Cooking Tips for Salad Making
There are lots of basic cooking tips which you can apply to salad recipes but the most important one perhaps is to have fun with the salad. Choose contrasting textures and flavors and use plenty of color to give your salad a really fresh look. If you are serving chicken or beef on top of your salad, you might like to serve the meat warm. Pasta salad and potato salad are especially popular choices so let’s take a closer look at how to make those exceptionally good.
Pasta Salad Tips
Pasta salad is really easy and you can add pretty much anything to it. Boil some pasta until it is just tender and then drain it and spread it over a baking sheet to cool. You can add raw or cooked vegetables, seafood, cheese, beans, or chicken, for example, along with some kind of dressing.
Some vegetables are best sautéed or grilled but others can be finely chopped and cooked with the pasta in the boiling water. Asparagus, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, snow peas, fennel, avocados, artichoke hearts, and celery are just a few ideas for vegetables.
Use stronger flavors more sparingly than milder ones. For example, parmesan cheese is quite strong so if you are making Italian pasta salad, you might like to use plenty of sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella but only a little parmesan, so it does not overwhelm the more subtle flavors.
Herbs and onion feature in the best pasta salad recipes. Orange or lemon zest is also good. Try mint and dill in creamy pasta salads, basil, and cilantro in Asian ones or tarragon or rosemary (just a tiny bit because these are strong) mixed with a little parsley in most other kinds. Parsley is always a safe choice for pasta salad so if you do not know which herb to go for, choose parsley.
Your dressing needs to be emulsified and thick, else the pasta will absorb the vinegar, and the oil will cling to the droplets on the pasta. Use lemon juice or mild rice wine vinegar rather than balsamic vinegar which turns the pasta brown. Alternatively, if you prefer a creamy pasta salad, use mayonnaise, sour cream, Greek yogurt, Miracle Whip or something similar.
Potato Salad Preparation Tips
Choose the right potato for making your potato salad recipe. You will need a waxy type, rather than a flour one. The floury ones are good for mashing but tend to disintegrate when you make potato salad recipes. Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and red potatoes are all recommended because they have a high moisture content and they will stand up well to chopping and being tossed with the other ingredients. Peel the skins on or peel them off, as you like.
If you want to make a warm potato salad, ensure the dressing is standing by. If you want to make a cold one, spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet so they can cool. Because potatoes are extra-absorbent when hot, you can sprinkle some salt, pepper, vinegar, and dried herbs over them before they cool down if you like.
Good herbs for potatoes include parsley, chives, dill, sage, basil, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme, and you can sprinkle these over the potatoes dried or add them to the finished salad fresh. When they stop steaming you can put them in the refrigerator to get cold. Remember that potato salad intensifies in flavor over time so make it a day in advance for a great flavor.
Basic Cooking Tips for Salad Veggies
Some vegetables are always served raw and this includes cucumber and other vegetables with a high water content. Try cooking cucumber and it will turn to mush. You can sauté other veggies though, until they are hot and slightly tender but still crisp. Try sautéing celery in a little olive oil. Even chopped Romaine is amazing when you sauté it for a minute. To sauté something means to cook it in a frying pan or skillet, in a little oil or butter, until it is soft and tender or “crisp-tender” (tender but still with a little bite to it).
Other vegetables which can be cooked and then added to a salad include garlic, onion, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Whether or not to cook your veggies depends on the salad itself. If you want to serve a warm steak salad, for example, you might like to serve some sautéed mushrooms with it. The steak can still be served on a bed of salad greens so technically it is still a salad.
If you are trying to eat healthy food, you might prefer to dry-fry your veggies or microwave them, rather than using olive oil or butter. You can actually fry things in a little water but you have to watch the food as it cooks and stir it constantly. The reason we fry things in fat rather than water (or stock, or another liquid like wine) is because fat does not evaporate and water can evaporate really quickly.
If you are making a chilled potato salad, you might like to stir some hot, sautéed onion into the mixture just before serving it, to add a contrasting texture and flavor. Raw onions will give you a satisfying crunch but cooked ones have a sweeter flavor and a different texture, so it is your choice whether or not to sauté the onions before adding them.
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