Make a great salad! (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)
By Sharon Thompson
But can they make a great salad?
There can be so much more to a salad than opening a bag of gourmet greens and tossing them with a store-bought dressing.
The components for a successful salad are as varied as the cooks who prepare them. For today's lesson, we're giving you the basics for building an awesome salad and making homemade dressing.
The best way to dress those delicate greens is with a vinaigrette. Making your own is more economical than buying bottled dressing. It costs less than $1 to make a pint of vinaigrette compared with $2 to $4 for a bottle at the supermarket.
According to the Canned Food Alliance, 2 tablespoons of a bottled vinaigrette contains 150 calories, 16 grams of fat and 150 milligrams of sodium. A homemade lemon vinaigrette has 25 calories, 2.4 grams of fat and 93 milligrams of sodium in 2 tablespoons.
A vinaigrette is the simplest of salad dressings, but it can be as complex as you want to make it. it's a mixture of wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh green herbs in season. Even simpler is one part juice to one part oil, seasoned with salt and pepper.
To take the recipe to an even higher level, use a different oil or vinegar, but always good quality. Extra-virgin olive oil is the first choice for most vinaigrettes, although many recipes call for vegetable oils. They're best for strong-flavored dressings. "Pure" olive oil adds a fruity flavor, and walnut oil adds a nutty taste. If you would like to dress your salad to accompany an Asian meal, choose toasted sesame oil or Asian sesame oil. It has a potent flavor and is highly perishable, so store in the refrigerator.
Vinegar also comes in a variation of flavors: red wine, white wine, cider, rice and balsamic. They also come in gourmet varieties.
The proper way to blend the vinegar and oil is to use a whisk and a rubber-bottomed bowl, although a pint jar with a screw lid works well. You'll need both hands - one to pour in the oil and the other to whisk, so make sure the bowl is steady. If you don't have a rubber-bottomed bowl, you can shape a towel in a ring around the bottom of the bowl for proper traction.
To begin, dissolve a little bit of salt in the vinegar. Some cooks like to add a small amount of Dijon mustard, which acts as an emulsifying agent. Whisk in the mustard until well combined, then slowly pour the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until the oil is worked in and does not separate from other ingredients.
Experiment with this basic vinaigrette by adding ingredients such as herbs, garlic, shallots, citrus zest, pesto, fruit jelly, honey or a pinch of brown sugar.
For the salad, use a big bowl at least twice as big as the amount of ingredients. Toss the salad with a small amount of dressing; you can always add more. You don't want a soggy salad.
HERE ARE THE TECHNIQUES AND TOOLS THAT GO INTO MAKING A SALAD
Chop: Cut into coarse or fine irregular pieces with knife, food chopper, blender or food processor.
Chopping garlic: Hit garlic clove with the flat side of a heavy knife to crack the skin, which will then slip off easily. Finely chop the garlic with the knife.
Dice: Cut food into squares smaller than 1/2-inch, using knife.
Grate: Rub a hard-textured food, such as chocolate, citrus peel or Parmesan cheese, against the small, rough, sharp-edged holes of a grater to reduce it to tiny particles. For citrus peel, grate only the skin, not the bitter white membrane.
Julienne: Cut into thin, match-like strips with knife or food processor, as for fruits, vegetables and meats.
Peel: Cut off outer covering with knife or vegetable peeler, as for apples and potatoes, or strip off outer covering with fingers, as for bananas and oranges.
Shred: Cut into long, thin pieces with either the round, smooth holes of a shredder, a knife or a food processor, as for cabbage, carrots and cheese.
Slice diagonally: Place knife at 45-degree angle to food, and cut into slices of equal width.
Toss: Tumble ingredients lightly with a lifting motion, as for salads.
A FEW COOKING HOW-TOS:
How to cut bell peppers: Cut pepper lengthwise in half. Cut out seeds and membrane.
How to squeeze lemons: Squeeze and measure juice from lemon halves by placing the juicer over a measuring cup. The juicer also strains out most of the seeds and pulp.
How to chop onions: Wash onions; remove any loose layers of skin. Cut green onions into thin slices, using some of the green part and the white part. Discard the tip with the stringy end.
How to prepare mushrooms: Rinse mushrooms and cut off stem ends. Leave mushrooms whole or cut into slices.
How to prepare fresh tomatoes: Wash tomatoes. Cut into 8 wedges or slice 1/2 -inch thick. Peel tomatoes before cutting if desired. To remove skin easily, dip tomato into boiling water 30 seconds, then into cold water. Or scrape surface of tomato with blade of knife to loosen; peel.
TOOLS FOR SALAD PREPARATION
Salad spinner: After rinsing salad greens, using a salad spinner is a quick and easy way to dry them. It's a plastic bowl containing a basket that holds greens. The lid contains a mechanism that spins the basket and forces moisture out into the bowl.
Salad tongs: They may be wooden or plastic, usually have a larger end for tossing a salad.
Scissors or shears: Good for snipping fresh herbs, cutting and trimming of ingredients.
Chef's knife: This knife has a heavy, triangular blade 6 to 12 inches long. A medium-size blade, about 8 to 10 inches, is the most versatile size. It is used for chopping, slicing and dicing as well as for crushing a clove of garlic. This knife also is called a cook's knife.
Paring knife: It has a small blade, about 21/2 to 3 inches long, and a rounded or pointed tip. If you plan to have only one paring knife, choose one with a pointed tip. You'll need it to cut up fruits and vegetables.
Vegetable brush: Use to clean vegetables.
Vegetable peeler: Use to remove a thin peel from apples, potatoes and carrots. Is much easier to use than a knife.
