Glorious concoctions, salads are artful jumbles that showcase vegetables at their most vibrant. They assume many roles in a meal: as introduction, as accompaniment, and as a palate-cleansing intermezzo. And during warm weather, when only something light will satisfy, salads often take center stage as the main course.
Lettuce is the most familiar addition to the salad bowl. A marvelous salad may be constructed from just one variety if all the components are carefully orchestrated, as in a basic green salad with a tart vinaigrette. Or mix a variety of favorite greens for a refreshing change of pace.
Other salads are more complex, with lettuce a minor player or entirely absent. Regardless of the selection of ingredients, a velvety dressing ties it all together. Use only the finest ingredients: flavorful oils and quality vinegars, fresh herbs, select seasonings. Experiment to find ones that please you; specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets now offer condiments in such exciting variety that you have many choices. And be sure that greens and other additions are thoroughly dried, so their moisture doesn’t dilute the dressing.
Fill the sink with several inches of water. Tear off leaves from the head and drop in the water. Swish the greens around in the water with your hands so dirt or grit is rinsed away.
Set the leaves on one or more layers of paper towels. Gently, but thoroughly, pat them with the toweling to remove all moisture, including any hidden in their creases. Replace sodden towels with dry ones when necessary.
Have a salad bowl ready. With your hands, tear the dried leaves into bite-sized pieces (or the size specified in the recipe). Drop into the bowl. If the leaves are small, they may be used whole.
Measure vinegar and place in a measuring cup or small bowl. Add the mustard. With a fork, vigorously beat the two ingredients until they blend into a homogeneous mixture.