5 Simple Tips for Smarter Salads

May  7, 2016

Today: Weeknight salads need a boost? Look no further. This article is brought to you by Oxmoor House. Head here to learn more about Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.

There are those tips and guidelines you can lean on, that have already done the heavy lifting for you when it comes to quicker weeknight meals (or, in this case, more meal-worthy salads). Often they come from food luminaries like Sara Moulton and her new cookbook Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.

Moulton, who's done everything from cheffing in restaurants and serving as the Food Editor for "Good Morning America" to starring in shows on Food Network and public television, has tested her fair share of recipes over the years. In Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101, she's shared a veritable trove of recipes and tips, many of the latter that apply to better salads.

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What I've gleaned is this: It's time to make salads work harder for you, without taking no for an answer. Here are five nuggets of wisdom I sleuthed out in her book, and how to apply them to the salad recipes you might already be making tonight:

1. Keep the juices from cooking steak and use it in your dressing.

There are a couple ways Sara suggests getting the most out of a steak you're planning to top a salad with. First, make sure to pre-salt the steak—and while this might sound like a given, the second tip is not so obvious. After you've taken your cut off the grill and let it rest, don't dump its juices: Save them for your dressing! This is especially helpful when you're making a topping that is creamy or mayo-based—the juices marry the meat with the dressing.

2. Make a vinaigrette on Monday that'll last you all week.

This weekday warrior will come together in five minutes and is infinitely customizable. All you need is three parts best-quality oil, one part acid (most of the time; acidity varies) salt and pepper, and a little Dijon mustard. Add it to a jar and give it a good shake, and taste as you go along. That way, you don't dirty any dishes and have a built in storage container. Scale it up or down for the clan you are feeding, and keep extra for an easy green salad addition to any weeknight.

3. Doubly season your spuds before tossing them in potato salad.

Make potato salad as it's meant to be: smacking of tang. This trick will turn out a more sharply-flavored salad and you will NEVER FEEL SMARTER with such little effort.

After you've boiled potatoes—do this while they are whole and cube or slice 'em after—toss them in a vinegar and salt wash while they're still warm. Then mix with the rest of your ingredients and dressing, creamy or not.

4. It's all about the greens.

Start using that spinner in the back of your closet on a regular basis—extra dry leaves let dressing adhere like you want it to. Sprinkle salt and pepper on before adding the dressing, which you should then spoon onto the salad and mix with your hands, not tongs or spoons; that way, you'll end up with crisp, crunchy greens instead of a sad, wilty mound! (Sara recommends a tablespoon of dressing for each 4 loose cups of lettuce, but you do you.)

5. Cut vegetables in different ways for different components of your salad.

Sara rightly points out that we're often cutting vegetables the same way for meals—chopping, slicing, mincing. If you take one vegetable from a meal and cut it differently, it can change the whole thing.

Take broccoli stalks for example: You can julienne them, cut them into coins, pulse it in a food processor—even though made with the same vegetable, they'd all lend different textures to the same salad. Sara's book includes a recipe contributed by chef Amanda Cohen (we're pretty big fans) that showcases broccoli carpaccio made from this oft-thrown out part. The shavings become fried ribbons to top a green salad and the bulk of the stalk is sliced lengthwise and prosciutto-thin—and just like that, it becomes worthy of an appetizer or salad course instead of bound for the waste bin.

This article is brought to you by Oxmoor House. Head here to learn more about Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bonnie
  • Samantha Weiss Hills
    Samantha Weiss Hills
I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Bonnie May 7, 2016
You said make dressing for the week. Just leave it on the kitchen counter for the week?
Author Comment
Samantha W. May 7, 2016
I would suggest storing it in the refrigerator and shaking it before adding to salad. The Dijon mustard may have ingredients that need to be kept in the fridge. I usually add a little water to my vinaigrette before shaking to keep it from solidifying too much when chilled.