How to Make Fabulous Green Salads
By Cheri Sicard of FabulousFoods.com
A green salad can be one of those dishes that really sings on your plate, or it can be the ho-hum obligation that you eat because you think you should. The difference between the two is often just a matter of a few simple tips and small details. This page will give you lots of hints and tips on great green salad making. Put them to use in your kitchen and you'll soon be turning out exciting salads that your dinner guests will be talking about later.
* Get creative with greens - gone are the days when salad meant a few leaves of wilted iceberg lettuce drizzled with a fat laden creamy dressing. Today's markets have a wide variety of salad greens. Try to use several varieties in your salads. For convenience you can buy premixed mesclun, which contains a variety of greens. You can also blend your own by going through the produce department and mixing and matching greens. Some that will add interesting flavors to the mix are the slightly bitter chicories such as endive or radicchio, peppery arugula or even mild baby spinach. Look for interesting textures and colors in your greens as well. Maybe add some frisee or curly red leaf lettuce for extra dimension.
* If you bought a pre-washed mesclun mix, you won't have to worry about cleaning the greens, otherwise they should be thoroughly washed. The hardest part of this is that salad greens should also be dried before being turned into salad, otherwise they will water down the dressing. A salad spinner is a handy kitchen gadget that actually works quite well (order online or pick them up for a song any weekend at a local garage sale). Otherwise, after shaking off most of the water, you can roll the washed lettuce in paper towels to help absorb the remaining moisture.
* Plan on about 2 cups of mixed greens per person.
* For a slightly sweet, mild anise flavor, try adding some chopped fresh fennel bulb to your salad or using fennel as the basis of the salad itself.
* You can add all kinds of other vegetables to your salads depending on your mood. I generally prefer simpler salads that allow one or two ingredients to really shine, but to each his own. Tomatoes and onions seem to be standard fare but don't forget cucumbers, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, avocado, olives, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, peas, corn, beans, etc.
* Lightly steamed veggies that have been chilled also make excellent salad additions, think asparagus, green beans, broccoli or cauliflower.
* While raw mushrooms are a staple of many salad recipes, I now avoid them. Mycology expert Charmoon Richardson of the Sonoma, California company "Wild About Mushrooms" recently taught me that raw mushrooms are slightly toxic (these elements are released during cooking).
* Fruit can add a bright flavor surprise to green salads. For just a few suggestions, try adding a small amount of sliced fresh strawberries, blueberries or raspberries to your salad mix. Citrus fruit like orange or grapefruit slices or fresh pineapple go really well, especially with dark greens like spinach. Add tropical flavor with fruits like mango or papaya or my favorite. In fall, be sure to try my favorite salad fruit: fresh pomegranate seeds.
* Ingredients that really make a salad sing! The following ingredients are so potent in flavor, you only have to use a small amount, but they will add a distinctive, unforgettable flavor to your salads: crumbled bacon bits; crumbled hard boiled egg; crumbled strong cheeses such as blue cheese, gorgonzola, Roquefort or feta; brine cured olives such as kalamatas; toasted nuts or seeds; anchovies.
* Try roasting vegetables on the grill or roasting them in the oven before adding to salads (you can chill first, or add them warm). This works well for onions, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms (especially portobellos), and many others.
* Add grilled chicken, beef or even tofu to your salad and turn it into a meal.
* If you like toasted nuts on your salad, try sugared nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, for an even greater flavor spectrum. To make these nuts, 2 1/4 cups nuts with 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a heavy skillet. Cook the mixture until the water evaporates and the nuts have a crystal, sugary appearance. Pour onto a baking sheet coated in waxed paper ad immediately separate the nuts with a fork. Let cool, store in airtight container.
* Mixed green salads with warm goat cheese are on the menus of countless trendy restaurants today, but it's easy to duplicate this feat at home. Simply take a log of goat cheese ad slice into slices about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch thick. Lightly coat the cheese slices with either some seasoned breadcrumbs or finely chopped nuts. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and place under the boiler. Watch carefully, it takes less than a minute! Broil just until the cheese starts to melt (if you wait too long you will end up it a runny mess). Remove cheese from oven and use a wide spatula to transfer one cheese slice onto each serving plate of dressed, mixed greens.
Dressing the Salad
* Do not over dress, salad only needs about 1 teaspoon of dressing per person, as long as you toss it well.
* A lighter vinaigrette type dressing will allow the flavors of the salad to come through.
* A basic vinaigrette than can be tossed right on the salad is about 1 1/2 tsp. vinegar to 2 tsp. oil. Sprinkle the vinegar on first, then toss, then sprinkle on the oil and toss again. If you do it the other way around, the oil will keep the vinegar from adhering to the leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
* Play with types of oil and vinegars you use. Try red or white wine vinegars or seasoned rice vinegar.
* Use vinegar somewhat sparingly as the taste can easily overpower all other flavors.
* Extra virgin olive oil is great, but you can play with the flavor by adding part nut oils, such as hazelnut or almond oil. A few drops of sesame oil will give your salad an exotic Asian flair.
* Substitute acidic fruit juice for all or part of the vinegar in a vinaigrette. Try using lemon, lime, orange, apple or pineapple juices.
* To add flavor and dimension to your vinaigrette dressings, try adding ingredients like minced shallot, garlic, ginger, onion or green onion. Play with the flavors by adding small amounts of flavoring ingredients such as mustard, honey, hot sauce or soy sauce.
* Small amounts of fresh herbs can add a whole new flavor dimension to salads and salad dressings. Try basil, thyme leaves, chives or tarragon. Experiment and have fun with herbs.
Favorite Salad Combos
Below are some of my favorite salad combos, the ones I make at home, over and over again. I'm sure you'll come up with some great new ones of your own. Email them to m, if you'd like to share (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1. Baby spinach, thinly sliced red onions and mandarin orange slices in an orange juice vinaigrette with toasted pine nuts.
2. Mesclun, candied pecans or toasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese and pomegranate seeds in a light vinaigrette.
3. Mixed greens, chopped tomato, thinly sliced Vidalia onion, avocado and bacon bits. This salad goes well with either vinaigrette or a creamy blue cheese dressing.
4. Chopped fennel and chopped Belgian endive with mandarin orange slices in a rice vinegar vinaigrette with a touch of sesame oil. Top with toasted sesame seeds. Chopped, seeded cucumber is another nice ingredient in this salad, either in addition to or instead of either the fennel or endive.
5. Mixed greens, shredded carrot, shredded red cabbage, crumbled bacon bits, crumbled blue cheese and candied walnuts.