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The Perfect Green Salad

Author:

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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Once Upon a Time

I was a child of the 1950s. Meat and potatoes (heavier on the latter) were the star of the show. The three vegetables whose existence we acknowledged (carrots, peas, and green beans) were an occasional guest. But there was always a green salad.

Green salad = iceberg lettuce and sliced radishes. (Insert eye roll emoji here.)

I don't blame my mom. Iceberg lettuce was the standard. It was readily available, cheap, and it lasted f-o-r-e-v-e-r in the refrigerator.

But was it a healthy substitute as a vegetable? Here are the cold hard facts.

One cup of shredded or chopped iceberg lettuce has:

A green salad should be a nutritious part of your meal, not an afterthought. It should have contrasting tastes and textures. Crisp, clean, bright, and light.

But there are also things that a green salad is not. If you want to toss in bacon crumbles, hard-cooked egg, shredded rotisserie chicken, fruits and veggies, and chopped nuts... those all sound wonderful. But now you have a main dish meal, not a green salad.

It's time to hit the reset button on the green salad.

Equipment You Will Need

  • Cutting board
  • Chef's knife
  • Salad spinner (not mandatory, but it will tremendously improve the quality of your life in the kitchen)

I personally own the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner and use it at least 4 times a week. It has served me faithfully for over 10 years, and it is one of my favorite kitchen tools. Admittedly, it is a tad pricey, but I think it is well worth the money. But if you can't afford the OXO, please don't deny yourself a salad spinner for your meal prep. I think any salad spinner would be preferable to having none at all.

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The Salad Greens

Many of us have fallen victim to the allure of convenience, and our salads have suffered for it. Cellophane bags and plastic clamshell boxes of pre-sliced, pre-diced, thrice-washed greens are a godsend when trying to put together a quick dinner for the starving masses (aka your family), but those convenient green nibbles are old and tired before they ever reach your salad bowl.

If you want the best salad greens, look for a full head. No, put down the iceberg. I'm talking about romaine, endive, bibb lettuce, napa cabbage, or baby bok choy to name a few.

Does breaking down a full head of lettuce seem overwhelming to you? Not sure where to begin? Watch this video and see how easy it can be.

The Support Staff

These are not mandatory, but the addition of any of these goodies will add more color, texture, and flavor to your bowl of greens. Typically, greens that are light in color are milder in flavor. The darker, more colorful greens are more assertive, with bitter, peppery, bold flavors so plan on adding just a little.

the-perfect-green-salad

To Be or Not to Be (Tomato or Not Tomato)?

Should the tomato be a fundamental part of every "green salad?" Many people would say yes, but I disagree.

Gertrude Stein wrote that "a rose is a rose is a rose," but a tomato is not always a tomato. Looks aren't everything, and sadly that is certainly true of the grocery store tomato. Yes, they are available 365 days of the year but do they always taste like a tomato? Are they sweet but with a bit of tang or is there as much flavor as a hunk of styrofoam? Are they meaty, or soft and mushy? Is the texture firm or mealy?

In my humble opinion, the only tomatoes that are worthy of placement on your perfect green salad are those that you have plucked from your backyard or purchased at your local farmers market. If those are not available, then I would suggest grape (aka cherry) tomatoes (sliced in half so that they will not zing across your plate as you attempt to catch them with your fork)...or nothing at all.

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The Dressing

My dearly beloved insists on creamy French dressing for his salad, and it doesn't matter what type of salad he is eating. (The emoji eye-roll is starting to get weary.) Some people swear by a creamy ranch, blue cheese, or mayonnaise-based dressings.

But what are you really tasting when you place a heavy, assertive dressing on simple salad greens? To my provincial way of thinking (and you are free to disagree), it's like dousing French fries with ketchup, covering everything on your breakfast with maple syrup, or insisting on salt-and-peppering your plate before taking a bite.

Do you want to taste the seasonings, or do you want to taste the food?

Rather than "cover up" the subtle flavors of your perfect salad greens, I'm suggesting that you add a gentle dressing that will enhance and elevate, not blanket and deflate, your perfect salad.

And this is why God created the vinaigrette.

Ingredients for the Perfect Dressing

You don't need a recipe for the perfect vinaigrette. Just remember 3:1. Three parts of oil to 1 part of acid. It's those simple folks. But, there's still room for a bit of fun and inventiveness here.

