How to Make a Salad
Whether your salad is a first course, a side, or the main attraction, we'll show you how to select, prep, and store your salad greens, then combine them with a variety of fresh ingredients for salads that truly sparkle.
Salads are among the best meals to bring freshness and a great variety of fruits and vegetables to your table. Start with some great greens -- and build your salad masterpieces from there.
How to Select Salad Greens
Whichever salad greens you choose, look for those that appear fresh without brown, bruised, or wilted leaves. Choose your greens according to the type of salad and/or dressing you plan to serve. Here are a few guidelines:
- Crunchy, mild-flavor greens, such as iceberg, romaine, and spinach, stand up admirably to thick and/or creamy dressings, such as blue cheese and ranch.
- Soft and mild butterhead and red- or green-leaf lettuces are winning choices when you want other salad ingredients, such as in-season fruits and vegetables, to stand out.
- Spicy and bitter greens, such as endive, radicchio, watercress, arugula, and frisee, make terrific choices when you want the flavor of the greens themselves to be a starring component of the salad. These greens work well with vinaigrettes or other oil-base dressings.
- Cabbages are best shredded. Perfect in coleslaw, they can also be added to green salads in smaller amounts for extra flavor and texture.
- Sturdy greens, such as beet greens, Swiss chard, kale, and mustard greens, add fascinating flavor accents to your salad mix; however, shred or tear them into small pieces, and use smaller amounts so they do not overpower the other greens.
Greens by the Bagful
Packaged prewashed greens, sold by the bag in the produce section of the supermarket, are a realistic choice when you don't have time to prep greens yourself. These packages are designed to allow greens to breathe, so store them in the original bag.
How to Wash Salad Greens
Discard any wilted outer leaves. Prep and wash greens as directed for each type of green.
- For leafy lettuces, such as green or red-tip leaf, butterhead, and romaine, as well as endive, remove and discard the root end. Separate the leaves and hold them under cold running water to remove any dirt.
- For smaller greens, such as spinach and arugula, swirl them in a bowl or a clean sink filled with cold water for about 30 seconds. Remove the leaves and shake gently to let dirt and other debris fall into the water. Repeat the process if necessary. Drain in a colander.
- For iceberg lettuce, remove the core by hitting the stem end on the countertop; twist and lift out the core. (Do not use a knife to cut out the core, as this can cause the lettuce to turn brown). Hold the head, core side up, under cold running water, pulling leaves apart slightly. Invert the head and drain thoroughly. Repeat if necessary.
- For mesclun (a mixture of young, small salad greens often available in bulk at farmer's markets), rinse in a colander or the basket of a salad spinner (see photo, directional).
How to Dry Salad Greens
Before storing or using your lettuces, be sure to dry them well, as wet greens decompose faster, and dressing clings better to dry greens. Dry loose greens on clean paper towels or dish towels, patting them dry with extra towels. You can also dry greens in a salad spinner, which quickly spins the greens in a slotted basket to remove excess water. Once the greens are dry, don't cut or tear them until
How to Store Salad Greens
Line a resealable plastic container or storage bag with paper towels. Add freshly washed-and-dried greens and store in the refrigerator according to these storage times:
- Iceberg lettuce: up to 5 days
- Romaine lettuce: up to 5 days
- Leaf lettuce: up to 5 days
- Mesclun: up to 5 days
- Belgian endive: up to 5 days
- Arugula: up to 2 days
- Spinach and baby spinach: up to 3 days
How Much Salad to Serve
- First-course or side-dish salad: Plan 1 to 1-1/2 cups salad greens per serving. Consider using a variety of lettuces for good flavor and texture contrasts.
- Main-dish salads: Consider about 2 cups salad greens per serving. Iceberg, romaine, leaf lettuce, and spinach make good choices for meat salads, such as a chef's salad.
1 head iceberg, romaine, or leaf lettuce equals about 10 cups torn lettuce
1 pound spinach equals about 12 cups torn spinach
10 ounces mesclun equals 8 to 9 cups mesclun
Salad Dressing Choices
There are basically two basic types of salad dressings:
- Vinaigrette: Oil and vinegar (or another acidic liquid, such as citrus juice) are the main ingredients. Sometimes other flavorings, such as garlic, mustard, and herbs, are added. Here's how to make a vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes work well with most lettuces, and especially endive, radicchio, watercress, arugula, and frisee.
- Creamy Dressings: These are often made with a mayonnaise base and include such favorites as ranch, blue cheese, and creamy Parmesan. In general, these work best with sturdy greens, such as iceberg, romaine, spinach, butterhead, and red- and green-leaf lettuce. Many versions of these dressings are available at your supermarket, or you can make them at home.
Great Salad Ingredients
Liven up your salads by choosing other ingredients that will complement the greens you serve. Some ideas:
- Fresh fruit, such as sliced pears or apples, cherries, grapes, berries, and citrus sections
- Dried fruit, such as dried cherries, cranberries, apricots, raisins, and figs
- Onions, especially thinly sliced green onions or red onions
- Shredded or thinly sliced carrots
- Quartered and sliced zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers
- Sliced red or green sweet peppers or roasted red peppers
- Chopped tomatoes or halved cherry or grape tomatoes
- Pitted sliced green or black olives
- Sliced or chopped avocado
- Sliced mushrooms
- Sliced or chopped hard-cooked eggs
- Cooked beets
- Finely sliced fennel
- Toasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts
- Cheese, such as crumbled blue cheese, goat cheese, or feta; shaved Parmesan, Gruyere, or Manchego; or shredded cheddar, mozzarella, or Monterey Jack
- Cooked, crumbled bacon slices or thinly sliced prosciutto
- Diced or chopped cooked chicken, ham, or turkey
How to Toss a Salad
- Just before using, tear salad greens into bite-size pieces.
- Use 1 tablespoon vinaigrette or dressing per side-dish salad or 2 tablespoons per main-dish salad
- Have all other ingredients and the dressing prepped and at hand on your counter.
- Choose a large salad bowl that will easily accommodate all the ingredients.
- Using salad tossers, toss the lettuces, without the dressing, to ensure that the varieties of lettuces are well distributed throughout the salad.
- Add the other ingredients, except any ingredients that are fragile, such as chopped eggs and ripe avocado, or ingredients that will be sprinkled atop the finished salad, such as cheeses, nuts, and croutons.
- Gently toss the lettuces with the other ingredients, without the dressing, to ensure that all are evenly distributed.
- If using a vinaigrette-style dressing, drizzle the dressing over the salad and gently toss until all ingredients are lightly coated with the vinaigrette. Arrange the salad on individual plates to serve; top with additional toppings as desired, and serve immediately.
- If using creamy dressings, arrange the salad ingredients on individual salad plates. Drizzle with the dressing; sprinkle with additional toppings as desired, and serve immediately.