Fresh eating in the summertime: very superior salads!

Don't you get to the point on hot summer evenings when all you want to eat are fresh, crispy salads? Here's a deliciously special post from the archives with the salads of your dreams—and a fun video showing you chef's secrets for how to properly dress a salad. I'm telling you, this is a game changer!

Let’s talk salads.

I started making salads for my father when I was 7 years old. He was in the salad dressing business, and he liked his salads a particular way -- big, crunchy, crispy salads, full of vegetables, draped in dressing. Chopping up salad for him was a HUGE deal. I, Rebecca, was making salad for the Salad King!

Fast forward. When I studied cooking in Italy, I had to revamp my knowledge of salads and learn the refined art of dressing an elegantly simple salad -- lightly dressed and full of tender greens such as arugula, radicchio, and mache, varieties I wasn’t exposed to in the states. By European standards, my father’s salads were uber chunky, and way overdressed!

How do you go about dressing the perfect salad?

It’s really very, very simple.

First of all, your greens have to be dry and crisp. I like to spin them in a salad spinner then put them in a flour sack towel to pick up any moisture clinging to them. So you’re starting with the right texture, with the leaves ready to absorb the dressing and receive just a gentle coating. In contrast, if the greens are soggy the salad dressing will roll right off, down to the bottom of the bowl. This step is numero uno! Very important.

Next -- season your salad. Finish your greens with sea salt and a little bit of cracked pepper BEFORE adding the dressing.

And finally -- and this might seem counterintuitive -- coat the bowl with your dressing. Put a little in the bowl and swirl. When you put in the greens, they start to absorb some of that great dressing without becoming soggy.

Here we arrive at a few words about the art of salad tossing.

Toss with your hands. Put your hands down into the bowl and lift the salad up and over like a wave. Gently! This is not a tidal wave, this is light and playful. You’re incorporating air, and all those tender leaves are being barely coated so you won’t be left with a soggy mess. Do that until your salad is fluffy (about 20 seconds, for you numbers people). You’re done! You have a perfectly tossed salad. Put it on the plate and add your toppings of vegetables, nuts, seeds or whatever. Voila!

An ode to toppings.

Like soups, salads have NO rules. Salads can be a combination of whatever you’ve got on hand, whatever pleases your eye and palette. A salad doesn’t have to be carrots, cucumbers and iceberg lettuce. Salads can be colorful, with wonderful textures, and a myriad of flavor combinations.Think seasonal. Use the bounty of the market. Summer is prime time!

Key ingredients to remember for superior salads:

  • Greens: well rinsed & dried, lightly dressed
  • Crunch: cucumber, fennel, nuts, seeds
  • Variety: use kale as your base
  • Seasonal: toss with peaches & pistachios, or blueberries & walnuts
  • Creamy: avocados, olives
  • Texture: shredded vegetables (now you know what to do with all that extra zucchini!).

Personally, I think salads are a great way to use herbs. Mint, basil and parsley are healthy favorites. Guests eat a salad with herbs and inevitably exclaim! Why don’t more people use them? They make the flavor pop, they’re super high in phytonutrients, and guess what? They count as plants.

Ready for a salad tossing demo? My fabulous friend Sandy Kleiman joins me in the kitchen to help reveal the tricks to perfect salad tossing -- something you might wish to know this time of year.

Want some honest-to-goodness fabulous salad recipes? Head on over to my Recipe Box for links to Super Salads, including the beautiful Jicama Summer Salad with Mint and Cilantro Tossed with Sweet and Sour Asian Dressing shown above, an ALL time favorite among my cookbook cognoscenti.

Want a little coaching on easy, yummy salad dressings? Check out these quick videos of Sandy and I. This Basic Vinaigrette is just right for a light, elegant salad. And this Green Goddess Dressing is creamy, perfect for a little chunkier salad, more the Salad King’s style.

Here’s my advice for the day: Don’t worry about counting calories. Count plants! The more plants you eat, the healthier you’ll be.  After a few days of eating more fresh vegetables, you’ll notice a difference. Imagine where you’d be in a month!


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