The Ultimate Guide to Making Salad
I love salad. As a chef I find salads to be dynamic and interesting. As a nutritionist I find salads to be one of the best ways to get a wide range of vitamins, nutrients, fibre, protein- yadda yadda yadda.
Salads are great but often an afterthought, leaving most people less than excited about it. This changes NOW.
I’m going to show you how to make AMAZING salad, that will leave the rabbits feeling jealous.
Almost every recipe must start with a base. With soup it’s mirepox and with salad it’s the vegetable. Now, don’t let yourself be pigeon held into thinking that your salad MUST contain a leaf, it doesn’t; though I do recommend them.
Any vegetable can base your salad. Cauliflower. Potato (sweet ot other). Beet. And, of course, lettuce. Before we go on let’s talk greens and how and where they play best.
There are so many lettuces to choose from, with varying textures. It’s important to remember that lettuces do not hold up well over time when they are dressed, which means wilty, soggy salads. So regardless of what lettuce you choose to use, dress your salad just before consuming.
ICEBERG- though much maligned, I happen to love iceberg BUT you mustn’t abuse it. Iceberg is well paired with hearty roasted vegetables because it add brevity to the dish.
ICEBERG DON’T: I’ll come hunting for you if you serve an iceberg salad with cut up carrots and cucumber dressed with Thousand Island dressing from Kraft. You and Iceberg lettuce deserve better.
SPINACH- spinach is great in salad, in soups, in stews, and don’t even get me started on the health benefits (there are many); but spinach isn’t the be all, end all. Spinach can leave a slightly gritty- hard to describe- mouthfeel when eaten raw, so if you find that spinach isn’t your vibe, combine it with a green like romaine or iceberg.
ROMAINE- romaine is life. I honestly love romaine, because it’s an all purpose green. It can be grilled to perfection, tossed raw into a salad- in short, romaine is the shit. I’ve nothing bad to say about romaine…
ARUGULA- I personally love arugula, but it does bear a peppery aroma, so it might not be suited to salads for picky palates, unless you feel ready for dinner time battle. Arugula is best blended with other greens or vegetables. But, for the advanced palate (meeeee) go wild with arugula in your salad for a dynamic flavour profile.
Ok, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on cabbage.
KALE- kale is a cabbage, not a leaf, and this is why so many people have negative kale experiences. Kale takes some doing to make it an “effortless” salad green. REMOVE kale rib (thick stem), CUT leaves and MASSAGE with olive oil and salt (a pinch, because leaves will lose much of their volume and if you use too much salt, welp, you’re f*cked.).
RED, GREEN, NAPA, SAVOY CABBAGE- you treat these cabbages the same, but you will want the cabbage to sit for a sec to allow the salt and massaging to take the bite out of them. Lots of water will release from them once salted and massaged, strain this off and then go forward with your cabbage salad dreams.
NOTE: cabbage isn’t just for slaw, think outside of the box.
You might be tempted to get lazy and not wash your greens- I’ve been there; but soot and bugs lie deep in waiting to embarrass you at the table. There are areas where you can be lazy, but this is not one of them.
There are equipment free ways to wash and dry your salad, like using a colander (I like this one because it makes cutting and washing easy BUY US / BUY Canada) and then you pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
BUT I’m all the way here for a salad spinner, because for the same price you get ease and effectiveness; because if your greens go into your salad wet, it’s not going to be a nice time- and I am here to show you how to make it nice!
There are some folk who believe that washing under tepid water isn’t enough, and they will tell you that you NEED a vegetable wash; I’m whatever about it. But should you be worried about using raw greens, Rebel Wash is the wash I would use, if I was using it. BUY US / BUY Canada.
Good on the greens? Ok, let’s move on.
Every salad needs a base, but it also needs bulkers, unless this salad is being used as a side for a larger meal; but if this is your meal, you need to bulk, or you’ll be hungry in 10 minutes- well, if you’re an eater like me.
Bulkers are heartier vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and the like, that will give some weight to your salad. Whether you are gluten free, grain free, nut free, paleo or keto, there is a bulker for you.
Bulking vegetables are things like cauliflower, beets, corn, asparagus. What you need to remember are these vegetables add VOLUME, meaning you will feel fuller for longer, but bulking vegetables are still vegetables, so you’ll only get so far by just adding bulking vegetables.
Bulking starches are where you get some legs. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin/squash, parsnips and I would also include corn in this list as well, because corn is more starch than vegetable- sorry…
To add even more fill and texture to your salad, grains and legumes is where you are going to turn this salad into a full blown meal. If you’re GF there are plenty of grains for you to enjoy, like millet, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat; now, if you’re keto, skip these all together lol. Legumes like lentils and beans like chickpeas, black or kidney beans (less so lol) are also great in a salad. I love Three Farmers Roasted Chickpeas as a healthy crouton substitute (BUY US / BUY Canada)!
Keto people can now start reading again...nuts and seeds are excellent high fat and high fibre ways to add bulk to your salad but keep you compliant if you are counting carbs. My favourites are pistachios, almonds, cashews (also include in dressing), walnuts ( healthy caesar dressing, yes please), pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds- just be certain that you buy raw nuts, this way you can shape shift and season the nuts to whatever creation you are making.
