Salads can be a simple side dish in a meal or they can take center stage. Look to the seasons for inspiration for adding many different ingredients. In the summer, colorful fruits and delicate greens make for a refreshing and light salad. Try pears, green apples, persimmons, pomegranates, hazelnuts, and blue cheese in the fall, and citrus and bitter greens in the winter.
Oils and vinegars are the primary components of the salad’s dressing. Explore the many different acidic components, from sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and champagne vinegar to sweet muscat wine; and try the many flavorful infusions of plant oils beyond olive oil and nut oils. A healthy ratio of acid to oil in salad dressings is about 1 to 1 or 1 to 2.
There are some key techniques in making a delicious and smooth dressing. Pungent shallots, onions, or garlic can be combined with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Allow them to macerate (also known as blooming)—that is, to sit in the vinegar for ten minutes to pickle slightly and add another layer of flavor to the dressing. Emulsifying the ingredients is another technique that will yield a smooth, well- blended dressing: Add the oil in a slow drizzle to the other dressing ingredients and whip the oil into the dressing with a wire whisk. You can add bean purees, mustard, or fruit purees to help emulsify as well.
Add interest and flavor to vinaigrettes:
Bright ingredients to add depth: diced shallots, finely diced red onions, scallions, snipped chives, pickled onions (with their juice)
Sharp and salty ingredients: capers, olives, green peppercorns, salty cheeses, miso
Pungent ingredients: grated fresh ginger, fish sauce, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, black and white pepper, fresh garlic (mashed to paste or finely chopped)
Smoky ingredients: smoked Spanish paprika, roasted peppers (including the liquid), chipotle in adobo sauce (this also adds heat)
Spicy ingredients: fine dice of fresh red or green chiles: jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, Thai birds (remove the seeds and core for less heat), red chile flakes, sriracha hot sauce, Tabasco, Tapatio hot sauce
Rich ingredients: yogurt, buttermilk, cooked egg yolks, low-fat sour cream
Citrus: orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, blood oranges, tangerines, tangelos. Citrus zest adds freshness and brightens flavors. Use a micro- plane to grate the zest of lemons, limes, grape- fruits, oranges, and tangerines into finished dishes. Zest adds the aroma and flavor of citrus without the excessive acidity of the juice.
Nose-tingling ingredients: dry mustard, Dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard, horseradish, wasabi
Exotic ingredients: pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons, porcini or shiitake mushroom powders, ancho chile powder, saffron (for best extraction, warm saffron in a dry sauté pan, then add to acidic ingredient; let steep for 20 minutes)
Interest and spice: ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel (ground or crushed), paprika, curry powder
Bright and grassy ingredients: all fresh herbs
Sweet and fruity ingredients: fruit purees (mango, papaya, plum, peach), reduced fruit juices (grape, pomegranate, orange, grapefruit)