Big Ass Salad Ingredients
Recipes,  Wellness

How To Build an Epic Salad

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “What is your signature dish?” My answer is hard to explain, but it comes down to: I can build an EPIC SALAD. I love a vibrant plate filled with color- vegetables, protein, fat, carbohydrates and tons of flavor. Usually I give my answer in pictures.

My strength is aesthetic plates of food. 

The good news for you? It really takes very little cooking skill. And I’m going to teach you how to build an EPIC SALAD for yourself. 


Key for Aesthetics = ALLLLLLL the colors

No. Boring. Salads.

Salads are an easy way to incorporate a huge variety of vegetables into your diet, and by using different textures and flavors, it’s something you’ll look forward to eating. 

With a little preparation, you’ll be able to plate things and make a satisfying meal in very little time. I wash and cut my vegetables as soon as I bring them home, so they are ready to assemble. I always keep shelf-stable things like seeds, nuts, olives, and beans in stock to add healthy fats and micronutrients as well. Thrive Market has by far the best prices on these things, and I’m always finding new items!  

So, what are the steps involved to build an epic salad….

Step 0: Get Good Plates. 

I’m very particular about my serving dishes. I need a huuuuuge plate to hold all this goodness. I was at a restaurant when I found my perfect salad plates. I asked the restaurant manager where I could order them. Crate&Barrel recently stopped carrying them, and I had to do some serious research to find a place to restock. (Shoutout to replacements.com)

Anyway, I like 12″x12″ plates, OK?! Obviously, this isn’t an essential step to build an epic salad.

Step 1: Start with greens.

This is the filler of your salad. Most people make boring salads because they stop with this step. Think of your greens like the foundation of the house. You need it there, but you don’t really think about it when you’re boosting curb appeal. However, dark leafy greens do provide fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E. I always keep a large clamshell of mixed greens in the fridge to supplement other bitter greens. My typical serving is about 2 cups of greens per salad. Choose from the following:

  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Romaine
  • Watercress
  • Kale
  • Mixed Baby Greens

Bonus points if you can incorporate: Radicchio, Dandelion, Mustard, or Chard


Step 2: Dress Your Greens.

I always take the time to do this before adding any other vegetables. The leafy greens are what needs the dressing most! Chop your greens, add to a mixing bowl with about 2 tablespoons dressing, and toss gently. Once your greens are dressed, you can add these to the plate. Store-bought dressing with clean ingredients is fine, but it really is very simple to make your own. You’ll need oil (EVOO, Flaxseed, Walnut, or Avocado) and an acid (citrus juice or vinegar) at a ratio of three parts oil to one part acid. Then, to make it interesting mix in any of the following: dijon mustard, spices and herbs. If you want a creamy dressing, blend in avocado or tahini. I love a lemon-tahini-olive oil mix!

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Step 3: Add more vegetables.

I try to pick at least four additional vegetables. When you’ve already got them washed and prepped- it’s easy. That’s where the planning comes in. Think about the following list and next time you’re grocery shopping, pick up something new! It’s good practice to add 2 cups total of these vegetables:

  • Cucumbers
  • Bell Peppers: all colors
  • Sprouts: Broccoli, Sunflower, Alfalfa
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage: Red, Green, Napa
  • Mushrooms
  • Snap Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Zucchini
  • Onions: Red, Scallion, Shallots 
  • Beets 
  • Sweet Potato
  • Radish

You can add more depth by having a mixture of raw and cooked vegetables. I like roasted roots (sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips) with some raw crunch (snap peas, carrots, radish). 

How to Build an Epic Salad

Step 4: Add some herbs.

The flavor profile will explode if you can add any kind of fresh herb. My general practice is to choose one or two bunches each week, and add those to everything. Then I’ll mix it up the next week. Don’t get stuck thinking that a strong herb like dill will throw off the whole dish… be adventurous! If you can’t find fresh herbs, dried herbs will work. I use a small handful of fresh herbs, and 1-2 teaspoons of dried. 

  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Dill
  • Mint 

Step 5: Protein!

Some protein is essential to a filling, complete meal when you set out to build an epic salad. A good serving is 4 ounces minimum, up to 8 ounces if you’re on that gain-train. Don’t sleep on quick options like canned fish or high-quality deli meats. Choose from:

  • Canned or Fresh Fish (Salmon, Sardines, Herring, Trout, Tuna)
  • Chicken 
  • Turkey 
  • Beef
  • Tempeh
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs
  • Shellfish (Shrimp, Lobster, Oysters, Scallops)
  • Beans and/or Veggie Patties* (*NOT processed meat patties)

>>Sourcing is SO important. I order my meat from Northstar Bison, a ranch located in Northern Wisconsin that ships all over the country<< 

Instagram worth epic huge salad
Protein can be as simple as ground turkey!

Step 6: Find some Healthy Fat.

You need to have some healthy fats in your salad to help absorb the rich fat-soluble nutrients A, D, E, and K in plant foods. You’ll get some fat from the dressing, but these extras add texture variety to build an EPIC SALAD. Add a serving of 1-2 of these healthy fats. My go-tos:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Etc
  • Seeds: Flax, Chia, Hemp, Sunflower, Pumpkin, Sesame
  • Olives 
  • Cheese*: Feta, Blue, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Etc. *As tolerated

Step 7: Add a ferment.

I have to be honest, this one doesn’t always make it to my salad. I’m often scooping a serving of Kimchi straight from the jar. Including a serving of a fermented food like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, or homemade yogurt keeps your gut bacteria thriving and balanced. The bite from fermented foods keeps things interesting in a fully loaded plate. If you don’t like fermented foods, try adding garlic and onions! These act as prebiotics and have antimicrobial properties.

Bonus: Add a dip or a spread.

Ever wonder why places like Flower Child, Sweet Green, and CAVA make such delicious bowl meals? They often have extras like a dip or spread as a component of the salad. Here are some ideas to take it up a notch…

Bonus: Bulk up the meal with crunch or carbohydrates. 

The aesthetics of an Instagram-worthy salad…

When it comes to plating, I like to keep things categorized. It’s a nice aesthetic punch in the face to see all the colors. As soon as I dig in, it alllllllll gets mixed together. I haven’t met a combo I don’t like yet, and I haven’t gotten tired of my big ass salads. The variety keeps my palate happy, the nutrients keep my body happy, and the creation keeps my mind happy. 

Think you can handle this? Ready to build an EPIC SALAD?! Tag me in your photos! 


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Want to work with a functional nutritionist to personalize your diet? Struggling with hormone imbalance, IBS, weight gain, mood changes? Let’s look at FOOD FIRST. Read more about Functional Nutrition at The Facility here.


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Kate Daugherty is a Functional Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist candidate specializing in mind-body wellness. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to bring the physiological body into balance. Kate offers nutritional consultation and functional medicine healing at her clinic, The Facility, in Denver, Colorado. Read more about her nutritional approach here and her background here.