If you’re someone who serves yourself salads on the daily or you’re a regular at your local Sweetgreen (et al), you likely already have a few of your own tips and tricks to ensure your favorite dish is anything but sad. Maybe you toss in roasted veggies or serve your finished product with a fried egg on top, or you shower your greens with seeds for crunch. Perhaps you’re partial to adding a scoop of heart-healthy hummus or creamy avocado in addition to DIY dressing. Regardless of your power move of choice, it’s likely you’ve already found that making salad can be just as inventive as any other form of culinary art.
That being said, whether you’re a salad-serving novice or you have a PhD in how to serve perfectly-cut kale, there are some guaranteed tips you haven’t tried in America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Salad Cookbook ($24). You may think a salad cookbook is an oxymoron, but one peek at the vibrant meals inside will change your mind—and show you that underestimating the potential of this dish is a tragic loss. The recipes included prove that salad is so much more than just a side of lettuce and croutons; rather, it’s a wholesome, hearty dish that deserves center stage. A few standouts include Summer Ramen Salad, Turmeric Rice and Chicken Salad With Herbs, Cape Gooseberry Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing, and Zucchini Noodle-Chicken Salad with Ginger and Garam Masala.
In addition to the 200-plus recipes, the book is also full of pro salad-tossing tips so smart they’re worth putting into practice even when you aren’t following a recipe from the book. Here, Kaumudi Marathe, the senior editor on the America’s Test Kitchen book team, shares three tricks in particular you have to try at home. Keep reading and get ready to give you salad game a major upgrade.
3 salad-making tips that will upgrade your favorite healthy meal:
1. Toast or bloom spices for extra flavor
Spices, seasonings, and herbs are readily integrated into virtually everything we cook, but for some reason they’re often neglected when it comes to preparing salads. No longer! Once you start spicing up your greens, you’ll never look back.
To really enhance the flavor, try toasting or blooming them. To toast spices, transfer two tablespoons (or less) of the whole spice into a dry skillet. Warm them for one to three minutes, until they’re warm and fragrant. To bloom spices, heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Then, carefully add in the whole spices and reduce the heat to low. The seeds should start popping right away. Cook for about five minutes.
“For blooming whole spices, use an oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or grapeseed oil,” Marathe says. She adds that whole spices like mustard seed, cumin seed, fenugreek seed, and nigella seed, as well as cinnamon sticks, green and black cardamom pods, and cloves are all great ones to try. “Powdered spices would burn in hot oil so they are only added later in the cooking process,” she explains. “However, there are some powders that are bloomed in hot oil while making a seasoning. These are asafetida, turmeric, and red chili.” Marathe says it’s key to add them after the whole spices have popped and the heat is reduced. “The other flavorings that are bloomed in hot oil are fresh curry leaves, dried bay leaves, and fresh or dried whole chiles,” she says.
Watch the video below to see how to make an anti-inflammatory salad:
2. Overcook your pasta when making pasta salad
Mind, blown. Whether you’re using pasta as the core of your salad or it’s just part of the mix, the salad cookbook offers up this unexpected tip: rather than serving al dente, overcook your noodles ever-so-slightly. This will ensure that the pasta absorbs more dressing and doesn’t dry out as quickly—super important if you’re meal-prepping and want to eat your pasta salad throughout the week.
If you’re meal-prepping and are trying to decide whether to go ahead and add your dressing right away or to wait until right before you eat, Marathe says to go ahead and add it, which will ensure the flavor really seeps into the noodles. “To serve, [the pasta salad] can simply be brought to room temperature and refreshed with a little warm water and olive oil,” she says. “However, add-ins such as shrimp or arugula should only be mixed into a dressed pasta salad just before serving.”
3. Spread grains on a baking sheet to ensure they don’t clump
Grains are a great ingredient to incorporate into salads for taste, texture, and fiber. The one problem? They’re prone to getting pretty clumpy. To avoid this, Marathe says to make sure you’re cooking your grains with plenty of water and using a big enough pot. “The easiest way to cut down on sticking is to boil grains in a generous amount of water—4 quarts per pound of dried grains—to dilute the starches,” Marathe says. Once your grains are cooked and cooled, simply spread out the grains on a baking sheet after they cool (but prior to dressing) to help them dry out evenly. This handy trick will help you serve perfectly tender, clump-free grain bowls for all of eternity.
Playing around with spices, pasta, and grains are just three ways to elevate the salad experience. True fans know there’s a never-ending list of delicious ways to experiment. So many, in fact, you could have a salad every day and still surprise yourself with the range of fresh options and opportunities to finesse. Sad desk salad? Nope, don’t know her.
Get more salad ideas (and share yours!) in Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group.
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