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Salad Savior

Irma R., a novice home cook, turns to F&W's Tina Ujlaki with her kitchen questions. This month, the topic is salad: keeping leafy greens fresh and making easy, tasty dressings.

Question

Dear Tina,

I get so tired of wilted heads of lettuce and mesclun mix and my salads always seem a little limp. Can you please help? Yours truly, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

This sounds obvious, I know, but try to start out with really fresh greens. If the leaves have gone a little limp on the way home from the market, revive them with a brief soak in a bowl of very cold water—they'll perk up perfectly. Then lift them out and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. (I like the Zyliss and OXO versions best.) If you don't plan to use them right away, wrap them in a cotton kitchen towel or lightly dampened paper towels and seal them in a plastic bag—they'll be fine for a day at least.

If you'd like to make your mesclun mix a little more exciting, add a bitter bite with sliced Belgian endive, radicchio, chicory, escarole or frisée, or go for a peppery tang with arugula, watercress or mizuna. Don't forget about sprouts—sunflower and radish especially—and fresh herbs like parsley, dill or cilantro sprigs and mint and tarragon leaves. Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

I'm in a vinaigrette rut! I always make my mother's recipe, with honey, mustard, oil and vinegar, but I never get the proportions right—and frankly, I'm a little sick of it. Yours faithfully, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

Here's a recipe from my friend Charles Pierce, a salad whiz. It's perfect for dressing green salads, tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, beets and just about any other vegetable. Or, dress it up with chopped herbs, or with olives, diced fresh or sun-dried tomatoes or minced anchovies, and serve it with grilled or poached seafood, poultry or meat. Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

Sometimes I want a lighter dressing than vinaigrette, with a different flavor. Do you have any ideas? Yours gratefully, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

At home, when time is really tight—don't tell the salad police—I dress the salad right in the bowl. I sprinkle on one of my favorite everyday balsamic vinegars (Cavalli or Fini), the finest olive oil I have in the house, a bit of crunchy salt (kosher, sea or fleur de sel) and a couple of twists of pepper and toss. If I don't get the balance right the first time, I add a little more of whatever's missing, to even it out. I might replace the balsamic with any other vinegar (red or white wine, sherry, Champagne, rice) or a fresh citrus juice (anything from mild, sweet orange, grapefruit or clementine to tangy lime or lemon).

To make a dressing with Asian flavors, begin with vegetable oil and rice vinegar and add a splash of soy sauce, freshly grated ginger, a bit of minced garlic and a little sesame oil; for heat, add chili sauce, chili-garlic sauce or chili oil; for sweetness, add a touch of honey; for a creamy dressing, stir in light miso or peanut butter. Best, Tina

Published May 2003
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