Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tips to Make a Perfect Salad

Maybe there is a certain art to making the perfect salad, but I find that with just the right amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salads can rock. And that's without getting creative. The first rule to making the perfect salad is that there aren't any rules - you can put all kinds of sh*t in there. Of course, as in all delicious dishes, there are a fewguidelines one should consider in order to maximize the flavor factor.
Get Creative with Your Lettuce: I'm usually an iceberg or romaine kind of girl myself, so I like to start off with those as a base. Most salads are high in calcium, iron and contains both vitamins A and C. Also, greens that are darker tend to have more of the good stuff – vitamins and  nutrients. On occasion I like to spice things up and throw in some arugula or baby spinach. Arugula, also known as rocket, is slightly bitter, but is packed with a lot of ‘peppery' flavor.  If I'm feeling exceptionally inspired I'll go with some Radicchio or Curly endives – which are more on the bitter side. Adding in these types of greens gives your salad an extra punch... and also makes it look pretty, which is always important.
Add Some Fruit: The best part of making a killer salad is adding a unique ingredient to the mix. Depending on the base, adding fruits like mango, raspberries, oranges, pomegranate, or even kiwi often offsets bitterness with a simple sweet addition.  In even better news, the natural juices from these fruits often compliment your already awesome seasoning. Simple olive oil and lemon juice will play off nicely with the fruits. Another tip:  I'd avoid using Dijon in the mix if you're going the fruit route.
Add Some Substance: If you're thinking of having salad as a meal instead of a side, you might want to bulk up. Whether you want to add in some brown rice, croutons, or something hardier, one thing is certain, after a decked out salad like the masterpiece you're creating, you'll be good for the day. One tip I suggest is using left over meats from last night's dinner – chicken breast, grilled pork, beef, or shellfish. It's a great way to get rid of leftovers and meats like these taste great in salad. Win win. If you don't have any leftovers or just want to indulge in a little salty flavor, you can always throw in some fried bacon bits or prosciutto.  On the flip side, if your vegan, try some tofu, fried polenta, or chickpeas – it's actually quite tasty.
Make your Dressing: While I do dig mustard-based concoctions, they don't work with every ingredient. It's for that reason that I suggest sticking to vinegar based dressings. Not only do they almost always work, but you can have the most fun with them. Usually two parts oil to one part acid works best, but be extra careful not to over-indulge on the oil. Too much oil can make your salad into a sloppy mess. It's important to mention that if you like your salads equal in the olive to acid ratios, than one part olive oil, one part vinegar or lemon juice is the way to go.  If you're using vinegars you can always opt for flavored ones like raspberry, plum or fig.
When creating your own dressing, choose vinegars like red wine or aged balsamic as a base. You can flavor your vinaigrettes with garlic, chives, basil, cilantro and even nuts. A nice pesto dressing is amazing! If you're using meats like chicken or turkey you can even go the creamy route by whisking in some buttermilk, sour cream, mayo and yes, even some Dijon.

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