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How To: The Perfect Salad

POSTED June 27, 2016
Salad 101: Master the Art of Fresh Flavor

Really, the idea of building the perfect salad sounds easy enough. Lettuce, check. Veggies, check. Something crunchy, check. Dressing, check. But what kind of lettuce? Which fresh produce items should I buy? Is there something more interesting that croutons to add some crunch? And the dressing… bottled or homemade? Often times we get stuck in the same tired routine, always making the same salad.

But, making the perfect salad is easier than you think. By mixing colors, textures and flavors with a homemade vinaigrette or dressing, you can build your dream salad in no time.

Lettuce & Salad Greens

Otherwise thought of as your salad’s “base,” leafy greens are a dime a dozen. While they may look similar, lettuces and salad mixes have their own, sometimes very different, flavor profiles. Whether you’re into crunchy, mild-flavored greens or heartier, protein-packed spinach leaves—there’s a combo for you. And these days, lettuce and salad mixes come pre-washed and packaged in the produce section, making the salad-making process even more convenient! 

ESCAROLE
Best when young and tender with a pleasantly bitter, firm bite.

ROMAINE
Crisp, slightly bitter with a prominent rib down the center of its leaves, giving a snappish crunch.

BUTTER LETTUCE (BOSTON/BIBB)
Delicate, mildly sweet leaves with a bushy appearance; a nice bed for numerous salad toppings and ingredients.

(RED & GREEN) LEAF
Ruffled, somewhat crisp and full of earthy flavor with a deep coloring.

WATERCRESS
Laden with crunchy stems, round dark green leaves and a bold peppery, nutty flavor.

RADICCHIO
Bitter, cabbage-style lettuce with a deep red coloring, white ribs and a super firm crunch. (Also good for cupping salads and other bites in its sturdy leaves.)

SPRING MIX (MESCLUN)
Loose, tender baby lettuce leaves with (typically) a bitter flavor tossed in a colorful mix.

ICEBERG
Super crisp leaves with a very mild flavor; valued more for its texture than taste.

ARUGULA (ROCKET)
Best when young, dark green in color with a full-flavored bitter and peppery bite.

SPINACH LEAVES
Bright green with a mild, slightly bitter flavor and ever-tender bite. (Be sure to rinse well, as it has a tendency to be gritty.)

Keep in mind…

  • When washing greens, do so gently by submerging them in a large bowl of cool water. Dry well—wet lettuce dilutes dressing and won’t allow dressing to cling to leaves.
  • It’s up to you on how to cut your lettuce, smaller bites or bigger leaves. But be sure to cut away any thick woody stems or tough ribs.
  • As a general rule, bitter lettuce varieties are best paired up with sweeter or more citrusy dressings like balsamic.

The Toppings

Now’s the time to show your personality & make a statement. Choose a theme & go for it! Start with three toppings (cheese optional!):

Italian Antipasto:

Sweet and smoky grilled artichoke hearts , buttery Castelvetrano olives, crunchy chickpeas, tangy cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, briny pepperoncini, genoa salami and a Parmesan crisp.

Imported Chickpeas
Castelvetrano Olives
Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Spicy Southwestern:

Pepperoni or chorizo, tangy Pepperazzi or sun-dried peppers, pepitas, tortilla strips and cotija.

Mini Pepperoni
Tri-color Pepperazzi™
Sun-Dried Peppers
Mediterranean Artichoke Salad

Greek Mezze:

Savory Calamata olives, Spicy-sweet pepper drops, crunchy cucumbers, herbaceous herb-coated salami, and feta.

Seasoned Calamata Olives
Sweet n Tangy Pepper Drops
Italian Herb Sausage

Dressings and Vinaigrettes

At DeLallo, we are all about the vinaigrettes, especially those made with our 100% Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Cold-pressed oils are best used crudo or raw, because their natural flavors shine through without being cooked out. Vinegars are plentiful and can range from balsamic and raspberry to apple cider and red wine. Like any other accoutrement, the dressing should serve to lightly complement the rest of the salad. By creating your dressing fresh, you’ll infuse your salad with light brightness that complements, rather than overpowering all those delicious toppings. And it’s totally not as hard as you’d think! A favorite way to mix up a homemade dressing is with a fork and a tall drinking glass (whisk it up!), or even a mason jar (seal & shake).

With a 1:3 ratio of acid (e.g. lime  or lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or golden balsamic vinegar to fat (e.g. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, it’ll come together deliciously. Try some of our favorites.

Green Goddess Dressing

Herb Dijon Dressing

Pineapple Citrus Dressing

Proteins (optional)

For some occasions, salads are more than just a side dish or light lunch, but their own entrée. Adding grilled shrimp, slices of roasted chicken or sautéed skirt steak can give your salads the hearty boost they need to fill you up. And for those who don’t eat seafood, poultry or meat, adding a hearty sprinkling of chickpeas or white beans to a salad can really up the ante.