Have you ever noticed that any time you order salad at a restaurant, it has a way of tasting a little more special than the ones you whip up at home? There's something about the crunch, the zip of the dressing, and the full flavor that permeates every bite. But when you recreate it at home, even with what you'd think are the same ingredients, it falls flat.
That won't be the case for long. Chefs have a few tricks up their sleeves to make salads so good. Take a peek behind the kitchen door with me and you'll be making better versions at home in no time. Here are seven simple tips for making restaurant-quality salads from the comfort of your own kitchen.
1. Make the salad dressing.
You'd be surprised how quickly a dressing can come together. Fresh ingredients give the dressing an extra punch of flavor you'll be hard-pressed to find in a bottle. The classic ratio for basic homemade vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar. However, you can skew it more towards two to one if you like your dressings on the acidic side.
Once you know the ratio, you can mix and match with lots of ingredients. Whisk in mustard or honey to keep it emulsified, or add flavor with chili flakes, shallots, and herbs — the possibilities are endless.
Get the recipes: 6 Salad Dressings to Know By Heart
Part of what makes restaurant salads exceptionally delicious is that they are always well-seasoned. Chefs make a point of seasoning the greens, not just the dressing, with a touch of salt and pepper. Fresh produce shines with a little salt and pepper mixed in too.
3. Use a mix of greens for varied texture and flavor.
The mixture of greens in a restaurant salad elevates it as well. Luckily, these days most grocery stores sell greens mixed together already. However, it's simple to do yourself at home too. Keep texture and flavor in mind when you mix. Romaine and iceberg have more of a crunch than spinach or arugula. And watercress and arugula will add a peppery bite compared to mild Bibb lettuce or simple green leaf lettuce.
Amp up the flavor: Bring New Flavors to Salad with These 5 Spring Greens
Go beyond lettuce and include fresh herbs in your mix of greens. Salads are the perfect place to use up whatever herbs you have in your refrigerator, but you can also lean all the way in and use leafier herbs like cilantro or parsley as a green in their own right. Toss cilantro into a taco salad, basil into a tomato-mozzarella salad, and mint with a feta-olive salad.
Treat your herbs right: Your Guide to Storing Fresh Herbs in the Fridge
I bet the first ingredient that pops into your mind when you hear the word "salad" is some kind of leafy green. While I do love greens, they don't need to be the star. I dare you to even leave them out completely. There's a world of possibilities for salads beyond lettuce. Try a combination of other vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, cooked grains, and bread.
Get inspired: 25 Delicious Lettuce-Free Summer Salads
6. Don't fear the fat.
Restaurants aren't afraid to add fat to the mix, and you shouldn't be either. Remember that fat equals flavor. It helps make salads taste even better and makes them more satiating. A few easy ways to bring fat to your salad is with the dressing, or ingredients like avocado, toasted nuts, bacon, smoked salmon, or cheese.
7. Dress it before you plate it.
This simple trick allows dressing to evenly distribute and coat all the ingredients. It's a nice gesture to leave the dressing on the side, so everyone can add as much as they'd like, but pouring it over your salad leaves you with pools of dressing that can overwhelm every few bites. Sure, your greens will begin to wilt slowly as soon as they're dressed, but if you wait until just before you eat, the salad won't turn soggy. Start adding a little at a time; you can always add more, but a salad can go from great to overdressed quickly, so take heed!