With warm weather comes an abundance of produce. Salads are a classic way to create a mélange of flavors and textures by using the best produce of the season. But often times, produce can become soggy, wilted, or just plain boring. Here are some of our favorite tips to brighten up your salads during this or any other season.
1. Start with the dressing: Though it is commonly added last, dressing should be added to your bowl first. This will help evenly coat the salad when you toss it. Add slightly less than you think you will need. You can always drizzle a little extra over the top before serving.
2. Add a little lecithin: Liquid soy lecithin is a great emulsifier, which is why we add it to our vinaigrettes. Try adding about 1-2% (by weight of the oil) lecithin to prevent the dressing from separating. Make sure you use the liquid variety; the powdered kind is a foam stabilizer, not an emulsifier. We sometimes use a pasteurized egg yolk (cooked sous vide) as an emulsifier, but this adds flavor to salad dressings, whereas liquid soy lecithin does not.
3. Extend its life: Fruits and vegetables benefit from heat-shocking. Dipping them in hot water for a minute will increase their shelf life. Nobody likes wilted lettuce and shriveled celery in their salads, so, next time you come home with a bag full of produce, try our tips for extending crispiness.
4. Snip fresh herbs: Herb aromas are most potent right after cutting them, so snip them just before adding them to your salad. That’s right, we said snip. Not only do kitchen scissors make it easier to pluck and chop leaves, you can also snip these items directly into your salad bowl.
5. Think seasonally: While you can find many produce staples at grocery stores year-round, those in their peak season will still be best. In the spring, seek out asparagus, fava beans, peavines, new potatoes, rhubarbs, radishes, baby carrots, tarragons, and borages. In the summer, toss together the likes of tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, bell peppers, avocados, zucchini, stone fruits, melons, chervils, lemon verbenas, and basils. Sweet onions, arugulas, celery root, butter lettuces, apples, pears, figs, thymes, and parsleys are all good finds in the fall. In the winter, watch for spinaches, young chards, beets, citrus fruits, watercresses, winter savories, chives, and legumes.
6. Textural contrast: A salad doesn’t have to be all crisp and crunch. Textural contrast can be one of its great delights. Mix and match different textures, such as creamy (soft cheeses, egg-based dressings), tender (braised beets, cooked potatoes, baby lettuces), chewy (dried fruits, aged cheeses), crispy (lettuces, cucumbers, apple slices), and crunchy (fresh pickles, raw vegetables, sunflower seeds, croutons).
7. Use your hands: As long as you thoroughly wash your hands, there is no reason not to use them to mix salads. You will find that you are better able to coat each salad piece evenly. If you remain squeamish about getting your hands dirty, use disposable gloves.