This is the time of year to buy bunches of lettuce at the markets, not boxed versions, which may come from far away or be sitting on shelves for some time. It is also easy to grow your own in the garden or in window boxes. Remember to cut your lettuce at the base and leave the root so that it will regrow. I find arugula grows like a weed, but I also plant mizuna, tatsoi, various mustards, romaine and cress, which gives me lots of flavour choice.
To make a colourful, flavourful summer salad, use different combinations of lettuce and other ingredients, and add a dressing that enhances but does not drown the greens.
Greens should be gently rinsed in cool water to dislodge the dirt, then put in a salad spinner – a must in any kitchen – to dry them. I pop the dried lettuce into a plastic bag, placing some paper towel at the base and another in the middle. This helps keep the lettuce crisp. I wash enough for two or three salads at a time and refrigerate until ready to use.
For green salads, a light dressing is best. I like to squeeze on a few drops of lemon juice, drizzle on some good extra virgin olive oil and then dust the greens with kosher salt. If it scares you to go freehand, the ratio is usually three parts oil to one part citrus or vinegar.
If you prefer more of a proper salad dressing, make your own. They keep refrigerated for a few weeks, and will be healthier and cheaper than store-bought versions. This easy base can have other ingredients added to it, such as garlic, herbs, shallots, maple syrup or mashed avocado.
Whisk together one tablespoon Dijon mustard, which helps emulsify the dressing, three tablespoons wine vinegar or any other acid you prefer, ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste. I add pepper just before tossing the salad. If your dressing is too oily, add salt; it will help to eliminate the oily taste.
This vinaigrette can be made ahead and stored in a screw-top jar. Shake just before using to re-emulsify. It will firm up in the refrigerator, so take it out 30 minutes before you need it. But don’t add too much – salads will lose their freshness and become wilted if overdressed. Use about three tablespoons dressing for six cups of lettuce. And remember that although salads are usually low calorie, salad dressings are not.
To make your salad ahead of time, add the dressing to the bottom of the bowl and put the salad ingredients on top. Toss together just before serving.
Simple salads are lovely when the ingredients are perfect, but try these enhancements to add extra flavour, texture and colour:
Garlic, ginger, herbs (especially tarragon, my favourite), cooked beans and grains, cooked or raw vegetables, finely sliced red or green onion, cheeses and toasted grains, nuts or seeds for crunch. Toss a protein on top, such as cooked salmon, chicken, shrimp, tofu or cured meat, and your salad can be a meal.
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