My tips for a restaurant quality salad at home!
My personal favorites are leafy greens like romaine, Bibb lettuce, or a mesclun mix. Arugula will add a peppery kick, while kale will provide a hearty base (don't forget to massage your kale to soften, which makes it easier to chew and digest). If you like a bit of bitterness, try frisee or endive, which are popular lettuces in France. Or try a red cabbage slaw if you want a base for an Asian inspired salad.
When I buy greens from the store, I wash and dry. it before storing. If you have precut lettuce, you can rinse it under the faucet. But if you've purchased a head of lettuce or romaine hearts, cut it first then soak in a bowl of water. After a few minutes, the dirt and grime will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Then transfer the leaves to a colander and give it a quick rinse. These few extra steps not only cleanses and saves preparation time for each salad, but prolongs the life of your greens. You can store your them in the container you purchased it in, or a paper towel lined bowl.
You'd be surprised how easy it is to make your own salad dressing. You'd definitely want to after seeing all the salt and preservatives that are ubiquitous in store bought varieties.
A basic vinaigrette dressing can be made from fat and acid — with olive oil or vinegar and lemon juice. However, this can be enhanced by experimenting with different oils and vinegars. There are so many options... Avocado oil, walnut oil, rice vinegar, sherry vinegar, or champagne vinegar, just to name a few. Find the balance that pleases your palate. To further elevate your dressing, you can add basil infused balsamic vinegar or roasted tomato oil. If you want to be extra naughty, add a splash of bacon fat for extra flavor.
Sturdy lettuces like romaine can hold up to thicker and creamier dressings like ranch of bleu cheese based dressings. One thing not to overlook — a dash of salt. Most restaurant chefs add a dash of salt to dressings. But of course you can omit if you'd like, due to personal or dietary preferences.
Season protein can be the soul of the salad, and it doesn't have to be meat. But without this, your salad will just be a boring bowl of greens. Personally speaking as a carnivore, the most appealing protein to add is meat — whether it be rotisserie chicken, lardon (thick bacon bits), a few slices of skirt steak or grilled salmon. But I understand meat and fish aren't for everyone. Fortunately, a lot of protein substitutes are mainstream and accessible these days, like tofu. But seitan can blow tofu and even tempeh away, containing 36 grams of protein. As a comparison, if you add a poached or boiled egg, that's only 6 grams of protein. Another favorite source of mine is cheese. Depending on the salad, I usually stick to mild cheeses like mozzarella or asiago. If I need a bold addition to an otherwise simple salad, I love a sprinkle of bleu cheese.
This is my time of have fun with a salad! I might quick pickle thinly shaved red onions in vinegar and a dash of sugar and salt. They add a vibrant bite, plus the onions turn to a pretty pinkish hue. If adding raw onions, soak in water first, to remove the harsh bite. Add diced mango, avocado, and corn for a festive salad. Chopped peanuts and scallion on top of leftover teriyaki chicken was another salad I pulled together that had great flavors. Great salads should have a balance of a majority of the flavor profiles — salty, sweet, acidic, and bitter. These flavors come from the all the elements of the salad: the leaves themselves, the meat (or substitute), fruit, vinaigrette. Represent as many flavor profiles as you can.
The aroma and flavor from those leafy are intoxicating and I add fresh herbs to anything and everything. Sure, it's a given to add basil to say, a caprese salad. It doesn't need to stop there... Perhaps a sprinkle of chopped rosemary, cilantro, parsley, or tarragon on your next salad? There are so many ways to implement unexpected brightness, like adding mint to a watermelon and feta salad.
Texture can come from many places — fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, etc. Dried cranberries, chopped walnuts or cashews, or chopped red bell pepper are some favorites of mine. Croutons are an easy topping that adds crunch. To make them at home, cut bread in squares, toss in garlic and olive oil, and bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes.
The best thing about salad is there are literally thousands, if not millions, ways to create one. There is no right or wrong, so have fun with it! Make things interesting and give you