Salad days: fresh greens and home­made dress­ing

Take ad­van­tage of the sea­son with a va­ri­ety of fresh greens and a sim­ple, home­made dress­ing


Igrew up in an era of dodgy sal­ads. Pic­nics in­volved three-bean salad dumped straight from the tin and doused in vine­gar. No large gath­er­ing was com­plete without a jel­lied salad, usu­ally so stud­ded with pineap­ple chunks and mini marsh­mal­lows it verged on dessert. Green salad was ice­berg let­tuce drowned in a sug­ary red dress­ing that re­sem­bled thin ketchup. Lit­tle won­der I turned to bak­ing.

To­day, sal­ads are far more en­tic­ing. Farmers mar­kets and gro­cery stores of­fer a wide range of leafy greens, hearty cab­bages and even a va­ri­ety of kale. Restau­rants of­fer salad bowls that are com­plete meals.

It’s Easy Be­ing Green

If you want to branch beyond ice­berg and ro­maine, con­sider these the next time you shop for pro­duce.

Ten­der let­tuces: Bos­ton, bibb and but­ter­head let­tuce look a bit like a cross be­tween ice­berg and ro­maine but are more ten­der and have a but­tery taste. Their light colour and del­i­cate flavour pair well with dark, spicier greens like arugula or radic­chio.

The Chicories: En­dive, frisée and radic­chio fall into this cat­e­gory. Loved (or hated) for their bit­ter­ness, chicories can add vis­ual ap­peal and tex­ture to sal­ads, as well as some bite. Prickly frisée con­trasts with ten­der leaves, while ruby and white radic­chio adds colour. Pale en­dive com­ple­ments any dark green.

The Ba­bies: Young and ten­der, baby arugula, spinach and kale can be used in­ter­change­ably in most sal­ads. Not only are these young leaves less pun­gent than their full-grown coun­ter­parts, they are low-main­te­nance. They don’t need to be chopped, and baby kale doesn’t need to be mas­saged.

Buy­ing and Stor­ing

Re­gard­less of which greens you buy, look for fresh pro­duce that isn’t wilted or dam­aged. Once home, re­frig­er­ate sealed pack­ages of greens right away. If you bought your greens in bunches, rinse them in cold wa­ter and then spin them dry in a salad spin­ner or pat them dry in tow­els. Re­frig­er­ate in a loose plas­tic bag lined with dry pa­per tow­els to ab­sorb ex­cess mois­ture. They should keep for up to a week.

Five El­e­ments of Salad Dress­ing

Home­made salad dress­ing is one of those lu­di­crously sim­ple items that makes you won­der why you don’t make it more often. It takes all of two min­utes, re­quires no spe­cial­ized equip­ment and can be fine­tuned to suit any palate. No mat­ter what type of dress­ing you’re after, most con­tain these ba­sic el­e­ments:

1 Oil: Olive oil is my pref­er­ence, but a neu­tral-tast­ing oil, such as canola, grape­seed or saf­flower work well. Sesame oil and roasted nut oils can be over­pow­er­ing on their own, so mix them in equal parts with your plain oil of choice. Tra­di­tion­ally, the oil to acid ra­tio is 3:1, but I pre­fer 2:1 or even equal parts oil and acid.

2 Acid: Plain white vine­gar is a bit harsh. Less ag­gres­sive al­ter­na­tives in­clude bal­samic, red wine, white wine, ap­ple cider, sherry or even cham­pagne vine­gar. Fresh lemon juice can be sub­sti­tuted for some or all of the vine­gar while a splash of lime juice goes well with cit­rus-based sal­ads.

3 Sweet: To bal­ance the acid, add some sweet. You can use white ta­ble sugar, but you’ll add more flavour with co­conut sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, ap­ple juice, frozen or­ange juice con­cen­trate or even jam.

4 Salt: A gen­er­ous pinch or two is usu­ally enough. If you’re cut­ting back on salt, skip it in the dress­ing and let din­ers add some fin­ish­ing salt at the ta­ble.

5 Aro­mat­ics: These op­tional ad­di­tions bring the dress­ing to life. Minced fresh herbs, shal­lots, cit­rus rind, black pep­per and/or gar­lic add flavour and va­ri­ety. A pinch of mus­tard will keep the dress­ing emul­si­fied.

For a creamy dress­ing, add a ta­ble­spoon or two of may­on­naise, sour cream, Greek yo­gurt or but­ter­milk.

Shake it up, baby!

Com­bine all the in­gre­di­ents in a small ma­son jar with a tight-fit­ting lid and shake to com­bine. If us­ing a small bowl, whisk the oil into the other in­gre­di­ents. Dip a piece of let­tuce in the dress­ing to taste and ad­just as nec­es­sary. Store any un­used dress­ing in the re­frig­er­a­tor.

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