Salad Questions

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Q. Can I prepare a tossed salad a few hours before I plan to serve it?

A. Yes. To make a tossed salad in advance, place firm vegetables and cooked meat or poultry in the bowl first, then add dressing. Top with salad greens but do not toss. Chill the salad for up to 2 hours; toss just before serving.

Q. I love to eat salads, but don't love chopping and cleaning the ingredients. Do you have any quick salad preparation tips?

A. Supermarket salad bars offer cut-up fruits and vegetables for fast and easy salads. When you're in a hurry select recipe ingredients here. Imagine how quickly a stir-fry or dessert topping will go together when someone else has done the chopping. Check out the produce counter for ready-to-cook broccoli florets, cleaned baby carrots, sliced mushrooms and peeled and cored pineapple.


Salads aren't just iceberg lettuce anymore. Another supermarket option is bagged salad blends that are already washed and ready to serve. Choose from blends of different lettuces with or without vegetables and herbs added.

Q. How can I make own salad dressings instead of buying the store brands?

A. Salads -- tossed, bound, or composed -- are never complete without their saucy sidekicks.

Just as chicken nuggets are incomplete without barbecue sauce, pancakes dry and flavorless without syrup, and tortilla chips uninspiring without salsa, a salad is just an amalgamation of ingredients when dressing is absent from the equation.

While it's easy to find rows upon rows of prepared salad dressing in the supermarket -- within the condiments aisle as well as in the produce section -- making your own vinaigrette or creamy dressing at home requires only a few basic ingredients and a good whisk. In a pinch, even a fork will do.

Making dressing may require a little more patience than simply shaking a bottle, unscrewing a cap, and pouring out a finished product, but homemade salad dressing is fresher, has fewer (if any) preservatives, and can be flavored any way you like it.

There are two main types of salad dressings: vinaigrettes and creamy dressings. A basic vinaigrette is a simple emulsion consisting of oil, an acidic component (either vinegar or lemon juice), and seasonings or herbs. Creamy dressings are thicker, and unlike vinaigrettes, they do not separate when allowed to stand. They include mayonnaise and buttermilk- or sour cream-based dressings.

Bound salads, such as those used for sandwich fillings -- chicken, tuna, and egg salad are common favorites -- and starchy pasta- or potato-based side salads don't get soggy from an early addition of dressing. Instead, the flavors are allowed to meld as the salads sit in the refrigerator.

For most other salads, however, the dressing should be added at the last minute. This means combining the dressing with the greens in a big bowl just before serving a tossed salad, or drizzling the dressing on top of nicely arranged ingredients for a composed salad. Of course, dressing can always be served on the side as well.

While most bottled dressings can last several months in the refrigerator due to the addition of stabilizers and preservatives, homemade dressing stored in a covered container keeps only from several days up to a week.

When making a simple vinaigrette, the key is in the ratio of the two main ingredients. Classic recipes call for 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, but the proportions can vary depending on what types of oils and acids you use and how boldly flavored you like your dressing to be.

Milder vinaigrettes can be made using a 4:1 ratio, while very acidic vinaigrettes can go up to a 1:1 ratio. Wine, balsamic, and cider vinegars are popular choices for the acid component, but citrus juices can supplement or even supplant the vinegar.

When adding flavoring ingredients -- for instance, dried or fresh herbs, or aromatics such as shallots and garlic -- whisk them into the vinegar along with the salt and pepper first. Then, create an emulsion by slowly drizzling in the oil while whisking the vinegar. This action will temporarily bind the molecules of oil and vinegar together in a suspension of normally insoluble ingredients.

Mayonnaise is a staple ingredient in many side salads due to its binding qualities as well as its adaptable flavor. Mayonnaise is an easy-to-make emulsion of vegetable oil, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Additional seasonings can be easily incorporated into a mayonnaise base to create myriad sauces and salad dressings: remoulade and tartar sauce, and Thousand Island, blue cheese, and buttermilk ranch dressings are just a few examples.

To make your own mayonnaise, simply combine 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard together in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. With the motor running, drizzle 3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil through the blender or food processor lid in a slow, thin stream until a thick mayonnaise forms.

Turn blender off and stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar. With blender running, drizzle in 1/4 cup more oil. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.Q. What are the benefits of incorporating fresh herbs into salad dressing?A. Cilantro, mint, basil, and parsley may not seem like glamorous food stars of a best-dressed list, but they should be. These fresh, green herbs -- often overlooked despite being readily available in supermarkets and easy to grow at home -- offer intensity of flavor with no fat and few calories, as well as powerful health-protective benefits.Researchers have found that plant compounds called phytochemicals can protect against many chronic diseases, from heart disease and cancer to age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in people over 65.

Herbs offer other benefits, such as anti-bacterial and anti-coagulant properties. According to Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education for the American Institute of Cancer Research, laboratory and animal studies are helping scientists to understand the complex ways phytochemicals work, both independently and with one another.

Besides being rich-tasting and health-protective, herb-based salad dressings are low in calories and fat. Commercially prepared salad dressings can range in calories from 35 per standard serving (two tablespoons) for a “fat-free” version, to 170 calories and 18 grams of fat for a “regular” creamy dressing.

Most people over-rely on dressings to add flavor, to the point of drenching their salads with far more than the standard serving size. (At most salad bars, the dressing ladle usually holds 4 tablespoon -- twice the normal serving size.)

With herb dressings, you get “more bang for the buck” when it comes to flavor and nutrition. Thanks to the vibrant flavors, you’ll find yourself drizzling less dressing than usual. Homemade herb-based dressings average 22 to 45 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon, but because the herb dressings are so intensely flavored, 1 tablespoon is the recommended serving.

There are actually two ways to get the health benefits of herbs into your salads: Add the fresh leaves of your favorite herbs to your salads, and use the herbs to make fresh, flavorful low-fat salad dressings.


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