There are as many kinds of salads as there are types of produce, and even salads that don’t really have anything to do with, well, salad (think chicken or tuna + mayo) but, we digress. When we’re thinking about dinner, especially in warmer months, it’s gotta be easily varied, quick to put on the table, and of course, flavorful. Unlike many other dishes, salads don’t require a recipe, and fit the bill for any weeknight dinner desires. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention that ordering Plated will always do the trick.) Everyone should know how to make a simple dinner salad, so we have some tips, tricks, and advice on how to put together your greens for your next dinner (or, dinner party).
Use what you have
This is an important rule in a really basic salad. If you have lettuce, and some oil and vinegar, guess what? You’ve got a salad. But seriously, use what you have. Making a salad can be as easy as looking in the fridge. We always like to keep a box of arugula, kale, romaine, or spinach in the refrigerator (cover it with a lightly damp paper towel to keep it fresh!) for a quick salad. Fruit is something we often have around, so if you have an apple, pear, or some citrus—throw that in the bowl. Just be sure to pair it with a nice zingy vinaigrette (like one of these) to cut some of the sweetness. If you’ve got some leftover salami or cheese in the fridge from wine and cheese night—chop that up and call it an antipasti salad.
Don’t be afraid to keep it simple
We’re reiterating here, we know, but it’s important! Some of the best salads are just a nice silky vinaigrette tossed into fresh crunchy leaves, maybe with some cherry tomatoes and chopped nuts. If you have time to jazz it up and add other ingredients, go for it, but if not, a simple salad with few ingredients will never disappoint.
Texture matters in all foods, but especially in salads, where things are almost always served raw. Texture also matters when combining salad ingredients. For example, butter lettuce is a soft, delicate leaf, so don’t pair it with anything that’s too heavy (chunks of cheese, large slices of apple, etc), or it will crush the leaves. But, we do like to combine less crispy lettuce varieties like arugula and butter lettuce with plenty of crunchy garnishes like sunflower seeds and chopped nuts. Kale, on the other hand, is very hardy and can stand up to all sorts of mix-ins, so if you’ve got them, go crazy! Cheese, chopped veggies, thicker, more substantial dressings, kale can handle it! Romaine is somewhere in the middle, as it’s got that signature crunch, but can wilt fairly easily.
Dress it up
If you’ve ever made a Plated salad, you’ll notice we pretty much always start by whisking the dressing in the bowl and then adding the ingredients in. This is for two reasons. One, whisking the ingredients together ensures they fully combine and, when you gradually whisk in the oil, it ensures that it will emulsify, making for a smooth, silky dressing that really comes together to coat your ingredients. Two, adding your salad TO the dressing makes it easier to entirely coat all your ingredients, just grab a pair of tongs and go to town! And, speaking of dressing, if you’re making a vinaigrette, you can’t go wrong with these ratios: 1 part vinegar (or another acid like lemon juice) to 3 parts oil. Feel free to mix and match this if you like a more or less acidic dressing. But, timing matters, which brings us to our next point…
Thou WILT not
Most salads can wilt easily, so if you’re preparing it ahead of time, we have a few ideas. Firstly, wait to combine all the ingredients until just before you serve—especially if some of them have high-water content and can risk sogginess (think tomato and cucumber). Secondly, if you do combine your ingredients into the dressing, wait to toss it until right before serving. This will keep everything crisp, tasty, and ready to go.
A recipe to get you started:
Lentil, Spinach and Snap Pea Salad with Slow-Roasted Salmon, Turmeric-Spiked Yogurt and Butter-Toasted Seeds
1 (1 1/2 pound) piece of skinless salmon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup olive oil
1 1/2 beluga lentils (or your favorite variety)
2 cups full-fat greek yogurt
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tsp pepper
Salt to taste
1/2 stick butter
1/8 cup whole fennel seeds
1/8 cup whole coriander seeds
1/8 cup whole cumin seeds
4 cups spinach or salad green of choice
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
2 cups sugar snap peas, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted
Preheat the oven to 300°. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on both side and place on a half sheet pan or in a baking dish.
Cover the salmon with the sliced lemons. Drizzle olive oil over the salmon. Slow roast for 20-30 minutes, until the salmon is barely cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
While salmon roasts, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously. Add lentils to the pot and reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cook lentils for approximately 20 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and drain lentils. Set aside.
In the meantime, whip up the turmeric-spiked yogurt. In a medium bowl, add the yogurt, turmeric, maple syrup, lime juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a small skillet or pan, melt butter and add the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Toast until browned and fragrant. Set aside.
Wash and dry spinach and herbs. In a large mixing bowl, toss spinach, herbs and snap peas together.
To plate, pool the yogurt onto the plate. Top the yogurt with spoonfuls of lentils. Top the lentils with the mixed greens and herbs and snap peas. Using your hands, break the salmon into large, chunky flakes and arrange on top of the greens. Drizzle the warm buttered seeds over everything. Garnish with pumpkin seeds.
Salt to taste and tuck in!
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