I often get requests to share my tips on making fresh and flavorful salads – in fact, my recommendations were featured in an article on salad making in the Colorado Springs Gazette. I have 14 tips to share that ensure you will have delicious, beautiful salads every time! My tips are divided into four sections: ingredients, prepping, tossing and make ahead.
- Use fresh, in season ingredients to maximize flavor. In particular, out of season tomatoes tend to be pale in color and lack flavor. If I want the color or flavor of tomatoes in a salad when they’re not in season, I either use grape/cherry tomatoes (which usually retain their flavor and color year round), or I roast fresh Roma (or plum) tomatoes. Roasting concentrates the flavor and brings out the rich red color (plus they are scrumptious!). They are perfect on the Roasted Tomato and Arugula Salad (photo above) that is in my first cookbook, A Well-Seasoned Kitchen®.
- Use good quality dressing ingredients, too – olive oil, vinegar, etc. Please, please don’t use jarred chopped garlic – the preservatives change the flavor, and not in a good way.
- In addition to flavor, also think about color and texture when selecting salad ingredients. A pop of red (tomato, red pepper) or orange (roasted butternut squash) is always pretty on the plate, and we do eat with our eyes first! Crunchy is good, too (nuts, croutons).
- Wash leafy greens ahead, allowing time for them to dry – that way the dressing will better adhere.
- I like to wash greens earlier in the day under cold running water. Shake off the excess water, then tear greens into pieces and layer in sheets of paper towel. Gently roll up paper towel with torn greens and place in refrigerator until ready to use. (I learned this method from my mom.)
- Dressing should be mixed together at least 30 minutes before using, to allow the flavors to blend.
- When following a recipe, never assume you need all the dressing. Add some, toss, feel and taste. Then add more as needed.
- I like to toss salads with my hands. It’s the best way to ensure you have the right amount of dressing – you can feel how much is on the leaves. Then taste!
- Salads with leafy greens should be tossed just prior to serving, so they don’t get soggy.
- Other salads – those made with cooked pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa, etc – can be tossed earlier in the day, to allow the flavors to blend.
- Dressing can be made ahead (it really should be, as mentioned above) and either held at room temperature or in the refrigerator (depends on ingredients – most can be held at room temp, but if the dressing contains mayonnaise or cream/milk, put in the refrigerator and then bring to room temperature before using). I store my dressings in a glass jar with a lid so I can give them a quick shake before using.
- As mentioned above, greens can be washed and prepped ahead of time.
- Most fruit and vegetable ingredients can be chopped ahead of time and refrigerated.
- Always add crunchy ingredients like nuts and croutons at the very end, so they stay crunchy.