Secrets of Salad Success
I am a salad expert. And by expert I mean that whenever I offer to bring something to an event people always ask me to bring a salad. I tell them, “I know how to make other things besides salad you know.”
“But you make the best salad! ” Is always their reply. I was skeptical for the longest time but it kept happening over and over… salad, salad, salad.
It always boggles my mind when people tell me, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to eat the salad you made!” Mmmmkay… I mean it’s salad. When you ask people to write down their favorite foods of all time, I’m pretty sure that salad almost never makes the list… ever. But somehow my salads have achieved legendary status among my family and friends. My daughter Merryn actually asked me to make a bottle of salad dressing for her friend Brigitte’s birthday. I told her, ” Why don’t you just bring her over and I’ll show her how to make it? Then she can eat it anytime she wants.”
“It’s not the same,” she replied.
So I started thinking about it. What actually is it about the salads that I create that make people want to eat them so darn bad. I have been analyzing this for the past several days and have come to a few conclusions:
Blueberries, mac nuts and Gorgonzola crumbles give flavor and textural contrast in this salad.
Dressing: Obvi, I mean if your dressing is crap than your salad will be crap too. I seriously don’t get why people waste their money on bottled dressing when it is SO easy (and inexpensive) to make your own. And there is really no comparison in taste… it’s like comparing your mom’s homemade pot roast with a can of dog food. My recipe (see the end of the blog) is so simple that a preschooler can make it. And it is legit delicious.
- Fresh ingredients: Ok, I don’t know why I need to spell this out but I know I do… if you are buying bagged salad then you need to NOT do that anymore. Not only is salad in a bag inferior in taste, but it is inferior in nutritional value. STOP IT RIGHT NOW! In order to make the salad of legends, you want to look for fresh, organic vegetables, preferably locally grown. The best place for this is at your local farmers market. You are getting the highest quality for the best prices AND you are literally helping to pay for someone’s mortgage. Bagged salad=bad, farm market produce=good… got it?
- Balance your flavors: I like to throw in something sweet (dried fruit, fresh berries, grapes or other fruits, etc), something salty (Gorgonzola or other salty cheeses, salted nuts, homemade croutons, etc), sometimes something tart (diced Granny Smith apple, a spoonful of fermented veggies-sourkraut, kimchee) or spicy (dried spicy mango, pepper jack cheese) just to have some flavor contrasts.
- Balance your textures: When you throw in some of the above items, they also add in a different texture: crunchy macadamia nuts with chewy dried mango or crumbly Gorgonzola with crunchy toasted pine nuts and soft ripe strawberries… Think about this as you’re deciding on your ingredients; a bunch of soft wet things is not going to make an appetizing salad.
- If you’re concerned about time, just wash all your salad in one batch, put it in the salad spinner and keep it in a bag in the refrigerator until needed. Keep the leaves whole until ready to use as the nutrients begin to degrade quickly once the leaf is cut into pieces. Wash other fruits and vegetable so they’re ready to use. Make a big batch of dressing and keep it in a glass bottle or jar in the refrigerator. If you prep everything in bulk than you can use it throughout the week and it will be super fast and easy to throw together a salad for lunch or dinner.
I know that seems like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself just naturally knowing what things are going to taste good together. Greens typically have a natural bitterness to them so adding sweet, salty, spicy and/or sour ingredients gives you a foil for the bitterness and makes your salad like a symphony of tasty goodness. Just think contrasts and you’re good.
Just repurpose a juice bottle for your dressing and you’re good to go!
Ok for my dressing recipe, I am NOT going to give you exact measurements. You are going to get ratios and you are going to have to TASTE your dressing as you go along. This way you can make as much or as little as you like and you will feel like an artist in your own kitchen creating your masterpiece. Some batches may come out better than others and that’s ok! You will learn something each time. You CAN do this!
2-3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar- this will depend on the type of vinegar (rice, champagne, some red wine vinegars are less tart than balsamic or apple cider vinegars for example) and whether or not you like it more or less tart. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use distilled white vinegar!!! Yuck, no, yuck! Again, use quality ingredients for a quality result.
Sea Salt- to taste. Do not use iodized table salt-that stuff will kill you (seriously-look it up). Sea Salt, pink Himalayan salt, Hawaiian salt… high quality salt. Again… quality.
Black pepper- to taste. Again, quality. Buy yourself a Telicherry pepper grinder from Costco. Avoid pre-ground black pepper.
Small spoonful of Dijon mustard- to taste but a general rule is about 1 tsp. per cup of oil.
Minced shallots or red onion- approximately 1 Tbs per cup of dressing.
You may also want to add a small handful of fresh or dried herbs: tarragon, basil or oregano. Remember, dried herbs are stronger in flavor than fresh so add a small amount and taste as you go.
For those of you who are freaking out right now because I didn’t give you an exact recipe, you can try this…
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
2/3 c. olive oil
1 Tbs. minced shallots
1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsps. sea salt
Several grinds of the pepper shaker
You are still going to have to taste it and adjust the salt, pepper, oil and/or Dijon mustard. You’ll get the hang of it and soon everyone is going to be asking you to bring a salad every time you go somewhere.
Have fun with that.