Salads are the no-brainer of healthy eating. They're fresh and delicious, and there are a million ways to jazz them up. If you didn't already know this, London-based restaurateurs and food writers Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi make it clear in "Around the World in 120 Salads," scheduled for release on May 5.
They learned from Vietnamese chefs what key elements to include in order to create the perfect salad:
- Something wet, like orange slices for juiciness.
- Something soft, like avocado slices.
- Something dry, like salt, pepper and spices.
- Something crunchy, like sliced scallions.
- Something sweet, like the juice from the orange slices or a pinch of sugar.
- Something sour, like lemon juice in the dressing.
With those strategic flavors and textures in mind, the couple created global salads for every meal. For breakfast, there's a tasty Middle Eastern salad that combines watermelon, feta and mint. For dessert, there's a light, healthy option: roasted black fruit salad or raspberries and red currants folded into whipped ricotta.
For main dishes, choices include a spicy Mexican Beef Salad, Greek Lemon Chicken Salad, and the Mediterranean-flavored Courgette (zucchini) Flower Carpaccio. Side dish salads include recipes like Five-Spice Fruit Salad, which matches well with Vietnamese Roasted Duck.
"Around the World" isn't the only source out there. Denver-based cookbook author Lee Clayton Roper has some recommendations for making delicious salads. She wrote the award-winning "Fresh Tastes" and "A Well-Seasoned Kitchen."
- Use fresh, in-season ingredients to maximize flavor.
"In the winter in Colorado, I don't tend to use tomatoes much, as they tend to be pale in color and lack flavor," Roper said. "When I do, I either use grape or cherry tomatoes and roast fresh tomatoes, as it concentrates the flavor and brings out the red color. Plus they are scrumptious!"
- Use good quality olive oil and vinegar in your homemade dressing.
"Don't use jarred chopped garlic," she said. "The preservatives change the flavor."
- In addition to flavor, think about color and texture when selecting salad ingredients.
"A pop of red (tomato, red pepper) or orange (roasted butternut squash) is always pretty on the plate, and we do eat with our eyes first!" she said. "Crunchy is good, too, like nuts and croutons."
- Wash leafy greens ahead of time in order to get them dry. That way, dressing will adhere better.
"I like to wash (them) under cold running water earlier in the day, shake off excess water, then tear greens into pieces and layer in sheets of paper towel. Gently roll up paper towel with torn greens and place in refrigerator until ready to use," Roper said. "I learned this method from my mom."
- Dressing should be mixed together at least 30 minutes before using, to allow the flavors to blend.
- When following a recipe, never assume you need all the dressing. Add some, toss, feel and taste. Then add more as needed.
"I like to toss salads with my hands," Roper said. "It's the best way to ensure you have the right amount of dressing. You can feel how much is on the leaves. Then taste!"
- Salads with leafy greens should be tossed just prior to serving.
- Salads made with cooked rice, couscous and quinoa can be tossed earlier in the day, to allow the flavors to blend.
- Dressing can be made ahead and either held at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
"It depends on ingredients," Roper said. "Most can be held at room temp, but if they contain mayonnaise, cream or milk, they should be put in the refrigerator and then bring to room temperature before using. I store them in a glass jar with a lid so I can give them a quick shake before using."
- Most fruit and vegetable ingredients can be chopped ahead of time and refrigerated.
One final tip comes from Chuck Frazier, who with Jodi Woodruff owns the newly opened Colorado Springs Culinary Enthusiasts: "Cut or tear greens into bite-sized pieces to avoid awkward eating with oversized pieces."
So say farewell to limp leaves of iceberg lettuce and take your salads to new levels of perfection with the help of these pros.