Rohnert Park mom behind TikTok sensation offers recipes for spring, summer salads

The 50-something mom of two grown children started what would become The Salad Lab during the pandemic.|

3 videos from The Salad Lab

The “Kardashian” salad:

The “Kylie Jenner” salad:

The Jessica Chastain Spring Roll Salad:

Darlene Schrijver stood at the kitchen counter of her Rohnert Park home, a giant wood salad bowl surrounded by beakers full of ingredients in front of her and her iPhone perched overhead in a camera mount.

She closed her eyes, took three deep breaths and launched into her intro. “Welcome to The Salad Lab, where we’re making fabulous salads every day,” she began.

That intro is a friendly, familiar greeting for Schrijver’s 2.6 million followers on TikTok, where she shares her highly stylized salad videos several times a week.

The 50-something mom of two grown children started what would become The Salad Lab during the pandemic. It was a way for her to share recipes with her daughter, Athena, a former champion weightlifter who was away at college.

Schrijver, who previously lived in the Mark West Springs neighborhood, lost her recipe box and binders in the 2017 Tubbs Fire, along with her home. She needed a different way to give Athena the recipes. Her daughter spent a lot of time on TikTok, so she started sharing them there.

“My husband said, ‘You won’t last two days,’ and that’s all it took,” she said. “So I challenged myself to 30 days and I made 30 salads in 30 days. I think I called it 30 Famous Salads.”

One of those was a recipe for a salad the Kardashians often ate on their reality TV series, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” The recipe quickly went viral, and Schrijver’s follower count kept growing.

“People started interacting more and more, and we were starting to build this whole ‘salad community.’ I know it sounds cliche, but it snowballed,” Schrijver said.

Schrijver’s love of salads is long-standing.

“I’ve always been a big salad person. Whenever I go out to lunch with my girlfriends, if it’s my pick, we’re always going to Monti’s or somewhere that has a really good salad,” she said.

She appreciates Sonoma County’s bounty of fresh produce, which gives her plenty of raw material to work with.

“I started to realize the abundance that we have here through Tierra (Vegetables, in Santa Rosa). When my kids were growing up, we got their weekly boxes,” she said.

Schrijver also frequents local farmers markets and said Oliver’s is one of her favorite places to shop.

But she’s careful to not get preachy about local and organic, knowing that not everybody has the ability or desire to access that kind of food.

“You really walk a fine line on social media of being out of touch and too snobby,” she said. “I do everything. I do salads that have french fries on top. I have the Nicki Minaj salad that has Popeye’s chicken nuggets on it. But I also do the New York Times best green salad on Earth, and Bon Appetit salads.”

Her inspirations for salads are wide-ranging — from seasonal ingredients and celebrities to bicycling around Dry Creek Valley.

Schrijver created a cheeseburger salad inspired by her days of training for a triathlon. After a long ride, she’d head to Bear Republic to meet her family for a well-earned burger and beer.

The celebrity-inspired salads are the ones that get the most views, though. A recent fruit salad that featured a rainbow of berries and tropical fruit over keto-friendly Zuma Valley coconut cream, a product popular with singer Lizzo and model Bella Hadid, racked up more than million views in a matter of hours.

One night when Schrijver was scrolling on her phone, she saw Hadid had shared her favorite salad recipe. Schrijver pounced and was one of the first to make the salad, which has since been posted on countless blogs, videos and Instagram accounts.

“You have to jump on these things right away,” she said. “So I’m here at Oliver’s at 9:45 at night, with a girl in front of me with two cartons of ice cream and the guy in front of me with three cases of beer. And they’re looking at me with my armful of salad products. That one went viral, too. So Bella follows me now.”

Schrijver has a pretty typical kitchen, save for the cabinet full of lab beakers and racks for holding test tubes on the counter.

“The science beakers came along as I progressed and tried to make it more fun,” she explained. The beakers hold her prepped ingredients, and the test tubes are for the liquid ingredients in her dressings.

Although you only see her hands in her one-minute videos, Schrijver delivers every instruction with a beaming smile you can hear in her voice.

Schrijver supposes some of her appeal for younger TikTok users is that they see her as a mom giving advice on making salads. She’s quick to point out that’s exactly what she is.

“I’m the salad lady, and with salad comes the whole diet industry. I always emphasize that this is not a diet page or anything like that. It’s a meal,” she said. “I don’t claim to be a chef or a professional. My parents owned a flower shop when I was growing up, so I’ve got knife skills.”

After three years immersed in the social media salad world, she’s picked up other skills, including how to perfectly peel a fresh hard-boiled egg (tap the wider bottom with a spoon until you hear the sound change) and how to keep an onion from overpowering a salad and causing bad breath (soak in ice water for 10 minutes).

The Salad Lab has become a full-time project for Schrijver. A day of prepping, filming and editing takes about four hours, and that doesn’t count research, shopping and cleaning up. But at least she has something to show for it at the end of the day.

“My husband comes home and says, ‘What’s for salad,’ not ‘What’s for dinner,’” she said.

It doesn’t seem likely she’ll tire of salads anytime soon. With what she’ll only say is “a big project” in the works, salads and The Salad Lab look to be a big part of Schrijver’s life for the foreseeable future. She’s OK with that.

“I do fantasize about having salad-making parties where everybody brings a bottle of wine and a couple of salad ingredients and you get together and chop and drink wine and enjoy your salad,” she said.

With her number of followers still growing every day, it’s safe to assume she’ll have plenty of people who’d love an invitation.

