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How to Make a Perfectly Crisp, Flavorful Salad Every Time

Say goodbye to sad soggy salads.

salad spinner
Photography by: Bryan Gardner

A green salad is one of the simplest side dishes you can make, but it can be bland or overdressed or the leaves wilted. Learn how to prepare it properly, and this salad might just become the highlight of your meal. Follow our four easy tips below, and trust us, you’ll actually look forward to eating your greens.

 

1. Use sturdy, crisp greens.

Choose varieties that will hold up well in a salad, such as romaine, iceberg, Bibb, Boston, endive, radicchio, kale, or go for a combination.

 

2. Wash and thoroughly dry your greens.

If you bring your lettuce home and notice that it’s a little limp, put it in a bowl of ice water for about 30 minutes. The water will rehydrate the leaves, and the ice will help them crisp up nicely. Otherwise, wash gently, then use a salad spinner to dry completely. It’s critical to start with dry salad greens because any extra moisture will make your salad get soggy faster. Also, if the leaves are wet, the dressing will slip right off, so you’ll ultimately have to use more of it to flavor your salad.

 

3. Make a bold, acidic salad dressing.

Instead of sticking to the one part vinegar-to-three parts oil formula that most salad dressing recipes call for, use a higher ratio of vinegar for more bite. Next, add Dijon mustard (or whole-grain or honey mustard or even mayonnaise), which creates an emulsification that helps the dressing cling to the greens; a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper; a little sugar, honey, or maple syrup for balance; and if you like, spices or fresh herbs. The more flavorful the dressing, the less you need to use, and thus the less weight there is on your lettuce leaves to make them soggy. Whisk your ingredients together, then whisk in a flavorful olive oil, one you’d use to finish a dish, not the neutral-tasting kind for all-purpose cooking.

 

(EXPAND: Your Salad Dressing Repertoire, Master These 4 Essential Recipes)

4. Toss in a large, wide bowl.

If you’re serious about good salad, investing in the right bowl is a must. Make sure it’s large, wide, and shallow -- more surface area means you don’t have to toss the greens as much and risk bruising them. In contrast, a small, narrow, deep vessel would have the leaves piled on top of each other and require more tossing and agitation in order to sufficiently dress them, damaging the greens. Add your dressing around the outside of the bowl (start with a few spoonfuls to avoid overdressing) and toss with your hands, tongs, or a spoon, gently folding from the underside and flipping the leaves.

 

 

Watch our Kitchen Conundrums expert Thomas Joseph demonstrate these four tricks for salad success: