To bake beautiful cupcakes, cakes and confections, it takes an exact science to get them just right.
For years now, Melissa Ben-Ishay has gotten sweet treats down to a science at her famous, New York-based bakery shops, Baked by Melissa. Now, she's showing off her salad-making skills on TikTok — and people are eating it up.
For those who thought they could never salivate over salad the way they do a double-chocolate cupcake, Ben-Ishay is making them think again. Some of her salad demos, like her simple Mediterranean chopped salad inspired by her mother-in-law — the salad she says "is the reason I married my husband" — has over 33 million views on TikTok.
"I love salad, like, equal to the way I love cupcakes," Ben-Ishay told TODAY Food. "As a little girl, I would help my grandma make salads. She would let me cut before a child should be able to cut."
TODAY spoke to Ben-Ishay to get the scoop on how to make salads look and taste so good — and the reason why Ben-Ishay opts for a fine dice every time.
It's all about that base
"If there something that you love (a general food like a salad, can be made in so many different ways), use it as a blank canvas and use what you love most," said Ben-Ishay.
As an avid vegetable lover, Ben-Ishay starts her salads off with these rules in mind:
- Form a leafy base: "I'm always looking for new types of lettuce. Green cabbage is a great base, and then leafy greens," she said. Fresh spinach with big leaves, iceberg lettuce and shaved Brussels sprouts all are great options.
- Use in-season veggies: "This is the fun part about making salad. Based on what's in season, it gives you new types of vegetables to experiment with." Ben-Ishay loves incorporating crunch with vegetables like carrots, bell peppers and watermelon radish.
- Use different sprouts: For an extra punch of nutrition and added flavor/texture, Ben-Ishay tosses in different microgreens, such as pea shoots and sprouts. "Make the rainbow," she added.
A fine dice adds flavor
Time to sharpen those knives!
"I love a good chopped salad," Ben-Ishay said. "At my core, I'm a creator, so the process of creating is what I find good. Chopping is therapeutic for me. My friends love watching me chop."
The baker and mom-of-two has spent hours upon hours over the past 13 years chopping, and she enjoys taking the time to finely dice her vegetables and produce. While practice certainly helps get her dice down pat, Ben-Ishay's recipes, such as her viral recipe for her green goddess salad, proves it's worth it.
"You get every flavor in every bite. It's the perfect bite," she explained. "In my cupcakes, you have stuffing, icing, cake in every bite. With a fine chop, it’s the same exact thing. I love a good salad where every bite is the same."
Dig in with chips
A great way to enjoy the fine dice, is to scoop up one bite at a time with a tortilla chip, which viewers often see Ben-Ishay do in her demos with a mouthwatering crunch. The baker actually adapted this snackable routine from a close friend years ago.
"Before we had kids, my husband and I would do one meal on Sundays … we'd make a big meal and eat between 2 and 4 p.m. and invite people over," she said. "The salads would always be ready first and my best friend, (who) is dairy and gluten-free, always had corn chips. It’s a fun way to get a taste of the salad."
Skip the fruit
This may be a smaller, personal point, but Ben-Ishay is big on keeping fruits out of salads — excluding savory ones like tomatoes or avocado. She believes sweet flavors should stick to dessert.
Anyone who follows her TikTok can see her salads are always chock-full of hearty veggies, crunchy greens and alliums that add just the right amount of zing to the mix. While some cooks love a salad with a well-balanced combination of sweet, cheesy, crunchy notes throughout, Ben-Ishay sticks to savory, vinegary, zippy flavors.
The best dressings start simply
While there's always room for play, like in Ben-Ishay's homemade vegan and dairy-free green goddess dressing, a simple three-to-four-ingredient dressing can take any salad to the next level. It also can serve as the base for pretty much any variation, be it a creamy Caesar or a lighter vinaigrette.
"The first time I went to Israel with my husband to where he grew up, his mom made an iceberg salad with dressing — olive oil, lemon and garlic and salt. It changed my life forever," she said. "My base was inspired by my mother-in-law. All my dressings are variation of that base."
To master this simple-but-life-changing dressing, mix together Ben-Ishay's simple ingredients:
- 1 part lemon juice or another acid like vinegar.
- 1 part olive oil
- A couple pinches of salt (she advises always adding a little more than you think — for example, for 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt).
- Clove of minced garlic.