Zester: A cousin to the vegetable peeler, a zester is a kitchen tool made to remove strips of peel from citrus fruit. The cutting end has 5 little bladed holes.
Dozens of items can make up a salad, but a basic dinner salad begins with lettuce. Some people buy ready-to-use mixed salad greens that are washed and torn into bite-size pieces, but if you prefer to wash and chop your own, here's a guide for buying popular types of lettuce.
Bibb: This lettuce has tender, pliable leaves similar to Boston lettuce but is smaller and has the same delicate, mild flavor. (Bibb lettuce was developed in Frankfort in the late 19th century, by a man named Jack Bibb.)
Boston: A lettuce with small rounded heads of soft, buttery leaves and a delicate flavor. Also known as butterhead lettuce.
Iceberg: Also known as crisphead, iceberg comes in large, round, tightly packed heads with tight leaves that range in color from medium green outer leaves to pale green inner ones. It has a bland, mild flavor, making it the most popular salad green.
How to buy: Look for solid, compact heads with tight leaves.
How to store: Clean head lettuce before storing. Remove core by striking the core end of the head against a flat surface, then twisting and lifting it out. To rinse, hold the head, cored end up, under cold running water. Turn right-side up to drain. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for as long as 2 weeks.
Any of several varieties of lettuce (green leaf, red leaf, oakleaf) with leaves that don't form tight heads. These leafy bunches have a mild flavor that's more full-bodied than iceberg lettuce. Leaf lettuce can range in color from medium to dark green; some have red-tipped leaves.
How to buy: Look for bunches with crisp, evenly colored leaves that aren't wilting or yellowing.
How to store: Wash and either drain completely or blot dry with a paper towel, then refrigerate in a plastic bag up to about 3 days.
THE BEST WAYS TO MEASURE SALAD GREENS
The staff at America's Test Kitchens get questions about how to accurately measure greens for salads, which is why they always give an ounce measure and a cup measure in recipes.
But when they tried their usual formula of 2 ounces (or 2 cups) of lightly packed greens per serving for arugula salads, it was too much. That's because the calculation was based on head lettuce, which is heavier (because of its higher water content) than arugula or, for that matter, baby spinach or mesclun. For these greens, 1 ounce of lightly packed baby greens will yield roughly 1 1/2 cups, just enough for one serving.
But if you don't have a scale and are using the cup measurement, what exactly does "lightly" packed mean? The reason recipe testers don't just call for a more accurate measure of "tightly" packed greens, pressed firmly into the cup, as is done with brown sugar, is that this would bruise delicate leafy greens.
To lightly pack greens, simply drop them by the handful into a measuring cup, then gently pat down, using your fingertips rather than the palm of your hand.
The Internet offers easy-to-follow cooking videos that teach the proper ways to peel and slice garlic and onions, sharpen knives, and even how to boil water. To hone your salad-making skills, go to these sites: www.cooksillustrated.com/?video/default.asp?docid=11922?&newVideo=y
Here's a simple salad you can make. It's ready in 20 minutes.
ITALIAN ROMAINE SALAD
• 1 to 2 medium lemons
• 2 cloves garlic
• 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1 large bunch or 2 small bunches romaine lettuce
• 1 small red onion
• 1 cup pitted kalamata olives or pitted jumbo ripe olives
• 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, undrained
• 1/2 cup seasoned croutons
• 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Roll each lemon on the countertop with the palm of your hand, using gentle pressure (this will help release the juices). Cut lemon in half; squeeze juice. Peel and finely chop garlic. In a tightly covered jar or container, shake lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt and pepper.
Remove any limp outer leaves from romaine and discard. Break remaining leaves off core; rinse with cool water. Shake off excess water and blot to dry, or roll up leaves in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel to dry. Tear leaves into bite-size pieces. You will need about 10 cups of romaine pieces.
Peel onion; slice onion and separate into rings. In a large glass or plastic bowl, place romaine, onion, olives and artichoke hearts (with liquid). Shake vinaigrette again to mix ingredients. Pour vinaigrette over salad ingredients, and toss with 2 large spoons or salad tongs until evenly coated.
Sprinkle croutons and cheese over salad. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings. Note: You can toss the salad in a large, resealable food-safe plastic bag. Place all ingredients in the bag, seal and shake until evenly distributed. Pour salad into the serving bowl.
Nutritional information per serving: 140 calories, 10 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 410 mg. sodium, 8 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. dietary fiber, 3 g. protein.
A nice thing about making your own salad dressings is that you can control the ingredients and have something a little different from what the supermarket offers. This recipe has no fat yet offers rich flavor.
CREAMY HARVEST DRESSING
• 1 can (about 15 ounces) yams or sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained
• 1 slice yellow onion, 1/2 -inch thick
• 3/4 cup apple juice
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley Puree all ingredients, except for parsley, in a blender or food processor until smooth; stir in parsley. Makes 12 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 50 calories, 0 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 95 mg. sodium, 12 g. carbohydrate, 1 g. fiber, 1 g. protein.
This dressing delivers protein and fiber.
CREAMY CILANTRO-LIME VINAIGRETTE
• 1 can (about 15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 clove garlic, halved
• 1/4 cup canned, diced green chilies
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Kosher salt, to taste
• 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
• 1/4 cup hot water
• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 80 calories, 2.5 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 125 mg. sodium, 11 g. carbohydrate, 3 g. fiber.
GREEN EMPRESS DRESSING
• 8 1/2 -ounce can sweet peas, drained
• 2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup fresh herb leaves (parsley, chive, basil and/or mint)
• 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 39 calories, 2.5 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 79 mg. sodium, 6. carbohydrate, 1.6 g. fiber, 2.2 g. protein.
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