Secrets of the Salad Queen
I love salad. I love making salad. I love eating salad. People love my salad. People always ask me to bring salad.
What’s my secret? Simple: the right balance of flavors and textures. And the flavors, big surprise, come from the ingredients and the right combination of those ingredients.
The following is a collection of helpful hints and ingredient combination suggestions.
Oil & Vinegar: Rule of Thumb
A good rule of thumb is two (2) parts oil to one (1) part acid (e.g., vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, etc.). If you want it zingier without adding spice, use more vinegar but be prepared to add some sweetener (e.g., sugar, honey, agave, etc.) to cut the acidity.
Reducing vinegar is a good way to decrease acidity and increase sweetness. It also creates a really creamy dressing and the emulsion stays blended longer.
When you use a reduction, you can decrease the amount of oil to one (1) part. Reductions work best with sweeter vinegar (e.g., balsamic), but adding a little sugar encourages faster reduction.
Three (3) parts apple cider vinegar (ACV), one (1) balsamic and a half (0.5) part sugar makes a really great flavor.
- use a small pot (I use a Turkish coffee pot)
- cook over medium high heat (should roil a little but not boil)
- stir regularly and do not leave the stove (burnt vinegar is horrid stuff to smell your house up with)
- watch for thickening on the stirring implement (I use a small silicon spatula)
- thicken to taste (yes, taste it as it reduces)
Mayonnaise works well with some salads, but not with others. For instance, it doesn’t work so well with Southeast Asian salads, but works really well with Eastern European salads.
Yogurt or Sour Cream
Yogurt and sour cream both work well for creamy salad dressings. I prefer yogurt; one, for its lower calorie count, and two, because it’s cheaper.
Surprising Dressing Ingredients
Substitute for oil or as add-on:
- artichoke marinade (the liquid that comes with artichoke hearts)
- eggplant marinade (Italian style, spicy or plain)
- olive marinade (like Sicilian spicy oil)
Substitute for vinegar or as add-on:
- pickle juice (sweet, dill, garlic, etc.)
- olive juice (not American black olives; Kalamata for dirtier flavor, queen or Manzanilla for cleaner flavor)
Herbs, Spices & Main Ingredients
The following should not be considered recipes, but merely a selection of ingredients to choose from to make a tasty, stylized salad. Some of the ingredients may not be traditional to a region, but I use them because they’re easy to come by, round out the flavor and provide the mouthfeel I’m looking for.
I’ve listed ingredients that I normally have on hand; there are WAY more that you could use, depending on availability and the work you want to do (like, I’m sure you could do a tasty rice wine vinegar reduction with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass…).
Sometimes sweet is good with spicy, too, so add a couple pinches of sugar at a time to a dressing you find too spicy at first taste.
Salt and black pepper to taste should be used in all salads.
- Base: tahini, lemon, olive oil, yogurt
- Flavors: coriander, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger; cinnamon can also be added, but sparingly as it can be very overwhelming
- Ingredients: chick peas, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, celery, greens, artichoke, Kalamata/Moroccan olives, goat cheese, couscous
- Base: olive oil, balsamic or white wine vinegar, lemon, yogurt
- Flavors: flat leaf parsley, basil, oregano, garlic, paprika; thyme or sage in small amounts, because the flavors can be overwhelming
- Ingredients: cheese (feta, parmesan, asiago, manchego, mozzarella, goat cheese), tomato, sweet and green bell peppers, cucumber, greens, arugula, artichoke, Kalamata/Moroccan/green olives
- Base: peanut oil, sesame oil (very small amounts as it’s strong-flavored), rice wine vinegar (spiced or not), lemon or lime, miso paste (takes some work to mix it up with the rest of the dressing)
- Flavors: cilantro, parsley, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, wasabi
- Ingredients: black beans, sesame seeds (toasted or plain), cashews, peanuts, broccoli, cabbage, carrots (thin slices or julienne), crisp lettuce, bean sprouts, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, radish, green papaya
- Base: vegetable or olive oil, lemon/lime, yogurt
- Flavors: cayenne pepper, paprika, cilantro; and
- coriander, cumin, turmeric; or
- madras curry powder, garam masala
- Ingredients: chick peas, lentils, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, celery, carrots (chopped or grated)
Northern / Eastern European
- Base: vegetable or olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon, mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream
- Flavors: parsley, thyme, dill, paprika, oregano, onion powder
- Ingredients: cabbage, kale, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, celery, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chopped or grated carrots, turnip/rutabaga, parsnip, apple, hard cheese (e.g., Gouda)
Caribbean / Latin American
- Base: olive, peanut or avocado oil; lemon/lime; white or apple cider vinegar; yogurt (think like a jerk spice mix with yogurt to help ease the heat)
- Flavors: jerk spices, cumin, coriander, oregano, cilantro, chili, garlic (roast or powdered used sparingly)
- Ingredients: black beans, quinoa, almonds, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage, tomato, crisp lettuce, avocado, mango, onions (caramelized are really tasty, especially when there is lots of spice)