Salads can be a meal in their own right or serve as the perfect side dish to complement a heavier recipe. We may think of lettuce when we think of a salad, but other ingredients, like pasta or whole grains like farro, can also become the base of a delicious salad. No matter what you use to prepare your dish, one thing remains the same: Heavier toppings should be added after the dressing to prevent them from ending up at the bottom of the bowl.
Preparing a salad well is an integral part of its flavor; adding some things too early and others too late can ruin the flavor and texture of the salad. Plus, presentation is important and you don’t want your guests to see a big pile of greens because all the toppings sank to the bottom when you tossed them in with the dressing. Luckily, there are easy ways to ensure your salad tastes and looks as great as possible.
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Avoid adding heavy toppings before plating the dish.
Tossing the salad involves tossing the ingredients with the dressing to make sure everything is evenly coated. Lighter toppings, like sliced red onion or diced tomatoes, can be incorporated before tossing the salad. But for something heavier, like artichoke hearts or protein, wait until the salad is dressed. Otherwise, the mixing process could move the heavier ingredients to the bottom of the bowl, impacting the presentation and distribution of the ingredients. Adding a layer of dressing also makes the lettuce (or pasta, or any other salad base) a little heavier, which helps it hold the topping better.
There is one exception, though: If the heavier topping helps develop the flavor of the salad, you may need to add it before the dressing. Although something like chicken or nuts can be added after, if you want the flavors of certain toppings (like orange slices or any other fruit) to combine with the dressing, you may need to toss them with the salad. If you do this, reserve a few pieces of garnish to then top the salad for a better presentation.
Tips to Take Your Salad Up a Notch
If you’re making a salad with green vegetables, avoid adding the dressing until you’re about to serve it. Lettuce leaves are delicate, as are other leafy vegetables like arugula or spinach, so they will wilt easily once tossed into the dressing. You can prepare the toppings and measure the dressing in advance, then add everything just before serving.
Consider the moisture level of certain fillings. Tomatoes, for example, harbor a lot of moisture, so take that into account when thinking about how much dressing to add. Also, if you’re making a pasta salad, add half the dressing when you cook the pasta so the flavors blend while the dish rests. Then, just before serving, add the rest of the dressing to ensure the salad isn’t too dry for your guests.
When deciding on toppings, choose ones that balance each other. Sweet fruit slices paired with tangy blue cheese will create the perfect flavor contrast. The rich, fatty flavor of a mayonnaise-based salad can almost always be enhanced by the acidity of lemons or oranges; flavors that build and complement each other are always those that go best together.