Summer Swordfish Nicoise

Makes 4 servings

The classic nicoise salad includes tinned or jarred tuna, but Darlene Schrijver gives it a twist by using freshly grilled fish, making it the perfect salad for a warm spring or hot summer day.

2 cups baby Yukon or red potatoes, cut in quarters (about ¾ pound)

2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

½ teaspoon flake sea salt, divided

¾ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper, divided

4 eggs

2 cups trimmed French green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon iodized or kosher salt

2 (8-ounce) swordfish steaks

8 cups butter or Boston lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1½ cups heirloom tomatoes, chopped (or use cherry tomatoes)

¼ cup thinly sliced red onions, soaked in iced water for 10 minutes then drained (see Note)

¼ cup halved pitted olives (nicoise, Kalamata or green)

4 tablespoons drained capers

For the dressing

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon local honey

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, add potatoes, 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon each of basil, dill, parsley and chives. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and gently toss until potatoes are evenly coated.

Place on a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until potatoes start to brown on the edges and are fork-tender. Remove from the oven and let cool on the counter.

Make the boiled eggs by placing them in a small pan ⅔ full of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes if you like them a little soft in the center or 11 minutes for hard-boiled. Remove them from the boiling water and place directly into a bowl of ice water. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and quarter them lengthwise. Set aside.

Fill a large pot ⅔ full with water and bring to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the salt, then the beans, to the boiling water and blanch until the beans are slightly tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Immediately remove the beans with a slotted spoon and dunk them in the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the beans and set aside.

Rinse the swordfish steaks and pat dry with a paper towel. Coat each steak evenly with 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Preheat your grill to 400 degrees. (If using a stove-top grill pan, heat to medium-high.) Add the swordfish steaks and cook 4 - 5 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove the fish from the grill, transfer to a plate and let cool for 2 minutes. Slice into ½-inch thick strips, then cut the strips into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

Next, make the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons each of the herbs, mustard, honey and a pinch each of salt and pepper. While whisking, slowly pour in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified.

In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, roasted potatoes, eggs, green beans and swordfish. Drizzle on some of the dressing and toss until all the ingredients are evenly combined and coated with the dressing. Serve right away, with any extra dressing on the side.

Pairing suggestion: a glass of Sonoma County rosé.

Note: Schrijver soaks onion in water for 10 minutes, which she said makes them more palatable and takes away some of the sulfites that cause stinky breath.

Special Spring Fruit Salad

Makes 4-6 servings as a main dish or 8-12 servings as a side

This salad was influenced by the trending Zuma Valley coconut cream that some celebrities use in their special smoothies and fruit salads in Los Angeles, but it’s still hard to find in Sonoma County. Instead, you can find regular coconut cream in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores or use regular whipping cream.

Unlike a tossed salad, this one is artfully composed, but you can toss it if you like. For a local touch, Schrijver suggested using granola from Red Bird Bakery and whatever local in-season fruit strikes your fancy.

3 cups whipped coconut cream

1½ cups sliced strawberries

1½ cups seasonal melon, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup blueberries

1 cup mango, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup blackberries

1 cup raspberries

2 kiwis peeled, halved and sliced

1 cup pineapple, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup granola

⅔ cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup chopped dried mandarin oranges

½ cup chopped dates

¼ cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup dark chocolate chips

¼ cup chopped macadamia nuts

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

2 tablespoons flax seeds

2 tablespoons chia seeds

Juice and zest of 1 lime

If using frozen coconut cream, thaw according to package directions, then whisk to fluff it up. If using regular coconut cream, chill a large metal mixing bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes. Add the cream and mix with a whisk attachment on high for 2 minutes until it thickens.

In a large serving bowl or platter, spread coconut cream evenly along the bottom. Arrange strawberries, melon, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwis, pineapple, granola, dried mandarins, nuts, dates and seeds all in lines across the bowl. Sprinkle chopped mint around the edges and drizzle with lime juice. Garnish with lime zest and serve.

Pairing suggestion: a sparkling rosé.

Bear Republic Burger Salad

Makes 4 servings

Schrijver loves to ride her bike around Eastside, Westside and Dry Creek roads, especially in the spring. On the weekends, when she was training for triathlons, she would go on long rides and meet her family at the Bear Republic in Healdsburg for lunch. She would always look forward to a cold Racer 5 and a burger with garlic fries. Although her triathlon days are over and, unfortunately, the Bear Republic’s restaurant is no longer there, the legend of that burger lives on in this salad.

For the dressing

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Flake sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

For the salad

8 cups butter lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1 pound ground beef

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1½ cups diced tomatoes

1 cup diced extra-sharp cheddar cheese (½-inch cubes)

1 cup diced onions

¾ cup finely chopped dill pickles

In a large salad bowl, add mayonnaise, oil, mustard, ketchup, pickle relish, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk until well-combined.

Preheat the grill to medium. While it heats, season ground beef with salt and pepper and form into 4 patties. Cook on the preheated grill, uncovered, for 3-5 minutes a side, depending on the desired level of doneness. Remove from grill, let cool for a few minutes, then cut into bite-size pieces and set aside.

Heat a small saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and 1 cup diced onions. Saute until onions are translucent and start to brown, 12-15 minutes.

In the bowl with the dressing, add lettuce, hamburger, tomatoes, cheese, onion and pickles. Toss until evenly coated.

Pairing suggestion: Racer 5 IPA or Guayaki Yerba Mate.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Graue at 707-521-5262 or On Twitter @JenInOz.

3 videos from The Salad Lab

The “Kardashian” salad:

The “Kylie Jenner” salad:

The Jessica Chastain Spring Roll Salad:

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