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The Oil

Anything labeled "salad oil" could work. This is the place for a neutral-tasting oil. (Save the sesame, walnut, or avocado oils for another time and place).

The Acid

Here's where we can be creative. I wouldn't recommend a white vinegar. If there is nothing else, apple cider could work in a pinch. But consider one of these, and the subtle flavors their origins provide:

  • balsamic
  • sherry
  • rice wine
  • raspberry

Part of the acid could be replaced with a citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime). Note that not all vinegars have the same intensity. Some have more "sour power" than others. Experiment to find exactly what proportion of oil plus acid works for you.

Seasonings

Salt and pepper are a natural choice. Want to liven it up a bit? I won't mind if you introduce some finely minced garlic or chives. A drop of honey might be the perfect high note to counterbalance a bold vinegar.

Mixing That Vinaigrette

You've no doubt heard the expression "oil and water don't mix" and when you are creating a vinaigrette, that is exactly what you are doing—mixing oil and water. But it can be done, with a process called emulsion.

A blender can certainly do the job. A food processor could handle the task as well. But I think the simplest method is to simply place your room temperature oil, acid(s), and seasonings in a jar with a good sealing lid. And then shake-shake-shake. Let it sit for a while (an hour or more is ideal), but don't refrigerate.

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Tossing the Salad

This is the final step and, did you know that you've probably been doing it wrong?

Do not pour the salad dressing on top of your greens and then toss. Instead, pour the dressing into the bottom of the bowl, place the greens on top, and then toss gently but thoroughly. To properly dress a salad you should plan on tossing (and tossing and tossing) for one minute. A salad fork and spoon work great, but impeccably clean hands will work too.

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 13, 2018:

Linda

I just checked the bottle we have in the fridge, and its a NZ product so it might not be that well known, then again considering NZ's main produce is Beef and Lamb irs not surprising they'd come up with it!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 13, 2018:

Lawrence, balsamic mint sounds amazing. I look on Amazon (where I thought you could find anything in the world) but alas there is none there. I guess I'll have to put on my thinking cap and make my own. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 13, 2018:

Linda

The salads look awesome, we have one with nearly every meal. I even made a salad for the steak pie and chips we had last night (hey, I was appointed 'cook' and no one had any ideas about what to make!)

We did have Iceberg lettuce, but we found a great dressing recently, Balsamic Mint!

Thanks for some fresh ideas here.

Lawrence

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 30, 2018:

Mary, thank you for that and yes I will certainly add this to the list for #40.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on June 30, 2018:

I normally have a salad as my lunch. I didn't know about putting the dressing on the bottom, I've been doing it all wrong. I normally have a vinaigrette dressing. Some of the kinds of vinegar I have tried are so strong, they feel like they burn my throat. I could have had the ratio wrong, I tend not to measure it, but will in the future.

I need to liven up my salads more, they are getting a bit boring.

What are your thoughts on hydroponic lettuce? Most of the local store bought lettuce is grown in this way. (you can answer in your Q & A).

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 30, 2018:

Your Dad was a wise man. I looked up that hub you mentioned; it's on the CalorieBee niche. Good ideas but she did make one error. She mentioned that she was losing energy by 10am because she was eating "vegetables for breakfast." Tomato and avocado are fruits.

Suzie from Carson City on June 29, 2018:

You know, Diva. I remember reading a Hub here a long time ago, entitled: " What Happened When I Started Eating Salad for Breakfast".

Too long ago to recall the author but I'm sure it's easy to find. Furthermore, I HAVE had salad for breakfast....just as we sometimes have had Breakfast for dinner.

When we did that as kids, our Dad would always say, "Your stomach has no idea what time it is...eat what you want!!" Well, he was right!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 29, 2018:

Paula, your salads sound divine. I especially like garbanzo beans and hard cooked egg. It's only 7am here, and you've made me hungry for a salad. Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

I hope you have a wonderful day and weekend.

Suzie from Carson City on June 28, 2018:

OK! Now you're pulling me in to the table! Salads count as my favorite, quick, fresh, nutritional meal, lunch or dinner or both! Have been a salad lover since my youth. Like you, carb, there was a salad each evening with our dinner. I haven't made too many changes about the way our mother presented it.

