If your menu doesn’t include salads regularly, you’re missing out on a quick, easy way to incorporate fiber and nutrients in your diet. Salad offers endless flavor combinations, but it’s a deceptively tricky dish to get just right with minimum effort. Follow these five steps to fool-proof your routine and enjoy the perfect salad every time.

Choose the Right Ingredients

Because “salad” encompasses so many combinations of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, proteins and pasta, picking out the right ingredients can be daunting. You might feel tempted to just grab a pre-packaged bag from the produce aisle and call it a day — and that’s okay sometimes. But the best salads are the ones you customize to fit your exact cravings and palate. Lettuce is an easy base, for example, and varieties such as romaine pack tons of fiber and folate, plus vitamins A, K and C. To avoid boredom, try substituting spinach, arugula or red leaf lettuce. For a peppery flavor, try watercress leaves.

Once you have a foundation, look for ingredients that balance the tastes you’re hankering for. Opt for fiber-filled sugar snap peas, carrots or red and yellow bell peppers for sweetness and add cranberries, grapefruit or kale for sourness and bitterness. Nuts and seeds also make delicious enhancements and add not only distinct flavors but textural interest as well. Remember, some foods interact with others to alter how they taste, like strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Have fun experimenting.

Prep for Salad Success

Once you get your fresh ingredients home, it’s time to wash and dry them. Even if you buy organic fruits, veggies and nuts, you need to wash off any dirt, residue and pesticides. (Yes, organic farmers use pesticides — just not the same ones as traditional growers do.) Luckily, according to the Centre for Science and Environment, 75 to 80 percent of pesticides come off with just a cold-water wash. If you have time, soaking your produce in a solution of one part vinegar and four parts water does an excellent job.

After your produce is clean, you need to dry it properly before cutting it up and adding it to your salad. For some veggies such as cucumbers and carrots, this is a simple matter of wiping each piece dry. For greens, however, nothing beats spinning. A salad spinner isn’t just a fancy kitchen tool. It actually removes the excess water that can cause wilting and make your greens less capable of holding onto dressings. Use it to dry individual leaves, of course, not entire intact heads of lettuce.

Chop, Slice and Shred

Creating the ideal salad is as much about melding textures as its flavors. The best bites have crunch without asking for too much work to cut down the components with a fork and knife, Aim for cutting each one down to a size that fits comfortably on a fork alongside other elements.

This is your chance to find your zen as you prepare your salad. If you dread the knife work, grab some innovative kitchenware instead. For uniform juliennes, speed through a pile of carrots and celery using a mandolin slicer. Fake the effort of hand-torn leafy greens with a bamboo knife. Egg slicers, tomato slicers and even the handy kitchen shears in your knife block make quick work of all kinds of ingredients.

Get the Dressing Right

Salad dressing as a condiment has a bad reputation in some health circles, and that’s not exactly fair. Sure, sugar-laden, salt-filled bottled versions aren’t the best for your health. But when you make your own at home and know what’s in it, dressing delivers next-level tastiness.

Recipes abound for healthy salad dressings, and the one you choose has to complement and not overpower the depth of your other ingredients’ flavors. Look for garlic, different types of mustard, greek yogurt, honey and citrus fruit juice as elements in your low-calorie, high-nutrient dressings. If all else fails, stick with classic oil and vinegar and grind fresh black pepper over your finished salad.

Serve Your Salad

Finally, the best part — relishing in your work. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or just serving up your salad for yourself, maintaining a cool environment keeps your food fresher. Try a stainless steel salad bowl with a built-in acrylic ice holder to hold the temperature steady for hours. Warm salads work well in this type of bowl, too. Swap out ice for hot water to prevent your food from getting too cold.

With only a little energy, you can enjoy perfect salads night after night. Employ the right kitchen tools to simplify the process, and savor the natural deliciousness of a fresh meal.