Becoming a salad connoisseur is easier than you may think!
Whether you've been prepping the same leafy lunch for ages, just leave salads to the pros when dining out or love making the healthy staple and want to learn more, TODAY Food has you covered. To cover all bases, from grocery lists and shopping to storing greens and making the best dressing for every salad recipe, here's a compilation of chef experts' ultimate salad tips.
Click on the topics below to brush up on all the best tricks for enjoying beautiful salads forever and always.
How to shop for salad
- Ask vendors questions: One of the best parts of having access to a farm stand or farmers market is that the vendor there has likely either grown the produce personally or is well informed about the farm's harvest, so don't be afraid to ask for their suggestions!
- Know signs of decay: As salad greens age past their prime, they begin to get some brown or slimy spots, yellowing leaves or even a bit of a swampy smell. If you see any of these on the lettuce or leafy green of choice, keep looking until you find one that's free and clear of red (well, brown or yellow) flags.
- Sometimes wilted is OK: "Most farmers markets/farm stands don't have refrigeration, so expect the greens to be a bit wilty especially if it is hot out. There's a big difference between wilty and rotty. If greens are wilty they can be refreshed (just like the rest of us) with a 20 minute dunk in some cool water," chef and cookbook author Abra Berens told TODAY.
- Look for variety and visually striking greens: At farmers' markets, growers typically bring rare varieties, so buy what catches your eye. Similarly to a chain, head to the exposed leafy green section and choose an array of what looks good. Making your own mixed green salad will be a win!
- Boxed or bagged greens: Berens rarely purchases boxed or bagged greens but if she does, she opts for cut greens like arugula, baby kale, or spinach, not lettuce. Always check the bottom, where the moisture drops, to ensure the bottom hasn't gotten sludgy.
- Get to know your greens: Different types of lettuces and greens like kale or arugula possess characteristics that help shoppers determine the best pick.
Read more about how what to look for in common salad green varieties.
How to store salad to stay fresher longer
- Romaine: Leave outer leaves on, even if they're a bit banged up, as added protection. Store in wax paper or a plastic bag in the crisper drawer or towards the front of one of the shelves. Cut just before use.
- Kale: This hearty green can be kept right on the counter or fridge in a vase like a pretty bouquet. It can also be kept in a bag in the fridge or rinsed, stripped of stems and cut up in a large plastic bag so you have easy-to-eat, fresh greens ready to go.
- Butter lettuce: Wetter than most other varieties, a nice towel dry or run through a salad spinner can be helpful before storing in a paper towel- or cloth-lined plastic bag.
- Arugula and baby lettuces: Prepare similarly to butter lettuce, but make sure give the leaves enough space to breathe once placed in a lined plastic bag. If purchased with other greens, use baby lettuces first as they'll expire faster.
- Pre-packaged: Open the package and divide into two containers so the leaves have more room to breathe. Lining the top of a box with paper towel and storing upside down will also help to draw out moisture and ensure the bottom doesn't get too sludgy.
- Greens that haven't been refrigerated: "If your greens are floppy from being out of refrigeration (either at a farmer' market or got caught in a hot car on the trip home) give them a 10 to 20 minute soak in cool water," Berens told TODAY. "That will pull lost moisture back into the leaves and firm up the cells."
Read more about how to store every type of salad green.
How to make dressings for every type of salad
- Make a shopping list: When you’re ditching the store-bought stuff to master an array of simple, delicious homemade dressings, the first thing you'll need to do is take stock of your kitchen. Chef Christine Lau organizes her dressing must-haves in non-perishables and perishables to ensure she's ready to whip up a fabulous dressing when the craving strikes.
- For creamy dressings: Start with mayonnaise for body and creaminess and add buttermilk or sour cream for some tang. Next mix in the seasonings (chopped garlic, black pepper, fresh herbs, chopped anchovies or anchovy paste and/or parmesan) and a touch of acid (vinegar, lemon or pickling juice).
- For vinaigrettes: The best ratio when making a vinaigrette is going to be 1 part mustard, 2 parts vinegar and 3 parts extra virgin olive oil. To enhance flavor, add 1/2 part chopped allium (onion, garlic and shallot all work well) and 1/2 part chopped fresh herbs.
- Beware of common mistakes: When whipping up DIY dressings, never skip the taste, watch out for oversalting and don't justify that extra ingredients means extra flavor. "Less is more — salad dressings are simply a mixture of acid and fat," Lau told said.
Read more about how to prepare salad dressings at home.
How to make a great summer salad
- Choose the components: For an abundance of summery flavor with a variety of textures and flavors, Chef Pati Jinich advises mixing something with a wet crunch, like jicama, radishes or apples, with creamy, buttery ingredients such as avocado or salty cheese. Next add seeds or nuts (pecans, peanuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds are all great), fresh herbs (like cilantro, parsley, basil, oregano, mint, dill or tarragon) and opt for a citrus vinaigrette to maximize the light, bright taste.
- Seize what's in season: Summer's bounty varies from month to month. Opt for spring onions and strawberries in June, sweet corn in July or zucchinis and squashes ribboned into your salad in August.
- Consider the temperature: When selecting salad greens, some (like spinach or watercress) can wilt quickly when dining outside. Sturdier heads of romaine can really shine during those times, or use no lettuce all! "A go-to salad for me is combining wet and crunchy jicama, with sweet apples and mild chayote squash, all covered in a creamy avocado dressing," Jinich told TODAY.
- Dress it up: For the ultimate summer dressing, Jinich turns to lime or orange juice mixed with distilled white vinegar or natural rice vinegar. Add a dash of neutral safflower oil, a tad of mustard or Worcestershire sauce for a "pungent punch," a drop of sweetness (use honey, maple syrup or agave) and, for a little kick, a dried spice like chile de arbol.
Read more about how to create the ultimate summer salad.