My friend Caroline told me this weekend that she can never make a salad that she likes. It’s not that she doesn’t like salad – when other people make it, she enjoys it – but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her making it that she doesn’t enjoy. So Caroline, this post is for you. It is my definitive guide to salads, which I make almost nightly. I’m not sure if this will help you make a salad you like, but if nothing else, it may stroke stoke (pardon that typo) the flames of your love for salad..? (ok, Eric told me to say that… I can’t stop giggling right now.)
Anyway, there are a few key factors that must be right in order to make a good salad. First up: lettuce.
Sure, baby greens are good. They’re easy since you can buy them pre-washed in almost any grocery store, but I almost always find there are too many types of greens, and there are too many of the bitter greens in the mix that often ruin a salad for me. Also, I’m a self-professed lettuce snob. Iceberg? Never. I can barely even stand Romaine. My favorites are butter, bibb, red leaf, and some harder-to-find greens such as arugula, watercress, or sorrel. Tonight, I had some watercress, arugula, and locally-grown pea shoots on hand, so I mixed those three together. The pea shoots taste almost like fresh garden peas – yum!
Second: simplicity. I think one mistake many people make is throwing too much on their salad. Red peppers, carrots, cabbage, corn, egg, bacon, onion, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms… look at that list. My rule is to only put two, three additional ingredients. Tonight, I went with one – black olives.
Third: dressing. Eric says this is key. A good dressing almost guarantees a good salad, in his mind. Most of my dressings are some variation of the same thing and almost always include extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Sometimes I add other acids – wine vinegars and apple cider vinegars are my favorites. Ultimately, ratios are important (1:1 vinegar:oil is what I like, but I do like an acid-heavy dressing). Tonight, I had ramps in my fridge, so I made a ramp vinaigrette, but other additions I like are shallots, roasted garlic, or some bleu/feta cheese.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil – quality is important here
juice of 1 lemon
dash of wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar if more acid is needed
2 raw ramps
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
Toss everything except the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Slowly drizzle the olive oil in until the mixture is emulsified and the ramps are finely ground.
Just pour the dressing over the greens and toppings (olives) and voila, a perfect salad.