It’s Summer. Herbs Are Abundant. Put Them In Your Salads.
Most people seek flavor through dressing up their salads with drizzles of various sorts, but adding greens that have their own flavor can change everything.
Lettuce, especially romaine—or often a spring mix—is the unheralded warrior of our ubiquitous salads. As such, most people seek flavor through the dressing, something zippy with lemon or a creamy blue cheese, or the toppings, spicy radishes, sweet citrus, nutty pumpkin seeds. But the greens, the actual leaves in your salad, can add complex flavor and interest, too.
A head of iceberg is pure watery texture; dandelion greens are bitter; arugula, almost peppery, spinach-like pure, dense chlorophyll, and sorrel, a wild imitation of lemon. And in the summer, if you add the abundant fresh herbs to whatever greens you have on hand—well, that creates an even deeper cultivation of aroma and spice.
Here are a few guidelines for how to integrate herbs into your salads.
BASIL: An obvious choice is basil, with fresh leaves that brighten many a caprese, but also mingle well with greener companions. As Richard Olney writes in his classic, Simple French Food, basil “forms an exciting alliance with a number of other herbs and salad greens—rocket [arugula], purslane, dandelion, leaf thyme, hyssop…” But be warned, “Tarragon and dill should be kept out of its reach.”
PAIRS WELL WITH: Tomatoes, eggplant, fruit (melons, strawberries, citrus), lemon, garlic, onion, and balsamic vinegar.
TARRAGON: Tarragon’s licorice undertones are wonderful with parsley and chives, though it’s generally too distinct to meld with other herbs. The trio is so substantial, it doesn’t even require lettuce, as evidenced by the salad Chef Suzanne created to accompany Plated’s Tomato Galette recipe shipping in July.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Carrots, shallots, mustard, asparagus, green beans, chicken, and tomatoes.
ITALIAN PARSLEY: Gets along with most herbs. It’s fresh and lightly bitter, lending balance to any dish it joins.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Thyme, garlic, onion, celery, lemon, grains like bulgur wheat or quinoa (for a tabbouleh), nuts, dried fruit, and parmesan. DILL: Heavenly when mixed with mint (which also plays well with basil and parsley and many of their affinities). This combination enlivens a bowl of greens, giving a little more variation to each bite by introducing the occasional burst of flavor.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Cucumber, potato, peas, asparagus, mustard, and salads with a mayo or cream base.
CILANTRO: While some find cilantro soapy, it can also bring a citrus-like brightness and gentle bitterness to your salad.
PAIRS WELL WITH: Avocado, corn, lime, mint, tomato, chili peppers, red onion; also, soy, sesame, peanut, and ginger.
Though we’ve given you suggestions for how to use herbs in more substantial salads, they can hold their own simply mixed with a few greens for a side salad. Just remember to use soft, tender herbs instead of tougher varieties like oregano, sage, and rosemary. Stick to vinaigrettes. Avoid heavier dressings that will overpower the herbs—though, adding fresh herbs to a dressing, like a creamy dill, or making a pesto vinaigrette can be nice. But if you’re going that route, let the dressing be your herbaceous contribution, no need to add extra leaves. Throw them in whole and by the handful. Pepper your kale with lemon thyme.
It’s time to start clipping from those window boxes and summer gardens.