No iceburg (I even ask "what kind of lettuce" when eating out) I love a combination of all the best salad greens, sweet onion, shaved carrot, tomato, cucumber, garbanzo beans, hard boiled egg, grated cheddar, swiss, romano or Parmesan, (occasionally bits of bacon, chicken breast or hard salami) The more additions, the better. If there are no rolls or home made bread on the table, I will add croutons to my salad. It's a thing of beauty and definitely delicious.!

As for my dressing~~I use ONLY Olive Oil & Vinegar/apple cider or red wine, generous shakes of blk pepper, garlic powder & a bit of sea salt. Bottled dressings in my fridge are used for foods other than green salad! Bleu Cheese for our wings, ranch as a veggie dip, french dressing on some sandwiches....but I could never drown out the taste of a fresh green salad with a heavy bottle dressing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 28, 2018:

I think you and I are twins. I'd rather taste the food, not the dressing or condiments. Enjoy your salad!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 28, 2018:

That salad looks absolutely splendiferous! I'm with you on the vinaigrette, Linda. And not much of it. I like my meat wet, but I like my salads a tad on the dry side.

Even when I add other veggies to salad, I always go heavy on the greens.

I can't remember the last time I had iceberg lettuce. It has absolutely no nutritional value. Crunch is about all it offers. I would venture to say it's a negative calorie food, as is celery, in that it takes more calories to chew it that it actually contains.

Now, I think I'll go make a salad.....

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 26, 2018:

Peg, my dad also referred to a green salad as "rabbit food." No doubt our fathers were of the same generation.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 26, 2018:

Flourish, I've not eaten at a Japanese restaurant in almost forever, but have some good friends who just returned from a week-long visit with their son and daughter-inlaw in Japan. I will ask them and do some research for you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 26, 2018:

Manatita, I love a good Greek salad. Very refreshing on these hot summer days. I'm glad that you reminded me of the garden tour. Maybe.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2018:

Thanks for this great tutorial on how to prepare a nutritious salad. I'm guilty of the Iceberg lettuce addiction. Didn't know it had so little nutrition.

Oh how I remember the meat and potatoes routine from childhood. My dad called any food that was green "rabbit food." He was heavy on the meat part requiring it with every meal. Our idea of salad back then was potato or macaroni salad with mayonnaise and pickle relish.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 26, 2018:

I love a good salad, carrots, cucumbers and croutons plus other thingsa yes but no tomatoes or onions. I always wondered what house dressing do they put on salads at Japanese restaurants like Kanpai? It’s amazing and I’d love to recreate it or buy it but don’t know what it is.

manatita44 from london on June 26, 2018:

Well, I usually toss on tap. Poor me. Your tossing with the salad on top makes more sense. I note also that your salad is greener than my own. I mix too many things. Still, the Greeks helps me out. Ha ha.

Are you ready to give us a tour of your garden as yet? Have a great day.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 25, 2018:

Linda I have some twirly pasta and some tuna fish. So the salad/dinner will be our mixed (we love them so much) The fancy pantsy cabbage carved out. (tomorrow coleslaw) stuffed including some spinach and carrot.

Dressing to be determined. And I hope no cut while he carves out - but you have to let go with the hand on the bandages.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 25, 2018:

Well gosh, Bill you've got me laughing. Oxymoron indeed. Have a great day my friend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 25, 2018:

The perfect green salad? Isn't that an oxymoron????

I'm howling! How about you? I might as well go out on the lawn and just graze.

I'm sorry I'm such a pain, Linda!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 25, 2018:

Eric, I LOVED Julia Child. She wasn't afraid to show her mistakes. Once when a layer cake started to fall apart, Julia just scooped up a huge dollop of frosting and covered it all up. Parfait! She flipped an omelet and the thing was an eggy wreck. No problem. She just grabbed the spatula and smooshed it back together. Voila!

One of my favorite lines from her is, “Always remember: if you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” Compared to the perfect chefs of today, who serve up a “lifestyle” out of ordinary reach, Julia Child was perfect in her imperfection. She was human.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 25, 2018:

We love our salads. Or maybe do we love our dressings? Spinners are the bomb. (funny about that. Like noodles we really do not care about the moisture but like my clothe it is fun to reduce it) tonight he will make a dressing with Apple Cider Vinegar - ....

So cool about a jar. Thank you for that tip. And no refrigerating. I would have done that.

Thanks again.

So Julia Childs? What do you think of her?