Before a riot starts, it’s worth mentioning that if the idea of a salad makes you think of sad rabbit food or soggy, cheap dressing-laden iceberg lettuce, then this article was made for you. Your salad doesn’t have to suck, and we’re here to show you how easy it is to make one that fills you with joy – and a hearty summer meal.
The difference between a good salad and a bad salad is one simple component: the dressing. If your version of a dressing comes from a bottle, it’s time to stop. Not only are ready-made dressings full of strange ingredients that add no goodness, but they also don’t taste anywhere near as good as they could. And making your own dressing truly is one of the easiest things to do, using ingredients you likely already have in your pantry.
The science behind a vinaigrette goes something like this: you’ll need olive oil, an acid, an emulsifier, some kind of balancing, sweet note and seasoning. In reality, this means olive oil; your choice of either lemon juice or vinegar (like white wine, balsamic or apple cider, NOT white vinegar); a bit of wholegrain, Dijon mustard or very finely chopped garlic or shallots; honey or sugar; and salt and pepper.
Whisk the vinegar or lemon juice, mustard (or garlic), honey and salt and pepper together before very slowly whisking the olive oil in. Whisk the olive oil in increments, as you need it to emulsify before you add more (you’ll know it hasn’t emulsified when you can see the oil separate from the vinegar mix and it will quite literally taste oily). Continue slowly whisking in the oil until you’re happy with the taste and consistency. From there you can tweak anything, like adding a splash more vinegar for brightness, or softening the acidity with a touch more honey or sugar. Voilà, you’ve now made a dressing.
Now that you’ve got yourself a tasty little dressing, you need something interesting to dress. This is where you’re going to step away from the iceberg lettuce and look to something with more flavour and texture. There are no rules here, as long as you don’t use iceberg. You can opt for butter lettuce, kale or baby spinach or mix all of them up with basil, parsley and rocket. Like something on the bitter side? Go for radicchio or endive. If crunch is what you crave, pick up cos or baby gem.
Once you’ve settled on a lettuce, make sure the leaves are easy to eat by tearing them into bite-sized pieces so that you don’t need to unhinge your jaw to eat them.
Any salad worth its salt will have a good mix of interesting, varying textures. Lettuce plus feta and tomato might seem like a good enough combination, but we’re not here for good enough, we’re here for greatness. So, try adding things like roasted macadamia nuts and seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin), fresh cucumber or raw carrot or cabbage.
On the softer side of things, avo is always a welcome salad addition, but also consider a 6-minute egg, pitted olives and softer cheeses like robbiola or Danish feta.
There really isn’t anything that can’t go in your salad, so when it comes to making yours interesting, the sky is the limit. Grilled broccoli, sautéed asparagus, peas or mange tout are great for bulking up a green salad, while you can up the protein factor with leftover roast salmon, chicken or steak. Crisp up some chickpeas and throw those in too, or add some white beans for a creamy texture. And when it comes to cheese, think beyond feta by adding shaved Parmesan, goat’s cheese or torn Mozzarella.
The final flourish
Now that you’ve got your components ready, you don’t want to mess up right at the last moment. Before adding anything to your salad, place your leaves in your bowl and give them a light sprinkle of lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. If you want your lettuce leaves to have character, you need to season and dress them lightly before adding everything else.
Now it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients and toss everything together gently before carefully drizzling over a little dressing. Remember not to drown the salad in dressing – add it slowly, tossing carefully as you go, to ensure everything is gently coated. Then you can finish off with a flourish of cheese or toasted nuts, and tuck into the salad of your dreams.