Tips & Techniques

For Well-Seasoned Green Salads, Follow These 2 Tips

April  4, 2017

Throwing together a green side salad seems idiot-proof—until you taste a truly great plate of well-seasoned, remarkably flavorful greens at a restaurant or a friend's house and think, "Well, what are they doing doing differently?"

In her newest cookbook, Dinner, Melissa Clark shares two smart ways to make simple leafy salads—which she serves with dinner "practically every single night"—stand out.

Photo by James Ransom

1. First, rather than whisk the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl, Melissa mixes the dressings as she tosses the greens—but in a very strategic order: Toss the leaves in the bowl with vinegar, salt, and pepper first; then drizzle over olive oil and fluff a second time.

Adding the vinegar, salt, and pepper to the greens before adding the oil gives the salt a chance to start dissolving, and therefore makes for a more evenly seasoned salad. It's a slight but noticeable difference.

2. And then, if she has a ripe avocado to add, she'll season it with salt, right on the cutting board, before transferring it to the bowl:

The trick with avocado is to salt it while it's on the cutting board, before you slide the cubes into the salad. Otherwise it never seems to get seasoned properly. Add the avocado after you've tossed the salad so the cubes don't break down and cut mushy.

Now it's your turn! Tell us your best tips for making well-seasoned simple salads in the comments below.

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That got us thinking: Are there more salad components we should be seasoning pre-dressing? Like bland-ish white beans? Delicate fresh peas? Nearly-here spring seems like a good opportunity to try out our newfound knowledge.

Photo by James Ransom

More salads (and more Melissa Clark):

Share your best tip for a well-seasoned yet simple salad in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Margaret Carne
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  • AntoniaJames
  • BerryBaby
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Margaret C. August 4, 2017
After a lifetime of using vinegar, occasionally miso, I've discovered the pleasant taste of lemon juice. I first sprinkle & toss sea salt on the greens, then olive oil, followed by a few squeezes of lemon juice. Remainder of the lemon can go into chicken soup, stuffing of chicken, or in glass of water.
Greenstuff April 10, 2017
This oldish Serious Eats look at vinaigrette has been one of my favorites. It's a strong argument for making a nice emulsion.
Ttrockwood April 4, 2017
My everyday salad dressing *must* include a gob of dijon-i wisk together the vinegar/olive oil/dijon/salt and pepper in the bottom of my bowl, then add the salad ingredients and toss together.
I think the biggest difference between restaurant salads and those from home cooks is that most home cooks don't balance the acid/oil ratio correctly and they don't add salt.
I also think it's critical to have the right mix of crispy/crunchy/soft/chewy ingredients in a salad to create something interesting to eat- when it's all one texture it gets boring quickly, which is admittedly more important when the salad is the main dish or focus of the meal
AntoniaJames April 4, 2017

I always toss with olive oil first, and then sprinkle with salt and grind on black pepper; at the very last minute, just before serving, I give it a judicious splash of red wine vinegar. That's how James Beard, Marcella Hazan and Judy Rodgers did it (and countless others, no doubt), for good reason.
First, the best salads start with bone-dry lettuce so the oil (or dressing) will adhere. Moistening them with vinegar first makes no sense. Also, who cares whether the salt on a salad is dissolved? Frankly, I think it's better for it not to be dissolved. (If you disagree, dissolve it in a spoon with the vinegar.) Finally, acids wilt and discolor greens. Tossing gently with oil first to coat the leaves protects them.
Whatever method you use, consider this timeless wisdom, courtesy (no surprise) of the Italians, who say that it takes four people properly to dress a salad: a spendthrift for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, a wise man for the salt, and a madman for the pepper. ;o)
BerryBaby April 4, 2017
We grew up eating a salad like this almost daily. Mom would drizzle everything separately and then add a clove of garlic. Toss and then remove the garlic.
Katherine M. April 4, 2017
We've started using walnut oil in our salads. It's delicious! Just remember to keep it in your refrigerator so it stays fresh.
PHIL April 4, 2017
I like to put a little salt and pepper on the tomatoes like Melissa does to the avocado. Also I find it easy to make the dressing before putting on the salad as I can control what I add depending upon my mood as I rarely make a simple oil & vinegar dressing.
Your O. April 4, 2017
Tear/chop/cut the salad ingredients into bite-sized pieces. No need to improvise new geometric formulas to get that giant piece of carrot in your mouth. Have you tried to cut a piece of raw carrot in an over-full salad bowl? Save that silk blouse!
luvcookbooks April 5, 2017
Love chopped salad for neatness but also the flavors are mixed together in each bite.
M April 4, 2017
I don't understand the logic of this tip. If we should do this so that the salt can dissolve and season evenly, what about pre-whisking with oil keeps salt from dissolving? And if it's just a matter of dissolving (and oil somehow interferes with that), wouldn't whisking the seasoning with the vinegar, and then whisking in the oil, achieve even better dissolution?
Christie L. April 4, 2017
Agree. Seems like more of a time saving tip rather than a seasoning tip - is there really a disadvantage to mixing the dressing seperatly before adding it to the greens?