We've finally composted or given away the last of the Christmas cookies and frozen any remaining leftovers. I'm sure you can relate to the fact that the past few weeks have brought about many heavy meals and more sweets than we usually eat. To lighten up, I've dusted off the juicer and am vowing to make salads for lunch for the next few weeks. We have our go-to salad of farmers' market lettuces, goat cheese, and a lemony vinaigrette. But it's nice to mix things up for the New Year, and move beyond our tried-and true favorites.
Recently, David Tanis wrote a piece for The New York Times on great salads. In it, Tanis laments our ability to put together a good salad, noting: "To master the art of preparing salad, which is not really all that difficult, we should look to the French." He suggests that we could all use more time with vinaigrettes: first, master a simple one (olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper) and then move on to create more intriguing salads from there.
→ Read the full article: Mastering a Vinaigrette at The New York Times
This is a great point. My mom's best friend Carol is a salad guru, and whenever we have dinner at her house, the conversation inevitably turns to Carol's salads: how does she do it? The simple answer: a good, appropriate dressing for the salad. Below I've included a few recipes from our archives on dressings to get you started, and a few of my own tips that I plan to follow this month. Do you have any tips or tricks up your sleeve to making truly exceptional salads?
3 Salad Tips
• Fresh Ingredients Matter: Yes, it's the dead of winter and the farmers markets can be a bit uninspired. Plus, it's simply cold outside and there are weekends when that's literally the last thing I'd like to do. But with a dish that's so completely dependent on one or two ingredients (lettuce or greens), the kind of lettuce you're buying matters a great deal. While the packaged lettuces are convenient, they're often frozen and transported to your local grocery store, so they'll never taste as fresh and delicious as a local bunch of lettuce. Take a little extra time with the washing and chopping — it'll pay off in flavor.
• Break out the Mandoline: I always hate recommending that readers buy a new piece of kitchen equipment, but if you don't yet have a mandoline, they work wonders for making an inspired, delicious salad. Mandolines allow you to very thinly slice vegetables like carrots and radishes, adding visual interest to your salads and allowing you to add many different vegetables without weighing down the greens. If you don't have a mandoline, you can certainly thinly slice these vegetables on your own — it just takes more time and patience, obviously.
• Experiment with Unexpected Ingredients: It's easy to reach for chopped mushrooms, sliced tomatoes or olives for your everyday salad. Maybe you like to scatter in a few sunflower seeds, soft cheeses, or croutons. But what about toasted hazelnuts? Gogi berries? Perserved lemon and capers? How about adding in cooked whole grains like couscous or quinoa for more of a complete meal? Starting to push the envelope on which ingredients belong in a salad can be quite liberating, will help you use up leftovers in the refrigerator, and will likely lead to new favorite salads.
3 Favorite Vinaigrette Recipes:
• Basic Vinaigrette
• The Best French Vinaigrette
• Bacon Vinaigrette
Related: 7 Ways to Make Any Salad Taste Better
(Image: Megan Gordon)