Here's a dirty trick. Ingredients can be shorthand for something more. Got a boring chicken dish? Add dried apricots and couscous, and it's Moroccan. Want to make your salad more interesting? Go Tex-Mex with black beans, guac, and salsa. French with Dijon mustard and capers. Just a couple ingredients can snap the whole into focus.
Yesterday, Julian and I shared a Thai Chicken Salad from Hope & Anchor (see above). Knowing these flavors, I made my own version with kale (see below). With the coming of spring, I can't get enough of this dish, but not because of the cabbage or carrots. What makes this dish is the herbs, lime, fish, and nuts. Next time, I'll try with other greens, or maybe something crazy like broccoli or raw shaved beets. Or raw Jerusalem artichokes!
Of course, this doesn't have to be a dirty trick. Consider this Caesar salad made with bok choy, grapefruit, and feta from Gwynnett St. Or this deli standby made with corned duck, purple mustard, and horseradish cream from WD~50. Once you understand the essence of a dish, everything can be substituted.