Everyone knows how to make a green salad—just wash, dress, and toss. But few know how to make a really great green salad, like those served in the best restaurants, where tender, fresh greens are handled with care from garden to plate and tossed ever so gently with just the right amount of oil and vinegar. Wonderful salads aren't hard to make; they just require care.
Visit our dedicated section of all things fresh for more salad recipes and a video demonstrating the best way to wash greens. You can also use our app to create your own salad recipe (and share it!). If you're looking for salads fit for a holiday meal, check out the Starters section on our Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner. And, if you missed Laurie Buckle's demo on how easy it is to make your own vinaigrette, watch it now.
Start with the freshest greens
With all the varieties of lettuce available, a green salad can take on a whole range of flavors, textures, and colors. My own versions depend on the time of the year and the greens that look best at the market.
In summer, I make salads from equal parts of vibrant basil and slightly peppery arugula. In winter, radicchio, endive, and escarole make one of my favorite after-dinner salads; these bitter greens have a marvelous way of making me feel less full after a heavy meal.
Whatever you choose, start with the freshest greens you can find, those that appear just-picked. Look at them closely, feel them, smell them; if no one's looking, take a small bite. If your heart was set on radicchio but it looks wilted or smells past its prime, pick another slightly bitter green, such as endive or escarole, instead.
Cut the leaves, but keep their shape
I have a horror of salads made with leaves cut into bite-size pieces, a habit that probably evolved in the days when it was considered impolite to eat salad with a knife. If the leaves are cut too small, they lose their distinctive shapes and a lot of their crunch. On the other hand, you don't want to serve giant leaves that won't fit on the plate or that are difficult to maneuver.
Greens with small leaves, such as arugula, basil, purslane, watercress, and young spinach, should be stemmed but the leaves left whole. Larger leaves, from greens such as romaine, large red oak leaf, and escarole, should be trimmed as shown in the photos. Cut away thick, woody stems. Use a sharp knife to slice off stems like those found on arugula and watercress.
To determine the amount of greens needed, figure on about a handful of salad per person; double the amount if the salad is a main course.
Tear large leaves like romaine and large oak leaf along the central rib; they'll retain more of their character.
Trim out tough ribs completely. Fold the leaf lengthwise and gently pull up on the stalk, ripping the rib out as you go.