We all get into habits with cooking—and one that I was stuck in for years—was the tossed salad. Nothing wrong with a tossed salad (I still love them) but when you have beautiful, vibrant greens and veggies, a plattered salad can be a welcome and enticing change. Put it at the center of the table and let people serve themselves.
Here are some of the key ingredients that make a plattered salad work:
Lettuces with various colors: bright celadon green, specked lettuces, heirloom red leaf lettuce. Combine several varieties. Do try and get shorter leaf lettuce like baby gem varieties. The idea is to lie the leaves down in a colorful arrangement and then cut them once or twice with your fork into bite size pieces. The larger leaves make it a tad laborious.
Tip: do not cut the leaves; arrange them whole.
Heirloom tomatoes: get a variety of shapes and sizes and ones with pretty stripes if you can find them. Yellow, green, red, black, round, ovals, beefsteaks, cherries – sliced and slightly salted with Kosher salt. I like Kosher salt best on tomatoes because it has a subtle taste; any kind of sea salt is stronger and best to let the wonderful taste of the tomato dominate here. Try and hit a farmers market for the best selection – and be sure to slightly squeeze for firmness. A tomato that looks fabulous to the eye can be overripe and mushy.
Edible flowers. You can buy them at most higher end markets these days like Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Gelson’s. That little dazzle of a petal goes a long way.
Roast some nuts and toss on top. Just use a frying pan and be sure to keep your eye on them. They are easy to burn! Pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, slivered almonds – take your pick! FYI – when I roast any kind of nut, I do extras. I love to keep these on hand in Tupperware containers. I use them on everything.
Add some grilled veggies: baby Japanese eggplant, squash and zucchini – all work well for a plattered salad. Again, go with different shapes and colors and keep slices of the same variety together on the plate.
A really solid dressing with good extra virgin olive oil. I typically do a half a cup olive oil and a fourth a cup vinegar – often an aged balsamic, sherry vinegar or a white wine vinegar. Then I add fresh lemon (about a tablespoon), some lemon zest (a teaspoon approx.) and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Sometimes I’ll add a teaspoon of finely diced shallot or fresh chives. Again, make extra and leave in fridge – it keeps well!
Now this salad pictured below has a spring / summer vibe. If you want to do something that looks more fall / winter, and something that is terrific for holiday gatherings, make it with: baby gem red leaf lettuce, pomegranate seeds, slivered red onions, pumpkin seeds and avocado. Top with goat or feta cheese.
Tip: toss the juice at the bottom of the pomegranate container into the dressing.
I like plattered salads on white platters or solids, i.e. ones with less color/pattern. The simpler the platter, the more the veggies can shine. Spread it out, have fun arranging! I almost do it like I would a cheese/charcuterie board, with an eye toward color and texture.