When you decide on a chopped salad for lunch, you prematurely pat yourself on the back. Good work, old me, for electing the affordable, healthy option today. Bravo.
But, upon entering the salad establishment, you are struck with the realization that going healthy and cheap will be challenging. You are equal parts overwhelmed and elated by the bite-sized edibles packed neatly behind the glass: A colorful melange of cheese, veggies, fruits, nuts and protein present themselves before you. You crave all of them. The masterminds behind the commercialized salad bar anticipate your struggle. And they count on it. Many franchised, fast-food salad restaurants offer anywhere from three to five fixings included in their flat-rate price -- then they start charging you extra.
In Manhattan alone, there are 14 Chop't locations, 14 Just Salad shops and 10 Fresh & Co. spots. There's a reason these establishments make their salad toppers visible behind clear glass. Your indecisiveness (and ultimate decision to get one of everything) has been calculated. These businesses know that just the sight of food stimulates hunger.
Before you know it, you've racked up more salad toppings than you can count on one hand, exceeding the limit. Now your salad costs an arm, a leg and a head of romaine. To avoid this issue, you'll need to start considering the salad bar as a discipline. There is a science to crafting a tasty, healthful salad that won't break the bank.
We consulted The Flavor Bible, a mammoth, detailed guide to ingredient pairing. The book breaks down the proper way to harmonize foods by dissecting flavors by the four basic tastes -- sweet, salty, sour and bitter.
To perfect your salad game, start with a first-column ingredient in the chart below. This should be the salad mix-in that you're unwilling to sacrifice. Some may not consider a salad a salad without a little feta sprinkled in; others see no purpose to eating lettuce without avocado. Then, select the items that appear to the right of this food. Every ingredient in each row is vetted to taste delicious when mixed together. The Flavor Bible lists a variety of ingredient combinations, but we narrowed down the options to what tends to be available at most standard salad spots. This way, you can enjoy a satisfying salad without ordering additional toppings that'll cost more than what's included. We've even made a dressing recommendation, just in case you get overwhelmed there, too.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images. Infographic by Kate Bratskeir.