By Samantha Cabaluna
I had been working at Earthbound Farm for at least six or seven years and I thought I had pretty much earned my black belt in salads by then. What made throwing a delicious salad together every day so effortless was the fact that I kept the ingredients list short and satisfying and didn’t fuss around with making salad dressing. Instead, I’d use good oil, acid (vinegar or citrus juice), salt, and pepper. Voilá!
I’ve never liked bottled dressing and making my own always felt like too much hassle. Besides, the right oils and vinegars (as noted below) enhance your delicious ingredients rather than mask them. Just assemble the greens, drizzle on a little oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, then toss it all together and add the other ingredients (my simplest go-to is dried cherries, feta cheese, toasted nuts). Toss again if needed.
Super easy and always tasty—it doesn’t get much better. Well, that’s what I thought. Until I got schooled by a true Salad Samurai, Sarah LaCasse, who was Earthbound Farm’s Executive Chef at the time. One small change was enough to seriously up my salad game, all with the same ingredients.
Chef Sarah explained to me that layering in the ingredients made a big difference—and boy was she right! Her method:
1. Drizzle oil lightly on the greens and toss to coat evenly. Then…
2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to distribute evenly. Then…
3. Sprinkle on your vinegar and toss again.
You will be surprised at what a difference there is in flavor simply by following this sequence. Yet, the whole process is still so quick and always tasty. Chef Sarah explained that the secret is starting with the oil and coating the leaves first. This helps distribute the salt and pepper more evenly and that really kicks up the flavor. Plus, with this method, you can say goodbye to those old bottles of salad dressing, gradually getting gunky in your refrigerator door.
Another of Chef Sarah’s tips: with this simple dressing technique, the vinegar you choose will affect the flavor even more than the oil you choose. Sure, choose a nice oil—my preference is neutral avocado or sunflower for most everyday salads—but do yourself a flavor (bad pun intended) and when it comes to vinegar, venture out beyond your usual red or white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or red balsamic.
My go-to vinegar for this simplest of dressings is white or golden balsamic vinegar. It’s not as overpowering as red balsamic, but very smooth and adds depth of flavor and complexity. Another good option is sherry vinegar, which is a bit lighter and less sweet, but still delightful. Lighter still is champagne vinegar, while rice wine vinegar is great for salads with Asian flavors. If you start with a neutral oil, you really can’t go wrong.
Give Chef Sarah’s Samurai Salad ways a try and let us know what you think—her method could change your salad game forever.