Thursday, June 15, 2006

How to Make Absolutely Perfect Restaurant Quality Salad at Home

Ok, if you're a food blogger who's reading this you may be thinking, what a boring topic for Kalyn to be writing about. The truth is, the longer I've been writing this blog, the more amazed I am at what some people want to know about cooking. I recently had some friends for dinner and made this simple salad. They all wanted detailed instructions about how I had done it, so I realized it might be something a lot of "normal" people (i.e. not food bloggers) might like to have explained.

First of all, making a great salad is all about the ingredients. You must have absolutely fresh, high quality lettuce. Many places now sell the lettuce mix pictured above (often called Spring Mix) which I used to make my salad. If you live near a Farmers Market, or grow your own lettuce, even better. I think salads that have several kinds of lettuce are most interesting, but that's a personal choice. The one thing I feel strongly about regarding the lettuce choice is to avoid iceberg lettuce for this type of salad. It's tasteless, has no nutritional value to speak of, and doesn't go well with this type of dressing, at least in my opinion.

Second, to have that restaurant quality taste, you must have absolutely top quality (read: expensive) extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If your city has a store that imports olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Italy, go there to get it. You can actually get some pretty good choices in most supermarkets in the U.S. too, if you're willing to buy the most expensive one they have in stock. Salt Lake has a wonderful import market called Granatos where they will actually let you taste the olive oils before you select one; what a great idea. If you don't absolutely love the flavor of the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar you have on hand, don't ever use it on a salad. Top quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil is something I always have in my cupboard.

Third, I think restaurant quality salad needs one flavor addition besides the oil and vinegar. In the salad above I used gorgonzola cheese, but it could be pecans, good quality olives, feta cheese, goat cheese, sliced sweet onions, edamame, marinated peppers, or any number of other tasty items.

This salad must be prepared right before you are going to serve it. Don't let it sit around with the dressing on it. Now, here's how to make that fantastic salad:

Restaurant Quality Salad at Home
(2 servings)

3-4 handfuls absolutely fresh salad greens, preferably a mixture of baby greens
1-2 T best quality extra virgin olive oil, enough to barely coat greens
1-2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T crumbled gorgonzola cheese or other flavor addition of your coice

Use a large metal bowl to toss salad, not the plates you will be serving it on. Put lettuce in bowl, drizzle over one tablespoon of olive oil and toss. If lettuce is not all coated with oil, add a tiny bit more oil and toss again. Drizzle over small amount balsamic vinegar (I put my thumb over the end of the bottle so I don't get too much), toss again. Taste a piece of lettuce to see if there is enough vinegar, and add more if needed. Season salad with pepper and arrange on two serving plates. Crumble a small bit of gorgonzola cheese over each salad.

Enjoy your salad!
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  1. Kalyn,

    Great post -- you're right about how many people could use a primer in making a good salad. It's not hard, but those high quality ingredients are absolutely key.

    We've got a store in town that has every olive oil out for tasting at all times, and some vinegars, too. It's a great resource.

    The Inadvertent Gardener

  2. Your recipe is missing salt. I suppose you could do without it if you had enough gorgonzola, but in general salad tastes a lot better with a bit of salt.

  3. Genie, I'd love to be able to taste balsamic vinegars when I buy them. Maybe I can convince Granatos to start letting people sample them.

    Kourtney, I actually never put salt on this type of salad, and if the olive oil and balsamic vinegar are great tasting I personally don't think it needs salt at all. But if you like salt, hey, put some on.

  4. Great post!

    BTW a great tip is to look for locally produced olive oils. They often have a fresher, fruitier flavor and as a bonus they are all local so you support local commerce.

    Your spring mix looks wonderful! I think it makes the best salads too. Regular lettuce just doesn't have the taste or the visual appeal!

  5. Kalyn: I like that you coat the leaves with oil before you add the vinegar! I agree with Kourtney that you are missing salt (I like to dissolve some in the vinegar first). But chacun a son gout, non?
    One more thing: Buy wonderful oil, and then do yourself a favor (and a sublime undulgence): Use it all up within the year.
    Good post.

  6. Kalyn,
    what you said is so true! If the ingredients ain't fresh and flavorful by themselve, after tossing still can't make them taste better.

  7. These are my favourite type of leaves, I agree about the salt.

    A great tip for seasoning salad:

    After dressing with the vinegar and olive oil twist the salt and pepper onto the edge of the bowl so that when you toss the salad through the seasonings get evenly distributed through the leaves.

  8. Excellant. The lettuce looks so fresh. We've been eating a lot of salads this week and you're so right. A good salad can be very simple--but you must use the best ingredients. If you do--it's like a work of art.

  9. This salad is perfect, exactly like salad should be dressed... with exra-virgin olive oil and vinegar. Gorgonzola is an interesting variation from the common salad... I like this idea.

  10. In Italy when you dress salad first you put salt, then oil and vinegar and you stir very well.

  11. NOT a boring topic at all! Thanks, Kalyn!


  12. Kitarra, thanks. I don't think any olive is produced in Utah.

    CC, no chance of a bottle of olive oil lasting a year around here! It looks like a lot of people say salt, but I still say, doesn't need it.

    Gattina, it's all about the flavor of the lettuce, oil, and vinegar.

    Pamela, interesting idea to put the salt and pepper on the edge of the bowl.

    Sher, I love salad. I agree a good salad is a work of art.

    Orchidea, try the gorgonzola. Just a tiny bit adds tons of flavor.

  13. I have to agree -- salad is not boring, nor is it pedestrian or even necessarily easy. I posted my thoughts on it as well.

  14. Hi Kalyn.
    Just one little thought on olive oil. Although Italians have been very smart exporting their olive oil, here in Spain we've been producing extraordinary oil for a long time. If you love tasty olive oil (the one that tastes exactly like olives) give a try to Spanish arbequina olives oil. Or any other type of olive like picual or hojiblanca. It's as good (if not better than Italian oil) and a little cheaper ;-)

  15. I love to add tomatos --- great for an extra shot of color!

  16. I buy the infused olive oil like olive oil infused with sundried tomatoes, garlic or something like that for salads

  17. I think this is a GREAT post because my husband and I always comment on how we can't ever recreate how good a salad tastes in a restaurant, at home.

  18. I think one of the best recommendations for this is that even though I posted this years ago, I still make salad like this a few times nearly every week. Absolutely love it, especially when I have super fresh lettuce!

  19. After eating a delightful restaurant salad, I now have a hankering to add dates to this salad. What kind of dates and how much would you recommend? I plan on serving it alongside pot roast, if that makes any difference.
    Thanks and love your blog.

  20. Laura, so glad you're enjoying the blog. I'm afraid I don't know much at all about dates. They're fairly high in sugar, so I haven't used them much. I would guess that they would taste good in a salad like this though; maybe a few tablespoons would be enough to add a lot of flavor.


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