What is the key to a perfect salad? Maybe there are multiple keys, all singing in unison. Like the balance between ingredients, the degree of satisfaction after you eat it, and don’t crave a snack after half an hour, and the dressing that works perfectly with it.
Salads are perfectly valid as main courses, as long as you build them with balance in mind. And to get that great balance, you need a few elements to work together. It should have a fresh homemade dressing, not too many ingredients, and it should be satisfying and nutritious enough to serve as a meal. But how do you reach that balance?
I for one, like to treat a simple salad as seriously as I would any dish. I think about the ingredients, add them one by one and taste, trying to figure out, in my gut, what is missing. I love making large quantities even and chop all of the ingredients mindfully, slowly. It’s almost like a Zen ritual for me. And I can always taste it in the results.
5 tips and tricks for the perfect salad
1. Choose the best ingredients
No matter what greens you choose for your salad, make sure that they’re freshly cut and in their prime. Which also means picking things that are in season when you’re making the perfect salad. There are so many things you can choose from: lettuce, arugula, spinach, endives, and many more.
There are even four main types of lettuce, iceberg, butterhead, leaf, and romaine, each with their own texture and taste. It’s important to understand how each of them works. Iceberg is crisper, but not as flavorful as others. Butterhead has soft, supple leaves. Be careful with those, they bruise easily. Green leaf, red leaf, and oak leaf need to be eaten immediately because they have a very small freshness window until they wilt. Romaine has slightly bitter leaves and is a little bit crunchy when eaten. Remember that the center leaves are sweeter and tastier.
After you've chosen the leaves, pair them with other healthy ingredients. Here are plenty of salad ideas for you.
2. Don’t complicate things
You don’t want to mix things up too much! The whole idea of a salad is finding a balance in texture, color (because we tend to eat with our eyes, too, isn’t it?), and flavor. I call it the 'perfect bite' test. This means that you should be able to grab a small piece of every ingredient with the fork and taste the whole salad in one bite.
So don’t complicate things or you won’t be able to have the full salad experience in every bite. Choose the leaves, make your own dressing, and then have one, two at most extra ingredients. Like chives, herbs, maybe radishes or crushed nuts. I love dill if I’m being honest. The main idea of a salad is to be able to feel its flavor.
3. Clean thoroughly
Once you’ve bought your greens from the market, you need to take some steps to preserve them for as long as possible. First of all, if you clean the leafy greens when you get home and dry them off, you ensure that they get a bit of their 'life' back after the ride. Clean them in cold water and then pat them down with paper or kitchen towels.
4. Make your own dressing
In my humble opinion, there is no comparison between a homemade dressing and a store-bought one. The latter would lose any time. So what’s the key to a good dressing? Using the right proportions. You need about three parts oil and one part acid, and the combinations from here are endless. Don’t forget to use some seasoning and some herbs, to give everything an extra dimension.
Now, you’ll need about 3-4 tablespoons of dressing for every four cups of cleaned greens. You don’t want the salad to be too greasy and the veggies to swim in it. On the other hand, you also don’t want the dressing not to touch on all of the salad. Right?
5. Toss gently
Forget about kitchen instruments. Just do everything with your hands, because they will be gentler than any fork or spoon you can think of. Place the greens in the largest bowl you have, and stick both of your clean hands in it, with fingers stretched apart. Then get into the flow and try to reach the whole surface of the bowl. Go to the bottom and then bring the hands to the top, along with the veggies there.
Do this first to mix the ingredients, and then add the dressing and continue with the same movement. Repeat until the dressing is spread out evenly.
And then serve! Because once you’ve added the dressing, you’ve started the clock on the freshness of your perfect salad! The dish is best eaten right after you’ve finished making it.