07 Jul Tips on How to Make a Salad

Cooking Tips

Tips on How to Make a Salad

7 July 2020

Not many beginner cooks are confident in their ability to assemble and dress a salad in an appetising way. I suspect that part of this problem is that it is always a rush to get the salad onto the table while trying to do everything else.  Another barrier can be knowing how to select and prepare super fresh, colourful and appetising ingredients.  

Elizabeth David in her chapter on Hors D'Ouevre and Salads in her book, Summer Cooking, tells us that there are only three absolutely essential rules to be observed:

1. The lettuce must be very fresh

2. The vinegar in the dressing must be reduced to the absolute minimum.

3. The dressing must be mixed with the salad only at the moment of serving.

Read on for an explanation of these.


1. Lettuces and Leaves

Making a salad of any kind is not a prompt to empty the bottom of your fridge into your salad bowl and cross your fingers.  The ingredients for the very best tasting and visually interesting salads are purposefully selected.

The freshest and most interesting leaves and other salad ingredients of course come from your garden.  Next best are from a farmers market.  Alot of people have access to neither I know.  There are many excellent fresh fruit and vegetable stores and larger markets - and you need to invest time scrutinising which are the most dependable.  Supermarkets these days are making more of an effort with their selection of organic leaves, varieties of lettuce and fresh herbs.  Beware though that these often come out of cold storage and no matter how satisfied you may be with their appearance at purchase, generally they do not keep well.

Lettuces vary in availability according to the season - Look out for Coz, IceBerg, Butter Lettuce, Radicchio, Escarole, Endive, Frisee, and Mustard leaves - select for freshness, seasonality, colour and texture.

When buying whole heads of lettuce be sure to check the base where it attached to the stalk.  This should be firm and dry with only the slightest browning at most.  A few outside wilted leaves are acceptable.  A droopy lettuce or one with bruised or discoloured leaves is not!

Bags of prepared lettuce  leaves and mixes are readily available.  Check them carefully and do not buy if there are any crushed, bruised, brown or weeping leaves inside the pack.

2. Small Selection of Raw Vegetables

Avocado, cucumber, radish and tomato are my favourites. Shavings of fennel, slices of carrot and celery hearts, young onions sliced ; Slices of creamy avocado or crunchy snow peas or sugar peas, all work well in a garden salad.  Just stick to what is in season and what looks freshest.  Stick to only a couple of different ingredients.  The addition of these raw vegetables to a plain leaf salad are what makes it a garden salad and when added with restraint they provide lovely visual interest and texture to the leaves.

3. Extra Herbs, Flowers, Buds and Leaves

The flavour of fresh herbs and interesting flowers and leaves truly transform the flavour and the final look of your salad.  You really can grow most of these yourself.  Farmers markets often have them too.  Ones to look out for include lemon balm, mint, chives, chervil, tarragon, , celery leaf, rocket, baby leaves of beet root or spinach,  fennel fronds, mint, parsley, pea shoots.  Viola flowers, pea or broad bean flowers, flowering rocket and marigold petals.

4.Extra Virgin Olive OIl

There are no two ways about it - buy and use the very best that you can afford.   Try and shout yourself a 2 litre carton with a tap for the freshest and best value oil.

Extra virgin olive oil should taste fresh and clean with a peppery finish and the colour should be green or gold.

Check the use by dates.  Steer away from products that do not provide a use by date.

5. Salt 

Just a teaspoon dissolved in the lemon juice or vinegar.  Stick to either Kosher salt or fine sea salt.

6. ACID 

I mostly prefer lemon juice.  Unless you are absolutely certain of a vinegar that you love.

Classically Italian dressings are made with a premium red wine vinegar.

Balsamic vinegars do not feature in vinaigrettes.

The French like to use herb flavoured vinegars such as Tarragon Vinegar - be sure to taste first!


1. Wash the Ingredients thoroughly

Wash your leaves carefully and as close to the time of using them as possible.

Whole lettuces keep better than when deconstructed.  It is often convenient though to prepare lettuces in advance to save space in the fridge and time closer to serving the meal.  Wrap washed and trimmed leaves in a clean, dry tea towel and store in the crisper compartment of the fridge.

No matter what it says on the packet of leaves you have purchased - always wash packaged leaves.  Sometimes you will be amazed that they need several changes of water!

Do not soak your ingredients in a sink of water.  Be sure to wash them well in as many changes of water as you need and dry them straight away - ideally in a salad spinner.  If the ingredients are wet - the dressing cannot adhere to them.

2. Prepare the dressing

Select a large, wide. shallow bowl to make the dressing in.  It should be large enough to hold most of the salad ingredients too.

Use a whisk or a wooden fork to combine the dressing ingredients.

Start with 1 part acid to 4 - 6 parts extra virgin olive oil for the vinaigrette, with a teaspoon of salt.

Be sure to taste the dressing and adjust it before you dress the salad - you may need to add a little more acid or some salt to get the best flavour balance.  

To tase your dressing - just dip your finger into it or a leaf or two.

ASsembly and Serving

1. Dress the Salad

Dress the salad at the very last minute before serving.

Use your hands to dress the salad.

Your hands allow you to feel the quantity of dressing on the ingredients.  This is the surest way to dress the ingredients evenly.

Start with dressing about 1/3 of the ingredients - transfer these to the serving bowl and dress the next handful of ingredients by tossing them in the salad bowl.  Continue accordingly.  This will prevent you with ending up with a limp overdressed salad.

2. Assemble in the Salad bowl

Choose a shallow bowl or a platter to serve the salad.

Centre them in the middle of the plate.

Lift them with your hands - arranging them attractively so that all of the ingredients are visible.

Serve with salad servers or a large spoon and fork.

3. Serve immediately

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