Often when friends get together, I offer to bring a dish. I consider myself a pretty decent cook, so for a long time, I would oblige (but not be flattered) when someone asked me to bring a salad instead of some fabulous side item. However, after many years I have come to realize that I am a pretty darn good salad maker, and people ask me to bring a salad so that they don't just have lettuce and a bottle of pre-made dressing for guests. Hostess Tip #9 - Learn to make your own amazing salad.
Making good salads are pretty simple with these two steps. First: Use fresh ingredients, and stick with the ones you love. My go to ingredients are:
Romaine lettuce/bagged spring mix
Fresh sliced tomatoes
Red or green or yellow peppers, sliced
Reduced fat/fat free feta cheese(could also swap for shredded Parmesan cheese)
And the second step is this: make your own salad dressing. Even if you are in a pinch and can't use fresh ingredients, and just buy a bag of mixed greens with carrots and veggies in it, a homemade salad dressing makes it a better salad. And there are only four ingredients you need for any salad dressing:
Vinegar (red wine, white wine, or balsamic are my staples)
Salt (I usually use garlic salt)
The key to a good salad dressing is proportion between the ingredients. The salt and pepper is used to enhance the natural flavors of the fresh vegetables. The ratio of oil and vinegar is really more of a personal preference.... start with 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1/8-1/4 cup of vinegar. If you like your salad to have a bite, use 1/4 cup of vinegar. If you want it more mild, only use 1/8 cup. I make salads so often now that I just swirl them both over the lettuce in the bowl and don't measure. It just takes practice in knowing the ratio you like best.
Need a little more flavor in your dressing? A bonus step: Add herbs and spices from your kitchen. Basil is standard in Italian dressings, oregano is standard in Greek dressings. If you are doing a southwest salad, add a little cilantro and cayenne pepper (just a dash) for some good flavor. I also love earthy spices like rosemary and sage when using the heavier balsamic vinegar. Simply add a sprinkle or two of your favorite herbs to the top of your salad before tossing. Their flavors will be enhanced with the blending of oil and vinegar.
Have any good salad dressing recipes or tips to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit, or check out my next post on the Best Of: Salad Dressings - all my favorite go-to recipes for that special occasion!