I confess…I am a salad-making sinner. I like my salads to feel like a real meal, filling, something of substance that I can scoop up, even with a spoon. I have a special way I prepare all my salads and it works great for large parties, and for getting extra greens into the kids.
Now I have a way more sophisticated brother, Nicholas, who spent years in France and who falls of the much finer side of cooking and dining. He prepares his salads using either the whole lettuce leaf, or if torn, done so gently, but still left in large pieces. He says this is the proper way to serve a salad. I’m sure he’s right.
But okay…. try to look cute and impress your date while wrestling a leaf of lettuce the size of a cat’s head into your mouth … and do this gracefully, without splattering oil on your fine silk blouse. You can cut gently, but that gets awkward if the lettuce is defiant, holding on to the plate, refusing to be cut, then suddenly letting go, causing your knife and fork to send the lettuce shooting off your plate. Finally, if the salad is not tossed, you have to find a way to get the dressing on all your salad without making this a distracting project that keeps you from having charming conversation.
So I have developed a method of salad-preparation that solves all these issues and has added benefits!
- Your guests will find this easy to eat and they will be utterly full when through!
- With each bite, you will get the satisfying flavor of the dressing without needing to struggle for the flavor.
- You can customize each salad — easily — for guests that have dietary restrictions.
- You will get twice the greens into your kids.
- If you are having salad as a main course for a luncheon, you can get all the work done ahead of time, until the plating.
Here is how I prepare my salads…
I gently separate all my lettuce leaves and soak them about 10 minutes in a tub of water with vinegar & salt just to make sure they are really clean.
I then tear them tenderly into smaller pieces and place them in a salad spinner (the greatest thing since grated cheese!). I spin until completely dry… (nothing worse that watery, drippy lettuce on a plate.)
So, my lettuce is washed and dried and I can set it aside in the fridge until I am ready to continue. I usually place the greens in a large bowl and cover with a damp tea towel until you are ready to put your salad together.
Tip: I like to store individual portions of cleaned lettuce in baggies, sucking the air out of each baggie but not tightly enough to bruise, then tie the baggie air-tight and keep in my vegetable drawer for a later day. Voila! Instant salad.
I have all my salad toppings ready and handy. These I prepare long before my guests arrive so I have little pressure at meal time. For example, if I am using carrots, I have them already lightly steamed & sliced (Carrots are easier to eat and healthier lightly steamed). If using chicken, unless I am grilling it, I have it poached and pulled. In one photo on this posting you can see I used a lovely pear in my salad and I had it sliced and ready to go. Same with the hard-boiled egg, already cooked, peeled and at the ready.
Putting it all together! This is the most important part of the process.
When it’s time to plate up and serve, I measure out two large handfuls per person of lettuce and place into a large, large bowl. Make each handful really hearty bunches, more than would fit on a plate before chopping.
I sprinkle about half dressing I think I will need, measuring about 2 tablespoons per person. (Go light! Dressing is like hair cuts, in reverse. Once the hair is cut, you can’t put it back. And once you’ve added too much dressing, you can’t take it out. ) I can place dressing on the table .
Here’s the ticket! Holding the bowl with my left hand (I am right-handed) I start cutting my lettuces up furiously, with scissors. That’s right, scissors, the kind you get at the dollar store or office supply. The cheap ones. Nothing fancy, as long as they cut. I can’t live without scissors in a kitchen.
I use a system of cutting and turning the bowl, I go fast, developing a sort of rhythm, cut…turn…mix a little; cut…turn…mix a little. I do this until the salad is reduced by nearly half, the leaves appear bite-size or smaller, the dressing is incorporated but not too heavy. You do not want the salad to be wilted.
As I have my plates lined up and all my toppings at hand, the rest is simple.
Then I fill each plate all the way to the sides and lay on my toppings in a way that I think looks pretty.
Tip: If you have guests with special diet requirements, it’s easy to cater to them by simply keeping out certain items. If someone can’t eat nuts, leave the nuts off that plate! I once had 8 women over and one had just learned she was diabetic, so for her plate, I simply added more tomatoes, nuts, egg, and left off the potatoes and croutons! Everyone was happy.