Yes, you can make your own salad

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist — the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.”  — Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

“Salad is never more appetizing than when served in a large wooden bowl.” Dorothy Draper, Entertaining Is Fun (1941)

During the early 1800s, salad was considered exotic, even weird, and a type of food for sissies. Ridiculed by many due to their lack of knowledge on food and nutrition, it was only after French lawyer/economist Brillat-Savarin published his book The Physiology of Taste that salads became popular and gained fame for their benefits. His famous quote that salad “ freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating” famously places this dish on the culinary map of the world. Diverse and versatile, it can be served separately as an appetizer, with a main course, or as a hearty meal on its own. Sophisticated in its simplicity, creating a beautiful salad only depends on your imagination and availability of ingredients.

A salad generally consists of greens or vegetables. Depending on the taste and texture that you want to achieve, there are countless combinations to choose from. The most popular is iceberg or crisp head lettuce because of its crisp and tightly packed leaves.

The flavor itself is neutral, and with proper storage can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Romaine lettuce’s long, vibrant leaves with a smoky flavor make it attractive and complement well almost any type of dressing. Its firm texture gives it  a bite that many people prefer. Chicory or curly endives make an attractive garnish for cold salads — choosing the right dressing is important because they’re more bitter than other lettuce leaves. The garden, commonly known as coral, lettuce is delicate and tender, and its green and red variety makes it highly sought after, though it wilts easily and doesn’t store well for long periods of time.

The Chinese cabbage is another good addition to the salad bowl because of its smoky flavor, similar to romaine lettuce, and it can be bunched together to make layers. The outer leaves are tough and often removed and used to make soup. Arugula, also known as rocket, has a distinct peppery flavor and must be handled with care when rinsing with water.

The most expensive of salad greens is the French endive. Its creamy pale yellow leaves can be served in various ways — whole, julienned, shredded, and with hors d’oeuvres or sautéed in butter. The Bibb lettuce is often used by restaurants, and must be thoroughly washed to remove the soil that clings to the leaves. The leaves must be served whole and not cut up. Spinach can be served raw or sautéed in oil or butter, and mixed with other vegetables to make a fantastic bowl of greens. Herbs like parsley, tarragon, chives, and dill are also excellent additions to salad. The ratio is one tablespoon fresh herb for one teaspoon dried herb.

Always store salad greens in the refrigerator and wash well under faucet water to remove soil particles.

It is important to pat dry with a towel or salad spinner because moisture can make salad greens spoil easily and prevent the dressing from incorporating to the leaves. Tough leaves can be used for stocks and soups. Storing greens in plastic bags can also help increase their shelf life.

When cutting leaves, use a stainless steel knife instead of carbon steel to prevent the leaves from darkening, though using your hands and tearing it apart is the best method. Coating the sides of the bowl with dressing before adding the greens helps the salad to be evenly distributed. Rubbing bread with garlic to the sides of the bowl before the dressing is a method called chapon, used to permeate the greens.

A healthy spread: Olive Tree’s buffet spread

Vinegar and salt will release the juices, causing the greens to wilt, which is why dressings should be served separately in functions and big affairs. Red and white wine vinegar are the mildest, while cider vinegar and lemon juice have a more profound taste.

Using oil-based dressing is advantageous because the carotenoids found in green and red vegetables absorb faster in the presence of fat. The ratio of vinegar to oil is one is to two or three, but the best gauge is your taste buds. Using low-fat yoghurt instead of heavy cream lessens the fat content.

Eating right is a delicious and fun first step to living a healthy lifestyle. No longer bland or boring, making your own salad is an inspiring way to win your battle with the bulge, a healthy affair that clearly makes you feel better.

Green Goddess Dressing

Mix together 2 cups Magnolia Mayo, 1 small can undrained anchovies, 1 tbsp. crushed garlic, 2 tbsps. each of finely chopped parsley and spring onions, 1 tbsp. tarragon vinegar (or any vinegar with 1 tsp. McCormick dried tarragon)

Vinaigrette

Mix together 1 cup olive oil or any oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. chervil and tarragon, ¼ tsp. pepper.

Sesame seed dressing

Put in a blender and mix well: 1 cup olive or any oil, ¼ cup each of corn syrup and vinegar, 1 tbsp. mustard, minced onion,  and black sesame seeds. Add ½ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper.

Copyright 2012 Sylvia Reynoso Gala Culinary Studio

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