Galaīs Perspective on Salads
The secret to the perfect salad is simplicity and balance. It should be light and cleansing, but with interesting textures and flavors. For textures, itīs nice to have crisp-juicy, crunchy-toasty and creamy-soft. For flavors, sweet, salty, bitter, sour and meaty-savory (for want of a better word).
A balanced salad dressing is vital and varies with components. As an example, salads with sweet ingredients (apples) or fatty ingredients (cheese) balance well with more acidic or tart dressings.
One of the most important things to know about making salad dressings is how to emulsify the ingredients so the dressing is smooth, evenly flavored and coats the greens well. So hereīs how:
Curl a dishtowel on the counter and place a bowl in the center - the point is to keep the bowl from scooting all over the place as you whisk the dressing. Always whisk together the base ingredients (vinegar, citrus juices) with any herbs, pepper, salt or other seasonings - some of these simply donīt dissolve well in oil. When everything is well blended, itīs time to whisk in the oil - start whisking and (using your other hand) drizzle in a little oil, keep whisking vigorously and add more oil in a thin steady stream until the amount required in your recipe is almost completely incorporated. By now the dressing should be slightly creamy and definitely thickened. Taste it on a piece of the lettuce or whatever vegetables you are using - too tart, add more oil; too oily, add more vinegar. Salt and pepper (more than called for in the recipe) can always be added at the table to suit individual tastes, so be sure to have some sea salt (or kosher salt) and a pepper mill ready.
And another thing, if you are making a citrus based dressing, such as an orange vinaigrette, reduce the juice on low heat in a saucepan, then cool it before use. This significantly intensifies the flavor, and you may be able to use a little less liquid.
Green leafy stuff - first off, get a salad spinner (if you donīt already have one). Except for some prepackaged, santized salad mixes, almost everything else will have grit or sand in it. When you are ready to make your salad, tear or cut the leaces into bite size pieces (there are few things in the dining experience as annoying as flapping a big bunch of dressing from an oversize leaf onto your clothes). Place the leaves in a large bowl of cold water and swish a little, then let the dirt settle to the bottom. After washing, lift them out (a batch at a time, if needed) and use that salad spinner to dry them - water can ruin a dressing! Three to four good spins will do the trick, just be sure to dump out any water in the bottom between batches if you donīt have a spinner that drains. Remember to dress the greens in moderation, taste as you toss until you have a nice even coating - extra dressing can be served at the table for those who require it.
One more thought, heavy ingredients can wilt green, so choose sturdier lettuces to go with avocado slices, cherry tomatoes and heavier toppings. Choose delicate greens for lighter toppings like shaved onion, almond slivers, and crumbled blue cheese.
Tomatoes - unless the recipe specifically calls for slices, remember that a well made salad has bite size pieces and that includes tomatoes. Once they are cut though, they can add liquid to the salad that ruins the dressing. The answer - cut the tomato in half across the width, scoop the seeds out with your fingers, gently squeeze to eliminate excess liquid, and then chop them.
What are some examples of ingredients with the texture of ...?
creamy-soft - think avocado, gorgonzola, sliced cooked eggs
crisp-juicy - apple, fennel, celery, cucumber
crunchy-toasty - toasted nuts or seeds, and the ever popular croutons
Most of these could be included in another lists of: What are some examples of ingredients with the flavor of...?
bitter - blue cheeses, greens (arugula, endive), raw nuts
meaty/savory - a good balsamic vinegar, mushrooms, anchovies, Parmesan
salty - soy sauce, capers, olives, some cheeses
sour - grapefruit segments, vinegar, fresh lime juice, yogurt
sweet - fresh white corn, caramelized onions, berries, candied nuts.
The bottom line is that, most of the things we like to add to salads cross over between descriptions and the best way to make a salad is to include 1 or two of each as we create. Thereīs a lot of recipes on the site for salads. Many started with an especially pleasant salad at a restaurant somewhere in our travels and developed into a personal interpretation of the experience. I encourage you to "play with your food" - try, taste and change recipes to your preferences. Pass your recipes on to friends who rave or appreciate and have fun with them.
May your life be as full of diversions and delights as your salads!