Creating a Perfect Salad for Any Occasion
The Romance of Salads
“When you’re green, you’re growing.”— Ray Kroc
Salads are like little masterpieces of goodness. Anyone can become a genius salad maker—but a salad is only as good as its ingredients. So, part of the genius lies in becoming a curator of fantastic salad ingredients. Long before I was a cookbook author and blogger, I was known in my circle of friends as the Queen of the Salads because of my devotion to making them spectacular—so I thought, why not devote an entire issue to them? My family so loves salads that I even have a salad I’d make for my children when they were coming home from college or for a visit (and before they were eating vegan) called the Welcome Home Salad, filled with goodness like cottage fries, roasted chicken, and a creamy dressing.
Choosing Your Greens
Start with a blanket of beautiful greens—and always salt them, no matter which you choose. There are many amazing choices in the spring, so pick the ideal greens for your creation. Romaine (or baby Romaine) gets you off to a crunchy start and provides a lot of body, holding up to something substantial like grilled chicken and a creamy dressing. Arugula (or baby arugula when you can find it) has a peppery, unique taste and is perfect as a base for a Chicken Piccata salad.
Freshness matters. Personally, I’m not crazy about buying a bag of already-mixed, prepackaged greens, but I sure do love to mix my own or let my local farmer do it for me–a personal favorite is watercress mixed with arugula. Watercress is one of those greens you can often find in the grocery store actually attached to the dirt it was grown in. Other, softer favorites are green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, Boston, and Bibb. They all make an extraordinary, soft bed for your salad.
And when I’m looking for color, radicchio and red leaf lettuce are lovely. Lettuce is really a personal preference, and there’s no right or wrong, but here are a few of my guidelines: for a Cobb or my BLT Salad, seafood or scallops, I like a softer lettuce. With a Caesar, use Romaine. For a Wedge Salad, always go with iceberg.
Certainly, it’s better to use a lettuce that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals, but if you can’t find organic or if it’s not feasible, give your greens an even more thorough rinse. Make sure your greens are super dry before you begin to assemble your salad. Use a salad spinner if you have one. Handle greens delicately. If you’re prepping ahead, greens can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Choosing Your Protein
If you want to make an extraordinary entrée salad, choosing a fabulous protein is the only way to go. My Sizzling Everyday Roast Chicken Breast, which is easy to make ahead, is fantastic for any kind of Cobb or entrée salad, especially my Greek Salad.
Some other examples of a fabulous protein that make a salad really delicious include beef for the Eye of Round Salad from my cookbook, and a thinly sliced paillard of chicken like my Passport Chicken, originally from my pal @emmalatelynutrition. Crispy bacon is divine. Poached seafood or sauteed salmon fingers (salmon cut into strips about the width of your finger) are absolutely lovely. And there’s nothing better than fresh seasonal crab on a Crab Louie Salad.
A range of textures adds life to your salad—things like fresh herbs, chopped green onions, and fresh chopped chives add some green, crunchy goodness. Jammy eggs not only look beautiful but add an incomparable richness.
Hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, and pepperoncini are great tangy additions, and my Marinated Red Onions Magic Elixirs™ (as well as its marinade) are an absolute must for every one of my salads. If you’re doing dairy, a bit of cheese to finish is wonderful, and I specifically love sheep’s milk feta in brine. If you’re doing Whole30, add a grated, 9-minute hard-boiled egg yolk. Avocados are always a great add-on!
It’s so easy to make a homemade dressing: start with the Marinated Red Onions Magic Elixirs ™ marinade, or if you’re making a vinaigrette, use two parts olive oil to one part citrus juice or vinegar (or a combination), and mix it up according to taste. I tend to like fruit juices such as lemon or Meyer lemon, clementine, and grapefruit juice. A tiny sprinkle of sugar adds a nice element. Use a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil. A high-quality artisan vinegar from your neighborhood farmers market is lovely.
Change it up by blending a clove or two of Garlic Confit or a tablespoon of Tomato Confit into your dressing. If you are short of time, here is an easy hack: toss simple greens, macerated Preserved Lemon, and a bit of olive oil or Marinated Red Onions Magic Elixirs ™ marinade. No salt required, because of the salted preserved lemon.
Proportionally, for a half cup of olive oil, start with a quarter cup of juice or vinegar and whisk the olive oil in little by little, then add salt, pepper, and even puréed fresh herbs or a bit of mustard to taste. A spoonful of chevre (soft goat cheese) is lovely. This will dress an ample sized salad, but never overdress your salad. As my mother always said, “A salad is not a swimming pool!”
Other favorite dressings include my Smoky Red Pepper Sauce, Green Goddess (both regular and Whole30), Creamy Horseradish, Zesty Garlic Tahini from the cookbook. 999 Island Dressing, and Coconut Lime Vinaigrette.
The Rémoulade Sauce from my Whole 30 Shrimp Niçoise Salad is fabulous, and the Creamy Horseradish Dressing from my Pepper Steak Salad is absolutely wonderful. Salads can be taken over the top with deliciousness like Gomasio and Smoky Pepitas from my cookbook.
Sometimes homemade simply isn’t possible, even for me! Scope out your local grocery store, there’s so many incredible options these days. Just make sure you take a good look at the label!
Assembling the Salad
Assembly is my favorite part. I prefer not to toss everything together. Instead, I lay the elements out as if for a kindergarten art project, then artfully assemble. Frankly, we ended up developing the nocrumbsleft Platters because so many of you saw mine and wanted one too! I enjoy hearing how much families love serving salads like this. Kids love being able to choose their favorite elements from a platter to create their own dishes.
This personal favorite from my cookbook is called Epic for a reason. Although it is an epic undertaking, it is almost bewitching, everyone loves it so much. Marinated grilled chicken, hand-cut hand-fried tortillas, matchstick carrots, hunks of feta, olives—only in this particular salad—in a Wasabi-Lime Vinaigrette.
This post is an excerpt from Friday Favorites #82, The Romance of Salads. In the issue, we have contributions from @nocrumbslefts_otherkid and @vegcentricdietitian sharing their favorite salads as well. If you’d like to receive more things like this directly to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Friday Favorites here!
And if you’d like to receive this full issue, subscribe to Friday Favorites and DM the screenshot of your confirmation to Teri, letting her know you’d like to read The Romance of Salads. She can send you the full issue right away!