NUT NOTE: store your raw nuts in the freezer to prevent the sometimes volatile nut oils from turning rancid on you!
So we have come to the meat of this post, lol! If you’re vegetarian, your “meat” won’t be meat but will add the necessary protein to your salad.
Protein and fats are what help us feel satisfied and push away from the table, so meeting your protein requirements in a salad means you won’t be left wanting more.
Ok so here is a breakdown of the protein options (both veg and non veg) that I have and would add to my salads- ahem, chef and nutritionist here, so pay attention.
CHICKEN- obvious, but not obvious is that most people would default to chicken breast, but dark meat is not only more flavourful BUT juicier. But I’ll leave that up to you.
BEEF/PORK- suggestion here is to slow cook (I use the Instant Pot because it does EVERYTHING) a roast or shoulder of beef or pork and then shred it. Ready for salad at a moments notice.
SEAFOOD- not all fish is suited to salads, due to flavour or texture; my favourite salad fish is salmon, it flakes like a dream and takes on many flavours, and if you purchase is correctly then you won’t run into any off putting fishy flavour. Shrimp, lump crab or lobster are bougie-ass addition to any salad that I am here for.
SEAFOOD DO- when using fish in a salad, pair with a citrus based dressing to, again, offset any potential fishiness.
TOFU- you knew I was going to say tofu, didn’t you, lol?! Tofu is the chicken of the veg world, plays well in so many different applications. Here’s the deal, tofu MUST be completely dry if you plan on roasting it or frying/sauteeing, if not, sogginess ensues. Always use extra firm tofu and to get all the liquid out, place it in between a clean cloth and then weight it down to squeeze out any liquid. Do this for 30 minutes, and then proceed.
Beyond Meat/Impossible Burger- these two are new on the map, the latter is unfortunately not yet available in Canada (come on!) but these are both FANTASTIC ground meat alternatives, that aren’t full of junk and taste pretty legit. They are perfect for those who are completely veg and those dipping their toes in. I’ve tasted both and they are really good- like REALLY good! Cook them and then crumble them into your salads!
COMBINATION- as a vegetarian you must be concerned with getting enough COMPLETE protein; meaning some food has protein, but they are incomplete, so the body isn’t able to use them effectively. Combining different foods can complete, said, incomplete proteins. For instance, combining legumes like lentils with almonds, will complete a protein; or chickpeas with walnuts. So if you are making a veg salad this is something to consider.
unDRESS ME (salad dressing…)
Some people eat salad without dressing, and those people are monsters that we will not mention; for the rest of us, dressing is key to enjoying a plate full of veggies (among other things), so let’s talk about dressing.
VINAIGRETTE- this is the most popular type of dressing, likely because it’s the easiest to make. Vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and seasonings if you so choose, and voila, dressing. The important thing to remember about vinaigrettes, is they are ALL about balance- too much vinegar and it’s acrid, too much oil feels weird in your mouth and weighs down the greens. So the PERFECT ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 part oil. That’s it. So add all your ingredients to a mason jar, put the lid on and shake.
CREAMY DRESSING- though the name would suggest cream, not all creamy dressings contain it. I love cream in my coffee, in my smoothies (guilty) but not so much in my dressing. What I can appreciate is a greek yogurt or yogurt/mayo base for a dressing, but consume too much of this stuff and you’ll notice in your clothing. It’s important to remember that when it comes to health benefits of salads, they are often negated once people douse the whole thing in garbage sauce.
UNDRESSED- this type of salad is not as dry as you would think based on the title, because it relies on the combination of hot and cold vegetables to create a sauce. Hear me out.
When roasted vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli are added, hot, to a bowl of greens and sliced yellow pepper, what happens is the heat from the roasted veggies causes the raw vegetables to leach some of their juices out, which acts as a salad dressing. These salads MUST be consumed at the moment they are combined, because the “juices” that lead to successful undressed salad, will be soggy and slimy in about 4 hours.
The creation of salad is not an equipment heavy process, that said, there are a few items that can make your life a whole heck of a lot easier. Here’s my preferred equipment list- chef approved ;)
SALAD SPINNER- watery leaves and herbs ruin salads- point blank. A salad spinner is something you will NOT regret having on hand. BONUS POINTS, the insert of a salad spinner acts as a colander so you are killing two birds!
A GOOD KNIFE- the duller your knife is the more likely you are to batter and bruise your produce that’s to go in your salad. Some vegetables can take the beating, but things like tomatoes, peppers, greens et al lose their texture and integrity when they are manhandled.
AND KNIFE SHARPENER- because you may have knives but are they sharp?!
BUY US / BUY Canada
MASON JARS- so that you can prepare HEAPS of vinaigrettes- that never go off due to the vinegar- have them in your fridge ready to go, all you need to do is shake and dress.
REUSABLE VEGGIE STORAGE BAGS- yes, you can use Ziploc bags, and fear no judgment from me; BUT if you are going to be purchasing lots of vegetables, these bags help the veggies breathe and stay fresher longer, because the quickest way to take the wind out of your salad making sails is to have to throw away food aka money.
SPIRALIZER- this is juuuuust for fun, but if you want to go head first in the deep end with salads, a spiralizer will make your life so fun.
You are now ready to kill the salad game in your kitchen. Rain or shine, sunshine or snow squalls, salad is a food for all seasons!