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How to Make Perfect Tossed Green Salads

From Choosing Lettuces to Making Dressing

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A perfect tossed green salad—balanced, satisfying, well-dressed—is a mark of a great cook. When salads get overlooked or treated as an aside, it shows. But a perfectly made salad, with fresh greens and homemade dressing, can make a meal. Take a moment to learn the principles of a good salad and take your next bowl of mixed greens towards perfection.

Choose the Greens

Photo © Molly Watson
Use fresh-cut lettuces for the best green salads. Look for seasonal varieties: tender mache in early spring, peppery watercress as summer warms up, arugula and oak-leaf lettuces as long as it doesn't get too hot, and chicories in the fall. Learn more about lettuce in general and lettuce varieties:

Keep It Simple

Photo © Molly Watson
More than one tossed salad has been ruined by just too many ingredients. The perfect tossed green salad is just that: tossed greens. Use fresh greens, homemade dressing, and one or two embellishments such as nuts or cheese if you must. But stop there. When you're going that extra step to get great produce, let it speak for itself and enjoy its natural flavor.

Clean and Dry the Greens

Photo © Molly Watson

Clean and dry your lettuces as soon as you get them home (they'll keep longer): Rinse lettuce leaves in a large basin of cold water (it'll perk them up if they seem a bit dreary from the car ride home), lift them out of the water, spin dry in a salad spinner or dry on several layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. If you're not going to use them right away, roll up the lettuce leaves in a layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, seal in a plastic bag, and store in your refrigerator's hydrator or "crisper" for up to 1 week. This storage method keeps the leaves hydrated but not damp, keeping them crisp without wilting.

See this Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Lettuce for pictures and more detailed instructions.

Make the Dressing

Making Vinagrette - Adding Oil
Photo © Molly Watson

Bottled salad dressings may be convenient, but homemade dressings take minutes to make and you know exactly what's in them. Best of all, they taste great. Once you get the general principle down—about 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar)—you can play with variations until the cows come home. Salt and sweeten to your tastes; use mustard (dry or prepared), cream, or egg to thicken and "bind" the dressing, if you like. Mix in cheese, use nut oils, add toasted spices: the possibilities are endless. Here are a few to get you started:

See more at How to Make Salad Dressing and get recipes at Homemade Salad Dressings.

Toss With Care

Photo © Molly Watson

The secret to a perfectly tossed salad is simple: use your hands. Wash them first (and after!), of course, but no tongs or salad tools can possibly replicate the delicacy and feel of human hands. Once you get the hang of it, you'll never go back to brutalizing your lovely salads with bruising, damaging spoons or forks:

  1. Put 2 to 4 tablespoons dressing for every 4 cups of clean, dry greens in a clean, dry bowl that seems much too big
  2. Add the greens
  3. Hold your fingers as far apart from each other as possible and run them down the sides of the bowl to the bottom, lift up, bringing the greens that were touching the dressing on the bottom of the bowl to the top.
  4. Repeat until salad is evenly dressed
  5. Serve with pride

See more at How to Toss a Salad.

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