Nothing completes a meal and refreshes the palate like a green salad. The window boxes growing lettuces and greens on the rail of our deck have started to produce, and we are enjoying a salad almost every night now. As the season progresses, the composition of these salads will change, depending upon the ingredients. To keep these salads different, delicious and exciting, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Start with the greens and build the salad around them. The first tender shoots of spring are delicate and light, sometimes with just a bit of spice: baby beet greens, mizuna, a unique mustard green of Japanese origin, tender spinach and pac choi. Summer brings the heads: my favorite red leaf lettuce Red Sails, the hearty romaines, bright green summer crisp and buttercrunch. The lively colors of the salad bowl include glossy, dark greens of tango, fire cracker, deer tongue and Paris Island. As the weather cools, the flavors are more assertive with the addition of napa cabbage, and thin, crisp, peppery-sweet savoy.
Be sure to wash and dry the greens well. Greens harvested from the field after a heavy rain will be quite gritty. To remove this sand and grit, soak individual leaves in a bowl of cool water and rinse well. A salad spinner works best to remove the excess water. No salad spinner? Lay the leaves out on a large towel and then gently roll the towel to collect the moisture. Well drained and dried greens make for a bright, flavorful salad, while wet greens produce a soggy mess.
As you choose ingredients to accent the salad, think about different textures and flavors: crunchy, soft, sweet, salty, tart and spicy. The ingredients should complement each other. Some of my favorite combinations are made with fruit, nuts and cheese: Tangy goat cheese, dried cranberries and walnuts. Smoked Cheddar, apples and almonds. Hearty blue cheese, pears and pecans. I also enjoy combinations of grated veggies such as carrots, baby turnips, or radish, toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds and fresh herbs such as chives, mint, parsley and thyme.
Dress the salad lightly and serve immediately. Don’t drown the leaves! Greens begin to wilt as soon as they are dressed. A good dressing has just the right balance of oil, acid, sweet and salt.
Warm Cider Dressing is one of our favorites. The flavor is subtle, yet versatile enough to take on whatever greens in the bowl, from spicy tat soi to the buttery bibbs. However you choose to create your salad, this is truly local seasonal eating at its best.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions at
Warm Cider Dressing
- 3 Tbsps. finely chopped shallot*
- 3 Tbsps. olive oil
- 1/3 cup apple-cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- salt and fresh pepper
In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring until softened, about 4 minutes. Add vinegar and maple syrup and bring to a boil. Season with salt and fresh pepper. Store in the refrigerator. Warm slightly in the microwave before dressing the salad. Makes 1 cup dressing.
Nutritional analysis per tablespoon: 42 calories, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2.5 grams fat, (0 grams trans fat), 10 mg. Sodium, less than 1 gram fiber.
* Shallot is a more subtle flavored member of the onion family, but onion can be substituted.