Man, is it hot! The best dinner I can think of during the summer months is a crisp refreshing salad. One of the most important steps in preparing a great salad (or any greens for that matter) is washing them. There are salad greens out there that have been triple washed and washing them further may only serve to damage them, but the rest of the greens out there should be washed. There is nothing worse than biting into a crisp cool salad on a hot summer day and feeling the crunch of sand in your teeth; it’s worse than finger nails on a chalk board. Remember that several outbreaks of food borne illness have been linked to vegetables of one type or another and always use a cutting board dedicated to items that are not going to be cooked (no raw meat or seafood). So, what do you do, just put the lettuce in the sink and spray it with water?
No, that won’t get the lettuce clean. Before we clean the lettuce let’s clear up something else that people argue about all of the time…to tear or to cut. Many people believe that lettuce must be torn apart into bite sized pieces and that one should never cut lettuce. This was absolutely true when knives were made of high carbon steel that left the lettuce with dark stains, but most people have Stainless Steel knives now, so this no longer applies. If you add to that the fact that if y0u apply too much pressure to the leaves, you could damage or bruise them making your salad wilt in a few minutes. My practice has been to cut the lettuce with a good stainless knife and I always get good results.
Back to the washing part…I like to wash my lettuce in very cold water. So cold, in fact, that the tap water in the summer is too warm. My solution is to add ice. I take a salad spinner (also a kitchen essential) with the strainer part in it, fill it with water chilled with enough ice to make it nice and cold to the touch, and submerge my cut lettuce in it. The lettuce can actually sit in the water for a few minutes, the cold water will crisp the tender greens. During this time agitate the lettuce and water gently but firmly to loosen any dirt that is hiding in any crevices allowing it to fall to the bottom of the container. Over filling the bowl with too much lettuce may trap dirt in the cut greens so be sure to leave enough room for the dirt to fall to the bottom. In the restaurant, we would fill a cleaned and sanitized sink with water and a good measure of ice and only put about ½ of the sink full of cut greens so they would float and then we would lift the salad out of the sink with a colander. In this case, simply lift the inner part of the salad spinner out and discard the water. Spin the salad greens with enthusiasm and get ready to dress them.
As you know, I am not a fan of prepared dressings so over the next couple of weeks, we will be discussing several of the more popular salad dressings available at the supermarket. It never ceases to amaze me how big the dressing aisle is in the supermarket. There are no dressings out there that can’t be made easily at home with simple ingredients. The flavor of home-made dressing is far superior to any store bought dressing. Enjoy!