Toss a new salad

Lighten up dinner with Sunflower Sprouts Salad, Grilled Chicken on Greens, and more fun takes on the standards

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The simple, foolproof method for a great tossed salad? Start with one or more ingredients from the first category, then pull some from at least a few of the remaining groups, reducing amounts as you move down the list.

1. Leaves

Actually, you can make a beautiful salad with nothing more than lettuces and herbs. Think about mixing different flavors, shapes, and textures: peppery arugula with mild, tender butter lettuce; crunchy romaine with sturdy parsley. To see whether you'll like a certain combo, taste a shred of each component together first.

2. Vegetables Anything good to eat raw will work: mushrooms, radishes, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh peas. Mix in cooked vegetables for added layers of texture and flavor: white beans, chickpeas, potatoes, sautéed shallots, roasted peppers, artichokes, and beets, for instance.

3. Fruits

Their sweetness and acidity perk a salad right up. Standbys are strawberries, pears, figs, oranges, apples, and persimmons. Dried fruits create little explosions of flavor: slivered apricots, raisins, currants, cranberries, and cherries. And don't forget lemon and lime zests.

4. Rich tastes

Used sparingly, they're the treasures in the pile of green: meats (bacon, prosciutto, sausage, smoked salmon); cheeses (parmesan or pecorino shaved with a vegetable peeler, crumbled blue cheese or feta, soft gobs of chèvre); nuts (toast for best flavor and crunch); and avocados, the butter of the vegetable kingdom.

5. Sour & salty tastes

Like meats, cheeses, and nuts, these should also be used just as accents, since they're so flavorful. Try olives, capers, anchovies, and preserved lemon.

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