Even Peter Rabbit would be dazzled by the array of greens available today. So what's the
secret to a spectacular salad? Keep it simple, right from the start.
The most popular greens can be thought of in three categories: mild (what we've called
basics), bitter and peppery. Start with one or two of the basics (which are generally the
least expensive), then add one bitter or one peppery variety--see photos in the Kitchen
library--or one of each. Think color and texture along the way, and whatever you do,
don't drown the poor things in dressing. There's no improving on a simple vinaigrette
(see below) and a little goes a long, long way.
When you buy greens, look for vibrantly colored leaves (soggy or dried-out edges are
both bad signs) with no large cracks or mushy spots. If you're not going to use the lettuce
within a day or two, you need to store it--unless it's wet. No matter what you do, wet
greens won't keep and in a matter of days, you'll have a soggy mess. Instead, separate
the leaves, wash and dry them, and then put them away. If you use a salad spinner, you
can leave the greens in the basket, pop the lid on and refrigerate the whole thing. If not,
roll the washed leaves in a clean dish towel or white paper towels, and refrigerate them
in a closed plastic bag.
Last but not least, remember that a terrific salad can stand on its own. That's not to say,
however, that you can't turn one into a meal. Thin slices of grilled beef or chicken, or a
few grilled shrimp are all it takes--and it's still simplicity itself.
Greens for Gardeners
If you grow green peas, pinch off handfuls of shoots and rinse them for the salad bowl
(kids will love helping). If long, fleshy runners of purslane (portulaca oleracea) grow
among your vegetables, seize them too. Just pluck off the larger leaves and add the
remaining shoots whole. (Pick purslane dry and store it dry in the refrigerator or the
leaves will fall off.)
East of the Rocky Mountains, lamb's quarters or wild spinach (chenopodium album)
also grows as a weed. Tender young radish leaves offer a nice, peppery taste to a salad, as
do nasturtium leaves.
Finally, anyone who grows lettuce should know that the thinnings--those immature
leaves that you pluck early on--are tender and wonderful. By all means, use them in
It's amazing what kind of kitchen gadgets are out there these days. (Believe it or not, you
can actually buy something that does nothing but peel garlic cloves--and it doesn't even
do that very well.) Many of the gizmos are a conspicuous waste of precious kitchen
space, but there's one that no home should be without--a salad spinner. They're not
expensive, and they take all the dirty work out of salad preparation.
Be sure to buy one without holes in the outside container, but with a handle that turns
and a removable basket. To use it, fill the spinner with cold water, separate the lettuce
leaves (tear larger ones into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces) and drop them into the inside basket.
Add any smaller leaves, swish everything around, then lift out the inner basket and
dump the water. Return the basket, put the top on the spinner and spin the leaves dry.
The Well-Dressed Salad
Green salads should be dressed just before they're served, especially if you're using a
particularly acidic dressing such as a vinaigrette, which will wilt the leaves into sad little
heaps in minutes. Just sprinkle the dressing--don't dump it--over the greens (glass or
porcelain bowls are better than wood) and toss until the leaves are glistening and ready
Should you happen to run across some spectacularly fresh, flavorful greens, the
simplest dressing may be best--just good olive oil, perhaps, and a few grinds of fresh
pepper. If you'd like something with a bit more punch, try one of these simple
vinaigrettes. They work on any combination of greens you can imagine.
This dressing is rather tart, so use it sparingly. Leave the garlic whole if you prefer a
more subtle flavor.
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in a glass jar. Cover tightly and shake until well blended. Store in
refrigerator. Shake before using.
* Makes 2 cups.
Prepare Basic Vinaigrette, adding 1/4 cup tightly packed minced fresh herb leaves such
as parsley, basil, dill, cilantro or mint--or a combination. Or add 1/2 teaspoon dried
tarragon, oregano or basil.
Prepare Basic Vinaigrette, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons each thinly sliced scallions and