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Sick of ho-hum salad? Perk up your usual greens with these 10 unique salad ingredients. All will add color, texture, nutrients, and just plain interest to your bowl.
Pepitas are a fancy name for pumpkin seeds, and you can buy them raw or roasted, hulled or unhulled. Sprinkled over a salad, roasted pepitas add a nutty flavor and a pleasing crunch. They also offer up a serious dose of nutritional benefits, including loads of vitamins and minerals (zinc in particular), and a hefty serving of protein.
2. Baby kale
Kale is America's sweetheart green these days -- but are you actually eating it? Mature kale can be tough to swallow raw, which is why prepackaged baby kale should be your go-to version. It's tender, and can be tossed into salads without being chopped and de-stemmed. Bonus: It's bursting with vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Try it with Japanese Restaurant Salad Dressing.
3. Watermelon radishes
Beautiful, zippy watermelon radishes (named for their pale green skin and vibrant magenta interior) are CSA darlings, and a few thin slices turn any blah salad into something that's fancy-restaurant quality.
A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, kohlrabi are about the size of an orange, with a bunch of stems sticking out and a thick skin that can range from pale green to purple-ish. The leaves, stems and the root are all edible, and the smaller ones tend to be more tender and flavorful. Peel it and slice, julienne or grate it into your sald for a great crunch and a fresh but slightly spicy flavor.
Escarole is a broad-leafed member of the endive family, closely related to chicory. The inner leaves tend to be much more delicate and tender than the more mature leaves, so these are the ones you want for a salad. It's slightly (but pleasantly) bitter, and a smart lettuce choice when you’re looking to bump up the nutritional level of your salads.
Talk about a sexy addition to a salad! Figs, with their slightly chewy outside and delicate seed-filled interior, add texture and sweetness to your greens. They're also a good source of calcium, fiber and antioxidants. Simply quarter ripe figs and pair them with greens that feature slightly stronger flavors. (The sweet fig will play off the bitterness beautifully.) They're also complemented nicely by goat and blue cheeses.
7. Ricotta salata
To add flavor and heft to salads, one of the best go-to cheese choices is ricotta salata. This Italian cheese is a pressed, salted and dried iteration of ricotta. It's hard and starkly white and has a firm but gently crumbly texture and a salty, nutty flavor. Shave, crumble or thinly slice it into salads -- especially ones that feature fresh or fried fruit, which play off the cheese's saltiness -- or instead of feta in this Modern Greek Salad.
You can easily find frozen edamame, sometimes already shelled, in many supermarkets now. Simply cook the beans according to package directions, cool, and keep a container in the fridge to toss into salads (or pastas) as needed. Edamame are very mild in flavor, but full of protein, vitamins, calcium, folic acid and fiber.
9. Pickled onions
Pickled onions bring an astringent tartness to the simplest of salads, and they last for months in the fridge. (Learn how to make them here.)
10. Whole grains
Adding cooked whole grains to a salad turns it into a much more substantial and nutritionally balanced meal. Try quinoa, cracked wheat, tabbouleh or couscous. Cook the grains according to package directions, and you can store cooked grains in the refrigerator for several days, scooping out portions into your salads as desired.