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ingredients and techniques

7 Secrets to Making a Salad

meg's picture

1. The greens you buy.

            - Buy the freshest, sprightliest greens you can find. Clamshells are tempting and can be good, but they can also be places where greens go to die. We've all experienced the biological wonder of a box of greens turning to sludge in the back of the fridge. Buy whole heads of lettuce, and make sure they look crisp and perky.

            - Go to a farmer's market. The freshest vegetables you can get will be there. Shopping at a farmer's market also motivates me to use what I buy. It is all too easy to feel no pang of regret when a supermarket vegetable goes bad. After all, they usually aren't that great to begin with. Farmer's market produce, however, seems to engender a feeling of responsibility. I go to great lengths to make sure that none of it goes to waste.

            - Buy a diversity of greens. Look beyond romaine and head lettuce to the world of delectable salad greens out there. Arugula and watercress can add a peppery bite to a salad. Endive, radicchio, treviso, and dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter twang. Purslane and sorrel are bright and lemony. Kale, mild mustard greens, and cabbage are sturdy and can be shredded to add body to a salad.

2. The greens you keep.

            - Store salad greens properly. As tempting as it is to toss lettuce in the crisper without a thought, remember that they wilt very quickly this way. Before you know it you're spraying out the produce drawer with a garden hose in the backyard. This is easy to avoid. When you bring greens home, remove any excess water. Supermarkets tend to drench vegetables in water, which causes rapid deterioration unless you take pains to dry them.

            - Head lettuces can be shaken out, wrapped in a paper towel, and stored in a plastic bag. Loose greens or spring mix can be put through a salad spinner or wrapped in a kitchen towel and shaken. We find that storing all greens in plastic bags with a paper towel in the crisper keeps them fresh longer.

3. Keep it interesting.

            - Greens aren't the only vegetables that belong in salads. Carrots, cucumbers, radishes, young turnips, sprouts, beans, thinly shaved beets, toasted nuts and seeds (I'm a sucker for toasted pumpkin seeds), fresh or dried fruit (pick what's in season), cheese of all kinds, homemade croutons (best of all--cheese-topped croutons!), roasted vegetables, shaved fennel, hard boiled, poached, or fried eggs, tomatoes, boiled new potatoes...see where I'm going with this? Your salad is your canvas. Approach it like you are the Bob Ross of salads.

            - Salads aren't just about greens. Instead of using lettuce and company as the base for your salad, make a bean salad or a grated carrot or beet salad. Cook up some rice noodles and top them with salady things and a protein. Make a grain salad--wheat berries, barley, farro, quinoa, and brown rice are all great bases for salads.

4. Dress it up.

            - Stop buying salad dressing. They're not as good as homemade and full of stuff you wouldn't eat if you could only bring yourself to read the label. Have a couple solid recipes for great all-purpose dressings (start with my absolute favorite dressing in the world--my mustard-lemon dressing). A simple salad dressing takes 5 minutes or less, and if you have a blender, it's even faster. But really all you need is a bowl and a whisk. Oil and vinegar (don't forget the salt and pepper) is the easiest dressing of all.

5. Use your hands.

            - Salad tongs are not your friend. When I was at the restaurant, I worked the salad station, or garde manger, for a few months. I never ever dressed a salad with tongs, and if I had tried, Chef would have put a stop to it immediately. Clean hands are your best tool for this job. While tongs bruise and crush tender greens, hands are gentle and can lightly toss greens and coat them evenly with dressing.

6. Toss vegetables separately.

            - Don't try to toss salad greens and miscellaneous vegetables (cucumber, carrot, etc.) together. Toss the greens first, then toss the other vegetables afterward and place them on top of the salads. Otherwise, they end up at the bottom of the salad bowl and may or may not get coated very well with dressing.

7. Make a meal of it.

            - There are few things quicker and easier to make on a busy weeknight than a meal salad. Especially if you've already whipped up a batch of homemade dressing and have some salad components on hand. Just grill, broil, blacken, or pan sear your favorite protein and you have dinner!

Other articles you might enjoy: Panzanella, Chopped Winter Salad, Winter Citrus and Fennel Salad

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