If you have a shred of fashion sense, you have the ability to build a respectable salad. If not…there’s always Freshii.
Like fashion an understanding and respect of the basics—the rules so to speak—is required before variations on them can occur. At its most basic a salad is composed of four elements: foundation, additions, dressing and garnishes. (Note: I have just self-coined each element for the purpose of this post.) Don’t let my technical read on the salad scare you though. Let it empower you to build a better one. Understand the function of each element and you’ll never be bored by greens again.
To most a salad’s identity lies in its foundation. At this very moment in some substandard restaurant a dissatisfied server just dropped a mess of iceberg lettuce drizzled with pre-made dressing and called it salad. It’s essentially just some iceberg on a plate yet it can be defined otherwise. Because of its foundation. And depending on the foundation’s characteristics it’ll drive the nature of the remaining elements. My advice? Choose your foundation based on what looks freshest at the grocery store. For something delicate and lighter, go for red leaf, Butter, Bibb or Boston lettuce, spinach, arugula or your classic spring mix. If you intend to pair it with heavy additions and an even heavier dressing, try kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce. Should the produce section look barren or blah, then stick to grains be it rice or macaroni, root vegetables like carrot or potato or legumes from beans to lentils.
They’re the supporting stars to your salad, providing variation in colour, texture and flavour. Take inspiration not only from the foundation’s structural integrity as noted above, but also its own flavour and traditional pairings. For example, fill out a pile of black beans with finely diced jalapeno, tomato, avocado and corn kernels for a Tex-Mex take. As your own palate develops (i.e. as you eat more) your pairings will grow in complexity. No addition is wrong as long as it adds colour, texture or flavour.
Ultimately the dressing is where you can impress. While almost unidentifiable in appearance, it permeates each bite. Let’s put an end to the mythology that salad dressings are hard to make. I proudly have never succumbed to pre-made dressing—even in my weakest grocery store moments. Start simple with a classic 2:1 oil to vinegar vinaigrette, using good quality options for each. Season with salt and pepper and my favourite secret dressing ingredient: citrus zest. Once you master the vinaigrette, delve in the wild (and typically wacky) world of most “advanced” dressings from 1000 Islands to Caesar.
Arguably the most beloved element of the salad, there’s a reason garnishes have the top spot. Croutons, am I right? In my books, a garnish must pack a punch in one of two arenas: flavour or texture. Don’t overindulge and keep the portion just right. And it’s not just croutons. How about seeds or nuts? Toasted corn tortillas chips or bagel slices? Heck, you could even pull off pretzels or potato chips.