The Commandments of Salad-Making
For being somewhat of a salad connoisseur, I came to them relatively late in life. In the original Strawberry Kitchen, the salad course was typically some sort of congealed concoction, made of canned fruit and jello and topped with cool whip. Not throwin’ shade on the Pegster–it was the 70s, after all.
I eschewed the course altogether until high school, and then my gateway salad was iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and Kraft Zesty Italian dressing. When a Twinkie is healthier than your salad, you’re not living your best life.
Over the years, I’ve really upped my salad game. In fact, in my little circle, I’ve become rather famous for them, and am often called upon to “bring a Betsy salad” when we go to friends’ for dinner. To me, a salad needs to strike the perfect balance of contrasts: crispy and chewy, sweet and savory, tart and creamy. I have lit on a formula when inventing salads that hasn’t steered me wrong:
- Start with Fresh Greens
Start with a large salad bowl of greens. I’ve heard that the darker the greens, the healthier they are, and I tend to believe this. I use mixed spring greens, or a spinach/lettuce mix, or arugula, as the base for most salads. The big clamshells of pre-washed greens make salad assembly super-easy these days.
- Toss in Thinly Sliced Red Onions
There are few salad recipes that don’t benefit from a handful of thinly sliced red (never yellow) onion. This adds the perfect zesty umami every salad needs.
- Add Fruit
Fruit in a salad adds a sweet element to the dinner plate, a welcome contrast to savory main dishes. Favorites include any kind of berry, thinly sliced Granny Smith or Fuji apple, navel oranges or pears.
- Cheese, Please!
I stock crumbled gorgonzola, goat cheese, shredded parmesan, and sharp cheddar in my cheese drawer.
- Go Nuts
Toasting for 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven is critical. Makes ‘em crunchy and heightens their flavor. Pine nuts are great, but slivered (not sliced) almonds or toasted walnuts are my favorite budget alternatives. Make a big batch and they’ll last for multiple salads.
- Lose the Bottle
Here’s the key. I don’t care how beautifully illustrated the label is—most bottled dressings completely overwhelm the fresh ingredients. Over time, I’ve figured out that the perfect salad dressing is a splash of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of white balsamic or balsamic vinegar (ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar), a light drizzle of honey, sprinkle of sea salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Layer all the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the dressing components one by one on top of the salad, and toss thoroughly.
Here, I’ve created a handy chart of today’s Strawberry Kitchen’s tried and true salad combinations—I’ve named each for a season but there’s no penalty for serving the Winter salad in the middle of July . We have one of these just about every night. Of course, in fall we often have the Hackamattack Salad as well. Each of these salads serves 4 regular humans, or 1 Paul Owens, as a generous side dish. My husband loves him some salad. Since it’s Spring, I’ve pictured the navel orange salad here. It’s downright ambrosial.
Do you need anything for dinner other than a big plate of salad and a slab of good bread? No, you do not.