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How To Prep Salads

Updated on December 22, 2012
Yummy salads are easy to create anytime - you just need a plan.
Yummy salads are easy to create anytime - you just need a plan. | Source

I've come to really appreciate salads. As a main dish during summer heat spells or with a cozy bowl of soup in the winter, salads have become a staple in my house.

That wasn't always the case, though. For many years I avoided making green salads from scratch because the idea of prepping all those ingredients intimidated me. Finally, I grew tired of missing out, and started devising a game plan for myself.

All it really took was laying things out step-by-step. And once I got a system, salads turned out to be fun to make, and to eat! If you're willing to invest some time, you'll discover how simple it is to compose a beautiful salad for yourself.

Choosing Vegetables

Start with a list of "foundation" ingredients - things like greens, tomatoes and carrots. Once you have those, you can be as creative as you like - just follow your taste buds!

Spinach leaves
Spinach leaves | Source

Greens

The darker the leaf, the more nutrition in it. You'll find a great variety in your local grocery store, like Red and Green lettuce, Romaine, Arugula, and Spinach. Try a combination of two or three, to add depth to your salad's flavor.

Note: Prepackaged greens offer a convenient alternative to fresh. Just take a look inside the bag to see the condition of the leaves, and check the expiration date.

Try adding all sorts of veggies into your green salad
Try adding all sorts of veggies into your green salad | Source

Root Vegetables

Carrots and radishes are salad staples. But if you want to be adventurous, try something new: parsnips, rutabaga, beets or even sweet potatoes.

Other Veggie Add-ins

Bell peppers in green, red, yellow and orange, Vidalia (sweet) or red onions, Cucumber, Green or Yellow Squash - any or all of these will liven up your salad. A walk down the produce aisle will give you even more ideas for vegetables (or fruit) to add.

Protein

Putting black beans or chic peas into your salad boosts the nutrition by adding healthy protein. Walnuts, almonds or pine nuts are other sources.

A good vinaigrette only takes a few simple ingredients.
A good vinaigrette only takes a few simple ingredients. | Source

Dressing

You can always buy whatever dressing you like best. But in just a few minutes and with only a couple of ingredients, you can make your own healthy vinaigrette that will bring brightness to your salad.

Soak greens in cold water.
Soak greens in cold water.
Sort through the greens by hand.
Sort through the greens by hand. | Source

Cleaning Vegetables

Greens

Whether you use freshly picked or packaged greens, It is really important to thoroughly rinse them to get rid of dead leaves, sand and bugs.

First, use Comet or some other disinfectant to clean your sink. Fill the sink up at least halfway with cold water (I often use my dishwashing bucket instead).

Drop the greens into the water. With your hands, gently press them down into the water, let them sit for a couple of minutes. Then, pull each piece out, putting the healthy leaves in a bowl or container and throwing the others away. Repeat this process.

Then, put the saved pieces into a salad spinner to dry them. If you don't have a salad spinner, there are two other methods you can use:

  • Lay the pieces between sheets of paper towels and gently press them, then leave them to air dry
  • Lay the pieces on a beach towel. Gently roll up the towel and place in your clothes washer. Turn the setting on spin for just a couple of minutes.

When the leaves are dry, put them into a large bowl. You can store the greens in this bowl or a large freezer bag in the refrigerator.

A good salad spinner makes prepping greens easier.
A good salad spinner makes prepping greens easier. | Source
Full spinach leaf
Full spinach leaf
Taking the spine off of a spinach leaf.
Taking the spine off of a spinach leaf. | Source

Note: Tear any larger leaves into smaller pieces so they're easier to eat. Also, removing the "spine" of heartier leaves like spinach and romaine makes them easier to eat and looks more attractive. To do this, bend the leaf in half and slowly separate the middle membrane from the sides of the leaf.

Rinse your veggies before using.
Rinse your veggies before using. | Source

Add-Ins

All veggies should be scrubbed under cold water. Produce brushes are helpful for getting the skin really clean. Then you can cut them up the way you like.

Peel carrots and other root veggies.
Peel carrots and other root veggies. | Source

Root Vegetables

Carrots, beets, radishes are examples of these. Their skins can be tough and bitter. Peeling them after washing reveals the more tender and sweet parts underneath.

You can try all sorts of ways to use carrots and other heartier roots: mince them, continue peeling them into long strips, or grate them finely.

Cucumbers, onion and tomatoes can be chopped or minced to the size you like.
Cucumbers, onion and tomatoes can be chopped or minced to the size you like. | Source

To dice a vegetable like tomato or cucumber, start by slicing them. Stack the slices and cut those into strips. Turn 90 degrees and cut the strips into medium-sized chunks. Sometimes I leave them as strips and simply cut them in half lengthwise for a different look.

Onions are versatile - they can be finely minced or left as rings. You can use them raw or cook them first. If you find them too pungent raw, saute 1 cup of onions in 2 tbsp of canola oil for about 3 minutes. This will bring out the sweetness. Let them cool and add to your salad.

Dressings

For a basic vinaigrette, try this:

3/4 cup Olive Oil

1/4 cup Balsamic or White Wine Vinegar

Salt & pepper to taste


Combine all the ingredients and whisk well.

You can experiment with this recipe by adding in other ingredients. Put in a crushed clove of garlic, 1 tsp minced shallot, or grated lemon zest. For more tang, spoon in a 1-2 tsp of whole-grain mustard.

For a true test of the flavor, dip a piece of lettuce in and taste.

Storing Vegetables

Salads can be made for the same day or for several days after. The trick is knowing which ingredients can be prepped ahead of time, and which won't keep as long.

What will last (can be prepped up to 4 days before serving): leafy greens (stored in a plastic bag or bowl in the fridge), root vegetables, florets of broccoli or cauliflower, nuts, onions

What won't last (to be prepped the same day as serving): tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, beans, cheese, meat, eggs, peppers

Comments

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    • profile image

      Heather63 

      6 years ago

      Thanks Helena - I am jealous of your ability to grow a garden. I decidedly do not have a green thumb, so I admire those who do. There really isn't any store substitute for having your own veggies to pick fresh. I love getting "gifts" from my mom's or neighbors' gardens!

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      We have a huge garden every year and I get so excited when the lettuce is finally ready to be cut the first time because I know that there's a salad in my near future. :) The rest of the ingredients change as the spring/summer goes on. That's one of the beauties of salad. It's never the same thing twice! Great hub!

    • profile image

      Heather63 

      6 years ago

      Thanks, Dorsi! I hope you enjoy the dressing - have fun with it!!

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 

      6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      OMG I want a salad now! Great tips, I am going to try your Balsamic dressing recipe. Every Sunday I look forward to my friends salads at church - he puts all kinds of things into his salads and I never ever get bored of eating them. Pinned and rated up!

    • profile image

      Heather63 

      6 years ago

      Yes - I've tried cannellini beans too - mild but satisfying.

    • LPogue profile image

      LPogue 

      6 years ago from Missouri

      We add well-rinsed kidney beans to our salads for protein. Delicious!

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