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From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Salad Basics II

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

how to make saladsSome years back, I read a cookbook which started with the author being asked for a recipe for egg salad. My reaction was akin to the author’s: You need a recipe for egg salad? In fact, I find it hard to imagine needing recipes for salads at all. Oh, maybe there’s a specific combination of ingredients for a classic salad, such as a Waldorf (apples, walnuts and celery) or a taco salad (avocado, chips, beans, cheese, spiced meat, tomatoes, black olives and lettuce). But how you combine said specific ingredients has more to do with how you like your Waldorf salad or the odds of that half can of black beans getting pushed to the back of the fridge never to see daylight again, which is why I tend to use the whole can even when there are only two of us eating.

We’re learning how to cook without recipes here because it’s faster and easier to just cook rather than look up what you’re doing every other minute and measure out just so much of this or that. Salads are an easy way to practice throwing stuff together. They are also a very easy way to get dinner on the table with a  minimum of muss or fuss. Depending on your base ingredient, you may not need to cook anything. Or you may just use one pan.

The nice thing about salads, especially those using greens or healthy grains as a base, is that you feel really virtuous serving them. Be careful. If you ladle on the dressing like it’s soup, you’re adding boatloads of calories for no good reason. Most salads, even those serving up to eight people only need a couple tablespoons or so of dressing. And let’s not even talk about chicken or potato salads drenched in mayonnaise. Okay, let’s talk about them because they are really, really tasty, but not so good for the waistline or arteries. And eating healthier is one of the reasons we’re learning how to cook.

I put together this infographic as a basic blueprint for salad making. Even though I list dressing as the last step, as noted in my last post on salads, you make the dressing first, right in the bowl you will mix your salad components in. But before you figure out what dressing to use, it helps to know what kind of salad you’re making.

Step One – Choose the base. Got some leftover chicken? Shred it for chicken salad (which you can serve on a tomato if you can get decent ones this time of year). Cook up some brown rice one night, let it cool, then make a rice salad. Greens as a base do not keep well, so if you’re using lettuce and/or spinach, make sure you only use what you can eat. Actually, salads don’t generally keep well. Nobody waxes enthusiastic over day-old potato salad. But once the lettuce hits the dressing, you’ve only got a matter of hours before it gets all wilted and even slimy. Grain-based salads do better as leftovers, but you still don’t want to go too long before finishing your pasta salad.

Step Two – Add your incidentals. This can be largely a matter of what’s in the fridge, although I recommend using juicier ingredients like tomatoes and cucumber with green salads, since you’re going to eat it right away. Otherwise, the cuke or tomatoes will let go of their juice and make everything really watery.

Step Three – Pick your dressing and mix it in the bowl. Mayonnaise dressings are usually most popular with starchy bases, such as pasta or potatoes, but oil and vinegar work, too. Same with meat-based salads, such as chicken or tuna (which isn’t technically a meat, but close enough). Try adding some pickle relish for flavoring.

You will need to clean your veggies. You can cut lettuce, but do make sure you’ve dried it by wrapping it in a lint-free towel and letting it drain or using a salad spinner. Chop everything into bite-sized bits, toss them together with the dressing and you’re done.

7 thoughts on “From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Salad Basics II”

  1. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)

    I don’t know why salads mystify me so much! I have to admit I buy more often than I make. Thanks for these tips!

    1. Well, if you’re used to relying on recipes, salads can be mystifying. But usually, it’s just a matter of looking in the fridge. Glad to be of help.

  2. I’m with you, salads are easy and don’t really require a ton of fuss, more times than not whatever is available ends up in a salad.

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