Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Garden Variety

Whenever my mother made lettuce leaf salads for us when we were growing up, she always put them together from whatever ingredients she had on hand. As children, we grew to love her salad combinations and still do!

I adopted her salad success. Like her salads, our salads almost always have something crunchy, like toasted nuts or homemade croutons, something with a slightly creamy texture, like cheese, (think Feta, blue, mozzarella) hard boiled eggs or avocado and assorted vegetables with all kinds of texture.

So use you imagination when assembling a salad, make it interesting and colorful. Cherry tomatoes, julienned carrots, sliced mushrooms, celery, shredded radicchio, sesame seeds, bell peppers, sprouts, shredded cabbage, bacon, onions, black olives, apples, grapes, pears, oranges, grapefruit and dried fruit (cranberries are a favorite) are salad additions that can be included with leafy greens.

Tips for preparing salad
  • If you’re plating individual salads for a sit-down dinner party, allow one heavy handful of lettuce leaves per person. For a large gathering and buffet style service, allow 1½ handfuls per person.
  • Salad dressing should be room temperature.
  • It is best to toss lettuce leaf salads just prior to serving.
  • Dressing should just “coat” the leaves; too much dressing will result in a soggy salad.
  • Toss lettuce and weighted ingredients separately.
  • Weighted toppings (tomatoes, carrots, peas, nuts, eggs, dried fruit, etc.) tend to sink, so pre-plate salad greens for small gatherings and then top each salad with the heavier ingredients.
  • For larger gatherings or buffet style set ups, serve salad from a rimmed platter or a shallow bowl rather than a deep bowl to avoid having the heavy ingredients sink.
  • Lettuce leaf salads are generally not good keepers and rarely make good leftovers.
Our salads were never tossed with store-bought dressing and because I grew up seeing how quickly my mother whipped up something fabulous from scratch, I'm constantly amazed when people tell me it takes too long to prepare homemade dressing. It takes me longer to read and decipher the list of ingredients on a bottle of commercial salad dressing than the minimal time it takes to combine a few fresh ingredients to make a delicious, healthy dressing! Toss your creation with a great salad dressing like my simple, five-ingredient, all-purpose vinaigrette.

All-Purpose Vinaigrette

An all-purpose dressing that is so delicious and can be prepared so quickly, you might ask yourself why you ever bought bottled vinaigrette!

Helpful to know: All-Purpose Vinaigrette will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving; shake well just prior to using.

1 teaspoon salt

Several grindings fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a 2-cup capacity jar with a tight fitting lid, combine salt, pepper, mustard and apple cider vinegar. Shake until ingredients are well blended and salt has dissolved. Add olive oil and shake again to combine ingredients. Store at room temperature until ready to serve; shake well just prior to using. Refrigerate any unused portion. Yield: About 1 cup.