Through teaching in our cooking school, we have developed a simple set of questions for students to ask themselves when preparing a dish, in this case a salad. After a while these guidelines become instinctive and help you create interesting and beautiful salads that everyone will enjoy:
- Do I have varying textures? Do I have something soft, chewy, crunchy, wet, and dry?
- Would a little color help? Do I need some berries, grated carrot, tomatoes, or edible flowers from the garden?
- Should I add something creamy like a dip or some Greek yogurt or sour cream? (That will also fill you up and help the salad stick to the fork!)
- Do I have a balance of sweet and sour? Is my dressing too sweet or too acidic? Taste it and see. You would be amazed at how many people don’t taste their food. Lemon will negate too much salt or sugar. Sugar alternatives like maple syrup will calm acid flavors.
- Can I taste everything or is one flavor out of balance? Keep bold with bold and subtle with subtle. Match the ingredient with the dressing. Delicate seafood might not appreciate too much spice and garlic. Kale will dominate a subtle dressing.
- Do I need mustard, garlic, or chile to give the salad some heat on a cold day or to fire up bland beans?
- Would a handful of herbs such as mint, parsley, or cilantro give the salad more zing?
- If the salad is a main meal, does it include protein, carbohydrate, and fat to provide all the food groups?
- Seasoning, seasoning, seasoning. Apply salt and pepper to the cooked elements of a dish, onto salad leaves, and into dressing. If you do this to taste, you won’t overseason. Use sea salt, fine or coarse, and always grind pepper in a mill or mortar and pestle. Never buy the ready-crushed stuff as the flavor will be long gone.
- Is the salad evenly dressed or are all the best bits at the top? Construct a salad in layers: ingredients; dressing; crunch, such as seeds or croutons; items that give bite, such as shavings of cheese, chile, or pickles; followed by another layer of leaves and so on. This way the last diner doesn’t get a sad undressed pile of leaves.
- Finally, how does it look? I can’t think of a savory salad that is not better finished with a twist of black pepper.