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Tips for Salad Maker

"To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar." ~ Oscar Wilde

When it comes to making a good salad, Gloria Stables, MS, RD, director of the National Cancer Institute's 5 A Day program that promotes eating a combined total of 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily, advises that we "Sample the spectrum. The more reds, oranges, greens, yellows, and blues you see on the plate, the more health-promoting properties you are getting from your fruit and vegetable sources."

Eating a colorful, nutrient-packed salad is a perfect way to serve up a plateful of healthy foods. Our choice of salad dressing, however, can make or break the taste AND the nutrition of a salad.

Top a salad with a tasteless dressing and your salad goes to WASTE on the plate. Drench salads with a high-calorie dressing and they go to WAIST on YOU!

To kick up the taste and keep down the calories, here are 10 suggestions for successfully combining salad ingredients, including greens, and oil-and vinegar vinaigrette-type dressings.

1. Dry Greens Thoroughly

Dressing slides off damp salad greens and collects in the bottom of the salad bowl. You'll get more flavor with less dressing throughout your salad if salad greens are washed and thoroughly dried.

If you're using bagged lettuce that's pre-washed and labeled "ready to eat," it should be dry enough as is. If you need to wash salad greens, the easiest way to dry them is in a salad spinner. Pack lightly to avoid overcrowding and bruising the greens. After spinning, pat off any remaining moisture with clean paper towels. If you don't have a spinner, dry greens thoroughly with clean paper towels.

Note: To wash greens, separate the leaves and place in a clean sink or deep bowl filled with cold water and swish the leaves around. If necessary, remove any stems. Lift greens from the water and transfer to another bowl so dirt and grit remains in the water. Pour out the water and repeat the washing process in clean water until dirt and grit is gone and the water is clear.

It may take three or four washings for some greens. For harder to reach sections of salad greens, you may want to hold leaves under running water. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before you begin washing your greens. Tear lettuce at the time of making your salad.

Wash salad greens shortly before using them. Store UNWASHED salad greens in the crisper section of your refrigerator using a plastic bag with holes poked in it. Avoid storing greens next to fruits such as bananas and apples. They emit ethylene gas as they ripen. This can cause brown spots on your greens and shorten storage time.

If you're washing greens earlier in the day, consider lining your salad bowl with clean paper towels, adding your greens and sealing the bowl with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator. Or, refrigerate your washed greens in your salad spinner.

2. Use Flavorful Oils

Olive OilVinaigrette-type salad dressings provide a wonderful opportunity to include olive oil in your meals. Olive oil is frequently recommended for its heart-healthy properties when served as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids that help decrease blood levels of LDL cholesterol (the type that deposits cholesterol in artery walls) while maintaining protective HDL cholesterol (the type that removes excess cholesterol from our body).

Enjoy the robust flavor of "extra virgin" olive oil. "Light" olive oil is lighter in color, fragrance and flavor, not lighter in calories. Though extra virgin olive oil may be slightly more expensive, its hearty flavor makes a little go a long way.

Olive oil retains a satisfactory quality for about 6 months on the shelf if you keep it well-sealed and in a dark, cool place. You can keep it up to about a year in the refrigerator; however, it turns cloudy and thick when cold and must be brought to room temperature to become clear and liquid again.

3. Avoid Adding More Salad Dressing Than You Need

In How to Make Salad (Boston Common Press, 1998), the test kitchen staff for Cook's Illustrated magazine advise a fourth cup of vinaigrette should be enough to dress 2 quarts (8 cups) of loosely packed salad, an amount they suggest for 4 servings. That means each serving of salad greens should have about one tablespoon of dressing on it.

Pam Anderson ( How to Cook Without a Book , Broadway Books, 2000) advises about 1 tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of vinegar for each 1 1/2 cup portion of salad. In making a basic vinaigrette, she uses a proportion of 3 tablespoons of vinegar to 1/2 cup oil.

Offering up to about a tablespoon of olive oil per person in a salad dressing is an enjoyable way to include this healthy fat in your diet. One tablespoon olive oil provides 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000 advise a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of calories for healthy individuals two years of age or older. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that would mean no more than 600 calories from fat each day. Each tablespoon of olive oil would provide ONE-FIFTH of your total fat intake for the day, so go easy on how much dressing you use.

If you enjoy homemade dressings and would like to bring the fat per serving down even further, each of the salad dressing recipes in this article provides only 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon oil per serving.

4. Experiment With Vinegars

A classic French vinaigrette is typically three to four parts oil (usually olive oil) and one part acid (frequently red wine vinegar). Seasonings include salt, pepper, and often Dijon mustard and/or garlic.

You may be able to use less oil and more acid ingredient if you use one of the following in your dressing: rice vinegar; white wine vinegar; raspberry, blueberry or other fruit vinegar; champagne vinegar; lemon, lime or orange juice. Start experimenting by beginning with two parts oil to one part vinegar or citrus juice.

A few more tips:

  • While lime and lemon juice can stand by themselves in salad dressings, you'll get more flavor by combining orange juice with vinegar.
  • Deborah Madison, chef and cookbook author, suggests using balsamic vinegar in combination with wine vinegars to enrich their flavor. ( Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone , Broadway Books, 1997.)
  • Joy of Cooking (Simon & Schuster Inc., 1997) recommends distilled white vinegar is best used in pickling, not salad dressings.

5. Thoroughly Mix Oil And Vinegar

For a smoother flavor, thoroughly mix the oil and vinegar. The standard procedure is to whisk the vinegar with the salt, pepper and any mustard, garlic or other seasonings. Then add the oil in a slow steam, whisking constantly, until the dressing is translucent. Or, shake the ingredients together in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. If not using dressing right away, whisk or shake again before using.

6. Pep Up The Pepper

If your dressing calls for black pepper, use freshly ground black pepper. It adds a quick flavor boost that's much better than the taste of pre-ground pepper from a can or jar. Or, place a pepper mill on your table for people to pepper as they please.

7. Sample Dressing On A Salad Leaf

For the truest taste of your dressing, sample a bit on a salad leaf, advises Chef Deborah Madison. For vinaigrette-type dressings, add more oil if it's too tart. Add more acid for extra bite. Adjust other seasonings as needed.

8. Experiment With Bottled Vinaigrettes

Salad DressingOnce you make your own dressings, it may be hard to return to purchased salad dressing. You have more control over the fat, salt and other ingredients, as well as the taste, in homemade dressings. But, it may be worthwhile to find some bottled salad dressings, especially reduced-fat ones, that you enjoy. Then, a healthy salad is never more than a quick toss away, especially if you combine the dressing with bagged "ready-to-eat" salad greens and pre-cut veggies from the deli.

9. Dress Greens Immediately Before Serving

Add dressings to salad greens immediately before serving for best quality and taste.

10. Add Healthy Colors For Eye Appeal

To add pizzazz to your salad dressing, serve it on an eye-appealing pallette of fruits and vegetables.

Chinese Salad Recipes - Chinese chicken salad, Shanghai chicken salad recipe, Peking pork pasta salad, fruity Chinese cabbage salad and many more Chinese recipes...

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.