I am, and always have been, enamored of salads. I remember the very first really great one I ate. It was served as its own course, and dressed tableside by an aproned waiter in a small restaurant on the Left Bank in Paris. He took immense pleasure in mixing the vinaigrette in two large spoons over the bowl of just-washed, buttery-soft lettuce leaves. First, he dissolved coarse sea salt in fragrant wine vinegar in the bowl of one spoon, crushing the crystals with the other spoon. Next he added olive oil, stirring carefully between every few drops, and sprinkled in a few finely chopped tarragon leaves and freshly ground pepper. He then drizzled the finished dressing over the leaves, which he tossed delicately with the spoons; lifted, one by one, onto a large plate; and layered carefully into a soft mound.
I savored that salad, and learned my lesson well: Always handle greens with care. As a result, I never grasp a head of Bibb lettuce and tear off its stem, or crush the long leaves of romaine before placing them in a bowl. I begin with thoroughly washed and spun-dry greens. (I find that they’re a bit crisper if they’re chilled afterward, too.) Next up is preparing and using the right amount of a delicious dressing, and tossing everything at the very last minute before serving. And last, but most important of all, is to work with the very best ingredients—high-quality oils, tasty vinegars, salts, freshly ground pepper, and farm-fresh vegetables—and to be careful not to overpower the flavors with one overly strong ingredient. These are some of my favorite salad recipes, and I hope they become as memorable to you as that very special one I ate in Paris all those years ago is to me.
Escarole, Beet, and Cherry-Tomato Salad
Baby beets impart an earthy sweetness to this escarole salad tossed with chopped dill, cherry tomatoes, and blue cheese. A mild vinaigrette ties it all together.
Whole Endive Salad with Anchovy Dressing
Diminutive homemade brioche croutons add another layer of texture to these crisp endive leaves tossed in a briny anchovy-garlic dressing.
Stacked Bibb Lettuces with Lemon Cream
There's a whole head of butter lettuce in each serving of this simple salad. The tender leaves are coated in a lemon cream dressing that's richer than a vinaigrette but just as light and refreshing, then artfully arranged on two plates.