Ina Garten’s Smart Tip for Dressing a Salad

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Of all the annoying traits a person can have, not coming to the table when they say they will is one of the worst. That happens constantly at my house. When I do the cooking I’ll let everyone know when the food is ready, and they’ll say they are coming. Then I’ll toss the salad and take it to the table, and no one will be there. Either something came up with work, or someone is dawdling, or someone has almost defeated the boss in their video game, and I’m stuck standing at the table in a panic shouting, “You don’t understand, I dressed the salad! I dressed the salad!”

Salads are extraordinarily finicky about being dressed. They’re almost as difficult to time correctly as avocados. You can’t toss a salad in advance or the leaves will wilt, and the salad will quickly become a sad, droopy mess. A salad can only be dressed right before eating, and it’s practically a race: Make the salad, dress the salad, then run to the table as quickly as possible.

Ina Garten loves to prepare food in advance as much as possible, but that doesn’t usually work so well with salads. Luckily she has an easy dressing trick to make a salad in advance without it getting wilted.

A lot of people are afraid of making their own vinaigrettes, but Ina says it’s one of the easiest things to make, and as long as you use good-quality ingredients, it will probably taste good in the end. Ina’s recipe is simple: garlic, Dijon mustard, Champagne vinegar, and olive oil. After she mixes it, she tastes it with a leaf to make sure the flavors are right, and if the dressing is to her satisfaction, she assembles the salad, but she does not toss it.

Get the recipe: Vinaigrette for Green Salad from Ina Garten

And here’s the real ingenious part: “The thing I do with a vinaigrette is I put a little bit of it in the bottom of the [salad] bowl — you don’t want to toss it before you’re going to serve it,” she said. Then she puts mesclun greens in the bowl so they’re sitting on top of the vinaigrette.

“So the vinaigrette is on the bottom, the leaves are on the top, and Jeffrey can just toss it whenever he’s ready for dinner,” she said. “And the dinner is literally in the fridge.”

That’s a very good idea, and it’s very similar to this French method for dressing a salad, which is to make the dressing right in the salad bowl first, then pile the leaves on top, and set it aside the way Ina does until it’s ready to be served and tossed. It’s just like Ina’s technique, and it has the benefit of only dirtying the one bowl instead of two. You’d need to know exactly how much dressing you wanted before you started, but if you were confident that you knew how much dressing to make for the amount of greens you were using, it’d be very convenient.