This is the summer of salad at my house. Though I’ll admit a salad can be hard to define. A great salad even harder. A pile of lettuce doused in a sickly-sweet, Garfield-colored dressing is certainly a salad of sorts, but it’s not what I’m talking about. What then defines a salad? It can be a main course, a side dish, a first course, or a fresh way to end a meal. Which confuses the subject. So I simplify the definition and say salads are creative compositions of fresh seasonal ingredients. I like a salad to have bright colors, plenty of crunch and if it’s to be the main course, I think a salad should have some sort of unexpected star ingredient.
But you knew that.
Another amazing thing about the modern salad is how popular it’s become. Remember when no one actually wanted to eat a salad? A salad was either parental punishment or self-flagellation. Either an enticement or a punishment for all the other stuff you really want to eat.
That’s changed. The trend can be traced back to our overflowing produce aisles and to the boom in farmers markets. You can no longer simply throw a few wilted lettuce leaves and fistful of bacon bits into a bowl and expect your salad to meet today’s standards. If your salad making skills haven’t quite kept pace with the times, you’ve got up your game.
How to Make a Great Salad
Start with a star ingredient. Let the season dictate what that ingredient should be. Don’t go to the market looking for great asparagus in November. You might find asparagus but it won’t be good enough to make a great salad. Instead, choose what’s seasonal. At the height of summer, it might be sweet corn, tomatoes, or stone fruit.
Don’t be limited by what you’ve seen in salads before. I like to include herbs. Whole mint, parsley or basil leaves is a good place to start. Pickled things add pizzazz. Fruit is great but try to think beyond the berry. If it’s ripe and ready, why not? Equally tasty: dried fruit, like raisins, cranberries, or apple. Use your imagination.
A great salad should include a variety of textures. Crisp greens tossed with creamy cheese, ripe avocado or luscious stone fruit is a great place to start. Don’t forget to layer in crunchy things. Nuts, croutons or even granola are great additions. Having something to really sink your teeth into makes any salad feel more satisfying.
Homemade dressing. Please! Wishbone does not a great salad make.
Protein is optional. Chicken is fine, but there are lots of more interesting choices. Including some kinds of grain. Keep an open mind.