How to Dress a Salad
Almost anyone can make a salad but making a great salad takes some attention to detail. Dressing a salad means adding a liquid flavoring to a mixture of fresh greens and other produce. Whether you use a bottled dressing or make your own, knowing how to dress a salad properly makes the difference between a good cook and a great cook.
Washing and Preparing the Ingredients
Choose fresh salad ingredients.
- Greens should be crisp and vibrantly colored. Avoid yellowed, limp looking greens.
- Other vegetables and fruits should also be crisp and firm.
- Vegetables and fruits should be at the peak of ripeness or flavor, tomatoes should be fully colored, apples sweet and juicy, melons fully ripe and flavorful and so on.
- Some vegetables are best when young and tender. Cucumbers, eggplant and squash should be young, small, and thin skinned. Radishes and scallions should be small and tender. Peas in the pod should be barely visible bumps in the pod.
Wash and dry salad ingredients properly.
- Read how to wash lettuce here and follow the same directions for other types of greens.
- Scrub other vegetables under clean, cool running water in a clean sink. Scrub the outsides of melons with a stiff brush before cutting them.
- Dry firm vegetables and fruits with clean paper towels.
- Pat greens dry with clean paper towels or use salad spinner to dry them.
Trim, peel, and cut salad ingredients correctly.
- Pluck and separate the smaller leaves off the stem whole. Remove any visible stems on small leaves with your fingers.
- Trim off thick stems and middle veins on larger leaved greens with a sharp knife. Tear them into smaller pieces with your fingers.
- Remove the outer leaves of head or iceberg lettuce and trim out the compressed, hard core area with a knife. Tear the remaining head into pieces with your fingers, or slice with a sharp knife.
- Trim off any tops, stems and roots of other vegetables and fruits. Remove the outer leaves of scallions, leeks and onions.
- Peel carrots with a vegetable peeler. Cucumbers and small squash like zucchini can be peeled with a paring knife if the skin is thick or sliced with the peel. Peaches are generally peeled before use; apples can be peeled or cut with skins on. Melon pieces are sliced off the rind.
- Cherry tomatoes can be left whole if small or sliced in half. Larger tomatoes are generally cut into wedges or pieces.
- Using a knife and cutting board cut washed and peeled vegetables into appropriate sized pieces. Use a recipe to guide you or just cut them into bite sized pieces.
- Hold the cleaned and cut vegetables in a bowl or bowls until you are ready to dress the salad. Keep them chilled if the wait will be more than about 10 minutes.
Adding the Dressing
Select a large bowl that will give all of the salad ingredients a lot of room to be tossed.
Choose your favorite salad dressing or make the dressing called for in your recipe.
Place the dressing in the bowl and swirl it around to coat the sides of the bowl.
Add all of your salad ingredients to the bowl. You may want to reserve just a few pretty pieces of vegetables for garnishing the top of the salad.
Toss the salad ingredients with clean hands or use two large spoons to lift and flip the salad. Push the salad ingredients against the sides and bottom of the bowl to coat the salad with dressing.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss the salad again. This tiny step is often overlooked and while optional, can be the difference between an average salad and a great one.
- Spices such as onion powder, dried rosemary, garlic powder, red pepper flakes or other things can be added when you add the salt and pepper.
- Sometimes salad is served without dressing so that guests can choose their favorite dressing to add. Suggest to guests that they add the dressing to the bowl first and the salad will blend better with the dressing.
- The USDA says that salad ingredients packed in a sealed bag with the words “pre-washed” or “ready to use” are safe to use without washing.
- Salad mixed with dressing too long before serving will get limp and soggy.
- Make sure your hands are immaculately clean before tossing a salad with them.
- Refrigerate homemade dressings or open bottles of dressing if you won’t be serving them right away.
Things You’ll Need
- Cutting board
- Vegetable peeler
- Scrub brush for vegetables
- Paper towels
- Salad spinner
- Large salad bowl
- Bowls for washing and holding salad ingredients
- Large spoons