Everything I Know About Salad

May 24, 2019 | Cooking Tips, salads

Salad comes in many different forms and flavours. It actually sometimes seems as though the term salad is so broad that it could mean just about anything. To keep things simple today we are going to focus specifically on green or garden salads. We will leave all the other types for another time.

The salads that we are going to focus on today have a base of leafy greens. They are served cold or at room temperature. They have a dressing, and garnish ingredients like fruit, vegetables, seeds or nuts.

Why are we talking about these salads today? Well, because we are deep into spring with summer fast approaching. The first wave of fresh seasonal vegetables are just starting to hit the stores and markets. Essentially, it is salad season.

Really though, do we need an excuse to talk about salads? They are a delicious addition to any meal, or a great light meal on their own. With that let’s look at…

Everything I Know About Salad


Salad Greens

Leafy greens make up the base of our salads. As the base they provide a lot of the flavour and texture. So, the type of green we choose for our salads is actually pretty important. It sets the tone of the salad as a whole.

With so many options out there for leafy greens it can be hard to decided which one is best for the salad we want to make. If we make the wrong choice we could end up over powering the other ingredients. We could end up with soggy greens.

A salad can be made mainly in two different ways. We can start with the greens and build the salad from there. Or, we can start with the garnish and match the greens to it. Either way we can make a delicious salad, it just takes some thought.

Let’s take a look at some common greens and the types of dressings and garnish we can pair with them.


Baby Spinach


Baby spinach is a hearty green with a fairly mild flavour. This green can hold up to just about anything. It may even be served with a warm vinaigrette and garnish though this is more of an autumn style salad.

Baby spinach does really well when balanced with sweet and salty. Sweet ingredients like fresh or dried fruit and berries, or even candied nuts work very well. Also sweeter vinaigrettes like maple, honey Dijon, and balsamic all work as well.

Bacon is always a great choice to bring that salty element to a spinach salad. It could also come from salted nuts or slightly salty cheese like parmesan. Speaking of cheese, goat cheese and spinach are always a good friend.


Arugula


Arugula,

also known as rocket is a hearty green with a complex peppery, spicy flavour. Like spinach, arugula can hold up to just about anything. It is commonly served as part of a mixture of greens though it is delicious on its own.

Typically, salads made from arugula are very simple. This simplicity is due to the complexity of flavour coming from the arugula itself. There is no need to add a bunch of extra stuff. Having said that, an acidic vinaigrette balances that complexity very well.

Generally, I serve arugula with a simple lemon vinaigrette. To this I add some segmented oranges, a little shaved parmesan or Asiago, and some toasted almonds. Anything along those lines will work well.


Mesclun


Mesclun

is really just a mixture of tender baby greens. These greens are typically a little more fragile than arugula or spinach and they have a more mild flavour. They do add a lot of colour to any salad.

The great thing about this mixture is it generally tastes great on its own with a light vinaigrette. It doesn’t really need much else. Of course, it can be used to make a salad but it is important to be light handed with the garnish and dressing as the greens will literally and figuratively collapse under the weight of a lot of ingredients. A few thinly sliced or shaved fresh vegetables and a light dressing is all you need.


Iceberg lettuce


Iceberg lettuce

is fantastic for tossed salads. It holds up well against lots of vegetables and a thick rich dressing. Iceberg has a very mild, neutral flavour and a pleasant crisp texture that is so unique and amazing.

In terms of garnish I always think of pairing iceberg lettuce with whatever vegetables are freshest and lots of them. For dressing, generally something creamy like ranch or french. We want a dressing that is going to coat the lettuce and vegetables and provide a lot of flavour.

Iceberg lettuce often gets a bad rap, but for my money I think it is kind of the rock star of the salad world. To put things into perspective mesclun would be like a really good classical musician. Arugula would be a jazz drummer, and spinach would a folk singer.


I could spend all day just talking about different kinds of greens and lettuces but we need to move on. I think that this should give you a few good ideas and a decent starting place. I think really the key is to try different greens and experiment a little. You never know what you might fall in love with.


Salad Garnish


As we saw a little bit when talking about greens, a salad garnish can be just about anything. Fresh vegetables, fresh or dried fruit and berries, cold sliced meats, cooked or smoked seafood, cheese, nuts or seeds.

Although just about anything can be a salad garnish that doesn’t mean that everything should be all the time. What I mean by that is when it comes to garnishing a salad, generally less is more.

As far as I know there aren’t really any hard and fast rules for when, what, and how much of something should be added to a salad. I would say just use your better judgment. If something seems really out of place, probably avoid it.

The only other thing I would say about garnish is just make sure that the ingredients you are using are the best quality they can be. There is no hiding mushy tomatoes, or sour grapes.


Salad Dressing


There are three main types of salad dressings. Basic vinaigrettes, think Italian or Greek Dressing. Egg or mayonnaise based vinaigrette like Caesar dressing. And creamy, dairy based dressing like ranch. All three of these dressings have their purpose and applications. Let’s take a look at each individually.

Basic Vinaigrettes –

At its most basic form a vinaigrette is just oil and vinegar. Typically, other ingredients are included to add flavour, and to bind the oil and vinegar together.

Most often homemade vinaigrettes are held together by mustard either prepared or in powered form. There is a whole scientific process behind this that I don’t really have time to get into. What I will say is that mustard and egg yolk both hava a group of proteins known as lecithin that act to hold together the oil and vinegar molecules. So, in a basic vinaigrette the mustard holds it together. In an egg based vinaigrette the egg holds it together.

Basic vinaigrettes often have some kind of sweetener in them as well. This could be the vinegar in the case of balsamic or a raspberry vinegar. These both have a bit of sweetness already. More often a little honey, or maple syrup may be added.

For more information on this check out this post I did this time last year about how to make a kick-ass salad.

Egg Based Vinaigrette –

Egg based vinaigrettes are made in exactly the same way as basic vinaigrettes, the difference being egg is used rather than mustard as the binder. In egg based vinaigrettes are thicker and creamier than basic vinaigrettes.

There is some concern with egg based vinaigrettes because the egg is used raw. The health department suggest that you pasteurize your eggs first, but no one does this. I think that there is enough acid coming from the vinegar that there isn’t too much of a worry. Having said that, I cannot suggest that you use raw egg to make a dressing. Instead, I suggest using mayonnaise as the base as it really is pretty mush the same thing you were going to make anyway.

If you are going to use mayonnaise as the base you may have to thin it out with a little more vinegar and then just whisk your flavourings into it. Easy enough.

Dairy Based Dressings –

Dairy based dressings are generally made from some kind of fermented or cultured dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk.

When using yogurt or sour cream it really just comes down to thinning it out with liquid, adding more acid to it and then flavouring it. Buttermilk is usually used with other bases to add a tart creamy flavour.


Conclusion

Salads are a great way to add greens and fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet. They can be as simple or complex as you want. You can use homemade or store bought dressing (I suggest homemade but that’s just me). And you can dress it up however you want. Experiment, play around and have fun. To me, that is what salads are all about.

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