Salad Days: Top Tips For Tremendous Salads
Crisp, fresh salads are as delicious as they are healthy but not everyone has the inclination or culinary knowledge to rustle one up that can truly work as more than a starter or accompaniment and holds its own as a standalone meal. If that sounds like you then read on with zeal as we’re about to bring you some top salad-making tips that will have you serving up legendary leafy creations in no time at all…
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail (at making a decent salad)
Top sportsmen, great leaders, pre-eminent orators; they all share one common trait – they do their homework. Now, we’re not suggesting for one minute that putting some greens together in a bowl and slathering some vinaigrette over the lot is in any way comparable to steering a nation through a crisis or saving a crucial penalty in the World Cup final, but we can learn a lot from the meticulous preparation that makes the aforementioned folks so successful.
Before embarking on any kind of salad-making, you should ensure that you have the right tools for the job. If you’re preparing a ‘bound salad’ (the kind that are tossed together and feature thick sauces such as mayonnaise) then it’s wise to invest in a large glass salad bowl and some appropriate utensils including a slotted spoon, salad turner, and tongs. Other key weapons in any salad creator’s arsenal should include a set of good salt & pepper grinders, durable peeler, and perhaps most importantly, a selection of high quality knives. Those serious about the art (and it is an art) might also want to invest in handy time-saving devices such as the Tower Dual-Bladed Mini Chopper.
There’s nothing worse than limp, overly wet lettuce, spinach and other green salad leaves so you should always take care to wash and dry them properly. To do this, fill a large mixing bowl with cold water, chuck in the lettuce (making sure that you adequately chop big pieces like romaine beforehand), and then swish it about by hand until it’s clean. What you’ll find is that small pieces of dirt and grit fall to the bottom of the bowl and stay there, meaning you can easily tip out the remnants afterwards. Drying should ideally be done using clean cotton linen but if you haven’t got access to any, paper kitchen towels work just as well – simply place the leaves between two sheets and gently pat dry before placing the leaves in the fridge.
Washing leaves in a bowl has the advantage of using less water than running them fully formed under the tap. Plus, it saves you the rigmarole of trying to hold the lettuce in one hand whilst leafing through it with the other. If washing large amount of lettuce or leaves, put the plug in the sink and use it instead of a bowl. Own a salad spinner? Use it as a lettuce washing bowl instead of a separate mixing bowl by filling up the outer container, submerging your leaves, then scooping it up and putting it in the spinner. Be careful not to pour the lettuce into the colander though – you’ll just be washing the dirty water back over your luscious leafy bounty.
Salads generally depend on one or two main ingredients (usually lettuce or other greens such as spinach or kale), getting those spot on is fundamental to the success of said salad. Pre-packaged bags of lettuce, ruby and chard, rocket, watercress etc are convenient, sure, but they’re also ripe with the remnants of pesticides and preservatives used in processing. Bagged salads that claim to have been pre-washed might well have been but what they’ve been washed in could include liquid fruit acids (used to inhabit bacterial growth) and unhealthy amounts of chlorine (you wouldn’t eat a lettuce that’s been washed in a swimming pool now would you?).
The perfect antidote is to source fresh ingredients wherever possible. Yes, it might be quite difficult during the winter months when there’s a distinct lack of farmers markets, but you can change things up a little by using seasonal veg that you’ve grown yourself. Your local grocer probably a better bet for freshness than the big supermarket chains but even then, some items such as little gem lettuces would most likely have been frozen before being transported to the store, so you can’t always be sure. As an extra precaution and to improve flavor, always take a little extra time with the washing and chopping — it’ll pay off in flavor. If that sounds like a bit too much effort, then have a look at the Tower Salad Master – it can chop, slice, dice, grate with precision and speed.
Dress to impress
As with store bought bagged salad leaves, pre-packaged salad dressings are very convenient but not always the healthiest option. These bottles are clearly labeled so it’s easy to quickly grab a dressing appropriate for the salad you’re preparing but they’re also often more expensive (and contain artificial colourings and preservatives too). If you’re willing to spend a little time getting busy in the kitchen, you can whip up tastier, healthier dressings with hardly any effort at all.
Vinaigrettes go with pretty much any type of salad and consist solely of oil (usually olive oil) and an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. Because there’s essentially only two ingredients involved, they’re extremely easy to make at home – just stick around 230ml of olive oil in a food processor, add in the juice of one lemon, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and then some roughly chopped herbs of your choice and hey presto! Similarly, you can make healthier thicker dressings by replacing the core ingredient of mayonnaise with low-fat Greek yoghurt, adding in flavorings such as paprika and lime juice, and pulsing it in a blender for a minute or so.
That little lot of advice should see you right for a laid back summer of alfresco dining, allowing you to magic up awesome sides and freshening up your salad game. If you are planning on having the odd barbecue or outdoor soiree, head over to our Alfresco Dining Guide feature for some helpful hints and check out our Top Five BBQ Tips too.