How to Make a Perfect Spring Salad
With winter’s chill in the rearview mirror and spring flowers in bloom, it’s a perfect time to lighten up the dinner routine with a simple spring salad. And when I say simple, I mean simple. Stick to these 4 steps and you’ll have a wonderful salad to grace your table in no time.
1. Use fresh, organic greens, and buy local whenever possible
Eating well isn’t rocket science. When lettuce and other greens are fresh, they taste best. If you can buy your greens as close to the source as possible, they’ll contain far more nutrients than greens sitting at the grocery store for a week or more. And whenever possible, buy organic greens and skip the pesticides.
Usually when I think of spring salads, I envision small, tender leaves of mixed “baby” lettuces (often called “Mesclun”). Mixed baby lettuces are the perfect way to welcome spring. But any young greens will do: spicy arugula, delicate butter lettuce, hearty baby kale, and young romaine are just a few others to try. Mix it up and find your own favorite!
When your ingredients are fresh, let them shine! A salad should be a simple composition of a few fresh ingredients. Overdoing it with multiple elements usually results in an overly-complicated mix of flavors that tend to blend and mask each other. Avoid that pitfall by remaining loyal to a few ingredients. Try simple combinations such as thinly-sliced radishes and asparagus with shaved parmesan, a green salad of sweet peas and fava beans, strawberries and toasted almonds with crumbled goat cheese, or grilled shrimp with feta. The combination of ingredients is endless, so let the market be your guide and select the best seasonal items available.
Make your own vinaigrette
I’m amazed at the number of friends I have with store-bought salad dressings in their fridge. Even the best brands pale in flavor to dressings made at home. Once you discover how easy (not to mention economical) it is to make your own vinaigrette, you’ll never buy another bottled concoction.
Making homemade vinaigrette is fast and simple. In its most basic form, it consists of (1) oil, (2) an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, (3) an emulsifier like Dijon mustard, and (drum roll) (4) salt & pepper. For an extra ‘pop’ you can add in minced garlic or shallot, or for a touch of sweetness you can add a bit of honey or agave syrup. Typically, vinaigrette contains a ratio of 3 to 1 oil to vinegar/acid (or 2 to 1 if you like a more acidic dressing like I do). Here’s one of my favorite go-to vinaigrette recipes:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine, champagne, or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
Pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper
Place all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously. Easy peasy.
Unless you’re using a heartier green like mature kale, it’s best to serve a salad right after it’s tossed with dressing. If you’re feeding a crowd, here’s a great tip: pour your vinaigrette in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Place the salad ingredients on top of the vinaigrette. When you’re ready to serve, just toss!
Guest Blogger Heidi Drygas was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew up in and around the waters of the Chena River. A lawyer by day and self-taught home cook at night, she is passionate about cooking and creating tasty, uncomplicated food. She is also a firm believer in buying local produce and products whenever possible, and is an avid fisherwoman. She currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her trusty terrier, Milo. Find Heidi’s recipes at www.chenagirlcooks.blogspot.com.