plain white wine vinegar for a week or so before straining off, to achieve a raspberry flavoured vinegar – you can use the same principle for orange zest and soft herbs.

What kind of oils are good for a salad? 
I like using early harvest olive oil, or the Verdemanda olive oil, which is also from Arbequina olives from Catalunya (Spain) and has notes of fresh fruit and nuts, such as almond and banana.
Tell us your favourite herbs for a salad…
I generally use a standard mix of tarragon, chervil and dill, all freshly picked and lightly chopped. This choice of soft herbs lends a fresh piquant flavour to any dish.
And do you have a secret ingredient?
A healthy seed mix consisting of puffed quinoa, lint seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and a few others adds interest to any salad. Particularly in the spring-to-summer months, I love to have confit lemons around to freshen up certain dishes.

Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef at Indian Accent

What are your top three salad ingredients?
My top three ingredients would be baby gem lettuce, dried cranberries and nuts – usually peanuts but I like to experiment with many different kinds.
If your salad includes a lot of ingredients, does this mean you need to opt for a simple dressing?  
I do usually keep my dressings quite simple in order to keep the focus on the ingredients I’m using. But my go-to would be lime juice mixed with some olive oil. With herbs, I like to add fresh coriander, mint or lemongrass.

What lettuce leaf makes the perfect base for a salad?  
Any leaf that doesn’t become soggy! I think baby gem works best because it has a good crunch to it.
Finally, what’s your secret ingredient to liven up your dish?
My secret ingredient is broken papadums – they add a great crunchy, crispy texture to any salad.

Max Warren, Head Chef at The Colton Arms

What ingredients do you love to see in a salad bowl?
I love a bit of raw broccoli, blood orange and chicory. As well as leaves – and dressing and croutons, of course.

How do you know which veggies will work together?
Seasonality is key: if it grows together, it goes together. 

What kind of leaves do you think work best?
My personal favourite is using watercress for a salad. It’s so peppery and I think it’s the best leaf to use to make the perfect salad. However, I would also recommend using a mix of oakleaf, lollo rosso lettuce, endive and radicchio too. I tend to avoid baby gem, iceberg and romaine as they’re all a bit crunchy, sweet and watery.

Lots of people like olive oil in salads, but are there any others we should try?
I personally don’t like using olive oil in salads – I think it’s boring and can be too strong. The best oils for a good salad are hazelnut oil, a flavoured rapeseed or, my personal favourite in autumn, pumpkin seed oil.

And finally, what’s your secret to sassing up a salad?
My secret ingredient is using fresh truffle – a real treat!

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