Salads are supposed to be light, bright, and full of life—but too often, they hit the table flat, limp, and soggy, with all the good stuff sunk at the bottom of the bowl. There are a number of reasons this happens, and now that spring is upon us, we want our readers to enjoy the crunchiest, most satisfying salads ever. So we asked assistant food editor Claire Saffitz and test kitchen contributor Alfia Muzio to identify the most common mistakes people make when tossing up a salad. (And, honestly, this writer learned a thing or two about salad-making.) Here's their awesome advice, below:
1. Go with What You Know
There's a whole world of greens outside of arugula, mesclun, kale, and romaine. Browse your farmers' market or grocery aisle to find seasonal leafy greens for your salad base, like mâche, dandelion greens, microgreens, baby kale, chicory, and escarole. You'll be amazed how much flavor and texture they'll add. And, dear God, please stay away from iceberg (unless you're making a wedge).
2. Just Wash n' Toss
A soggy salad is a sad sight—so dry those greens! We're big proponents of the salad spinner—one of the few single-purpose kitchen items that are absolutely worth it—but if you don't have one, try this trick: Line a plastic shopping bag with paper towels, throw in your greens, and knot the bag. Then take the bag by the handle and give it a couple good, hard spins in the air. Your greens should come out (mostly) dry. You may proceed.
3. All Greens Need Is Dressing
Nope! Once they're in the bowl, you need to give your greens some undergarments before they get dressed. After you've dried them, season your naked greens with salt and pepper. (This is, incidentally, Bobby Flay's approach, too.) Think of it as another opportunity for flavor—then you won't have to over-season your dressing to compensate. Speaking of seasoning your dressing: Mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil alone do not a dressing make. Like every layer of your salad, it's important to season your dressing to taste.
4. Any Dressing Will Work
There's a lot to consider when it comes to dressing your greens. First, and most important, you need to ask yourself: Did I match my greens to my dressing? Delicate arugula won't hold up to bold, creamy Caesar dressing. Kale overpowers a light balsamic vinaigrette. Like wines, match the bold with the bold, and the light with the light. Second, try to strike the perfect balance of dressing and salad. Overdressing your salad makes it a soggy mess, while underdressing will leave something to be desired. Add dressing little by little—tasting as you go—to make sure you get the perfect amount.
5. Where Are Those Salad Tongs?
The best tool you can use for mixing salad is: Your hands. Bear with us, here: A salad should be light and airy—even if it's made with hearty greens and a creamy dressing—and handled with a gentle touch. Using your hands to toss allows air to get into your mix and incorporates your ingredients in a more distributed way. Here's our preferred way: Drizzle your dressing along the walls of your bowl, then lightly toss your greens until the dressing is evenly distributed. No bruised or crushed leaves here!
6. Toss It All Together!
Sometimes, it's best to leave some ingredients out until the last minute. We like adding in some of the heavy ingredients for the toss—like nuts, seeds, tomatoes, peas, and other bulky add-ins that sink to the bottom—then topping the salad with the rest post-toss. Your guests will get to see everything that's in the salad, and it's easier to get a little bit of everything when there's stuff on top. Also, toss your greens in dressing before adding herbs: their delicate flavor will shine through much more when they're the outermost layer.