20 TIPS FOR SALADS
You’re only as good as your greens
The best chefs don’t start with clamshells of baby spinach, and neither should you. Trek to the farmers’ market and taste your way to crunchy Little Gem, bitter and beautiful Castelfranco radicchio, or buttery-soft Bibb. Tender herbs—mint, basil, cilantro, parsley, tarragon, dill—count too.
...but you might be washing them wrong
Just because you own a salad spinner doesn’t mean you’re using it properly. Rather than soak leaves under a running faucet shower-style, give them a gentle bath: You’ll remove grit without any bashing or waterlogging. Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1: Fill the bowl of the spinner with cold water. Place trimmed greens in the basket, working in batches if necessary. Lower it into the water and gently agitate the greens. Let them sit for two or three minutes so the dirt settles to the bottom.
Step 2: Lift out the basket and empty the water from the bowl. If your greens still look or feel dirty, repeat step 1.
Step 3: Return the basket to the bowl. Spin like you need the workout. Pour out any water and repeat until the greens don’t give off any more liquid.
Who said anything about lettuce?
When fennel, bitter greens, roots, and potatoes are the only fresh offerings at the farmers’ market, don’t get depressed—get creative. Consider hardy leaves your chance to introduce powerful dressings, roasted vegetables, and proteins that turn salad into a complete meal.
Get the recipes: Dinner Salad with Radicchio and Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Spicy Cashew Dressing
Soften up with salt
How does a bowl of raw cabbage become the lush, absorbent base for a spicy salad? The secret is salt. The folks at Drifters Wife in Portland, Maine, taught us that a liberal sprinkling—and a good massage—renders tough greens like kale, collards, and cabbage silky-soft yet still spunky.
Get the recipe: Scrunched Cabbage Salad with Grapefruit and Chiles
Give raw vegetables a plus-one
When a pile of leaves and vegetables just won’t satisfy, turn to your oven, grill, or vinegar collection. Cooked or brined components not only make your salad more dynamic (velvety roasted veg! spicy pickles!) but also more substantial. Here are some ideas:
Roast: Bulk up greens with a mix of raw and roasted vegetables. Try blasting carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, turnips, radishes, and even dates at high heat for maximum caramelization and natural sweetness.
Grill: Sturdy greens like kale, romaine, and Treviso radicchio can withstand the high heat of a grill or broiler. Char halved heads or big leaves, mix with crunchy raw veg for contrast, and then toss everything with a creamy dressing.
Pickle: Pickled chiles, cucumbers, red onions, rhubarb, mushrooms, or raisins provide bright punch. A tip we picked up from Henrietta Red in Nashville: Pickle the stems from Swiss chard or kale, then use the brine in the vinaigrette.
Get the recipe: Pickled Hot Chiles
Your salad is a seesaw
Every additional ingredient should bring a contrast in flavor or texture: If the salad is primarily crunchy, add something soft. If it skews sweet, add something salty or bitter. If it’s on the rich side, use acid to nudge it back to equilibrium. And if what you’re about to throw in achieves none of that? Save it for something else.
Get the recipe: Little Wedge Salad with Sour Cream Dressing
Think beyond the crouton
This year we broadened our crouton horizons: masa crunch at Brooklyn’s Oxomoco, seedy brittle at Elle in D.C., and crispy chicken skin at Seattle’s L’Oursin. Our rule: sturdy croutons for robust greens; light toppers for wispy ones.
Get the recipes (clockwise from top left): Sesame Salt, Crispy Fried Shallots, Garlicky Panko Toasties, Garlic–Brown Butter Croutons
Deeply toasted nuts or bust
Toasted nuts are raw nuts that have reached enlightenment: buttery, aromatic, and rich, they’ll ground nearly any salad. To do it, toss 1 cup nuts with 2 tsp. oil and ½ tsp. salt. Roast at 325° until fragrant and darker in color.
Walnuts: 9 minutes
Pistachios: 9 minutes
Cashews: 15 minutes
Hazelnuts: 17 minutes
“The only way to get nuts in the nooks and crannies of all of the leaves is to incorporate them into the dressing. Chop them fine and stir them into the vinaigrette, where they’ll become infused with even more flavor.” —Emily Fiffer, Botanica, L.A.
Ice, ice, baby
For shaved veg salads with the coldest crunch, submerge cut roots and tubers in a big bowl of icy water. Instead of oxidizing or drying out, they’ll get even crisper as they soak. The best news? You can do this step up to six hours in advance, perfect for when you’re prepping for a big dinner party.
Get the recipe: Ice Water Salad
“Every cook’s gotta have a mandoline at all times—I prefer the Berniner. Any vegetables that you can eat raw, like kohlrabi or beets, shine when they’ve been mandolined. Dress them and use them like you would with leafy greens.” —J. J. Proville, L’Oursin, Seattle
The old vinaigrette formula is out the window
The culinary school mantra of 3 parts fat to 1 part acid has been retired. Chefs prefer the livelier, zingier ratio of 2 parts fat to 1 part acid (and some extra flavor). Try these four combos:
- Yogurt + lime + harissa
- Mayo + rice vinegar + gochujang and grated garlic
- Olive oil + apple cider vinegar + maple syrup
- Neutral oil + rice vinegar + miso and grated ginger
“Mix different vinegars into one dressing: Some, like white balsamic, offer sweetness, while others, like apple cider vinegar, are more acidic—combine two or three.” —Lee Hanson, Frenchette, NYC
“We always add a little water to lemon juice or vinegar in a vinaigrette. If you put vinegar in your mouth, you’re going to wince, and we want people to be able to taste the food, not just the dressing.” —Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, Via Carota and I Sodi, NYC
Season, taste, repeat
Every salad component should taste good enough to eat on its own, so season your leaves, your dressing, and your add-ins (raw veg, roasted veg, croutons, nuts, and protein), tasting for salt and acid as you go. Toss, taste, and—maybe, just maybe—season again.
“We fill spray bottles from the pharmacy with vinegars and lemon juice so that we can spritz delicate ingredients, like shaved mushrooms and pea tendrils, with acid without having them dripping wet.” —Jason Hammel, Marisol, Chicago
Make it rain
A Microplane grater transforms whole ingredients into snow-soft, leaf-clinging flakes that flavor the final dish without stealing the show. Try finishing a salad by grating over hard-boiled eggs, toasted nuts, citrus zest, bottarga, or a firm cheese.
Buy it: Microplane grater, $15 on Amazon
Dress to impress
In a well-dressed salad, every leaf is glossy, no leaf is soggy. Immediately before serving, follow these steps:
Start with a really big bowl. It should be at least 25 percent bigger than the contents you’re planning to toss.
Don’t throw everything in. Place anything that’ll sink to the bottom (like seeds and other bitty things) or get bruised, soggy, or gloppy (looking at you, avocado and jammy eggs) on top after you've tossed.
Tongs, begone. Compared to your nimble fingers, tongs are violent pincers. Your hands and your hands alone are the best tool for tossing and serving greens without bruising them.
“To dress a salad without weighing down some ingredients more than others, fill the bowl with greens, then drizzle in dressing so it slides down the bowl’s sides. Use your hands to draw the greens up the rim, coating as you work.” —David Nayfeld, Che Fico, SF
Yes, it tastes better out of a shallow bowl
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