With spring here, hosting a couple of good friends for an al fresco luncheon in your garden or on the back patio is on the minds of many. And, as many ladies-who-lunch know, a light yet filling salad is a wonderful thing to serve. But there are a few tips to keep in mind so you don't leave your guests hungry for more, or serve them overly-dressed (and wilted) greens. And who better to share sage advice on this topic than Patricia Wells, renowned cook and author of Salad as a Meal.
1. Make Your Salad Work For You
When planning a luncheon where you plan on serving a variety of salads as the meal, you don’t want to be dressing a multitude of dishes just before serving. That’s why Wells makes her salads do the work. “I always looks to salads that can be made ahead of time and actually profit from a few hours of marinating. Or, salads where ingredients can be prepared and/or gathered ahead of time and tossed together at the last minute,” she explains.
2. Serve a Salad that is Light yet Satisfying
According to Wells, there is such a thing as the perfect lunch salad. “My preference is for one that is light, quick and easy to prepare, and leaves you feeling satisfied but ready to approach the afternoon with vigor,” she explains. Some might find a light salad best; Wells favors high-protein salads like a crab or chicken salad, or a Salade Niçoise. Others might prefer a lightly-dressed green salad — an art form in and of itself.
3. Add Just the Right Amount of Dressing
When serving a salad for one, choosing how much dressing to use is up to the person eating the salad. But when serving a salad to guests, how much is too much? Wells explains that the French rule when adding dressing is to “fatiguer la salade” — that is to exhaust it but not drown it. “A French friend [of mine] in Provence insists that a green salad should be tossed 33 times to coat the greens perfectly.” Start with a little dressing and just watch the leaves. “The secret is to coat the leaves lightly and evenly. Not drown them,” she advises. “There should be no dressing at the bottom of the bowl once you have dressed and tossed a salad.”
4. Round Out the Salad with Something More
Those with larger appetites might find the thought of a salad as a meal distressing, fearing a lingering hunger. Yet there are a multitude of ways to round out a meal, from appetizers and soups, to bread and cheeses. Start the meal by serving a plated soup before passing around a large composed salad served family-style. Wells likes to serve soup, like her favorite Evergreen Tomato Velouté, in a small glass to drink along with the salad. If you’d rather mingle over cocktails and appetizers before sitting down to lunch, an assortment of small bites will take the edge off your guests hunger without filling them up. Alternatively, serve something more substantial along with the salad, like a hearty focaccia or a wedge of a Tomato and Mustard Tart.
5. Always Have the Right Ingredients for Homemade Dressing on Hand
If you find yourself always turning to salads when entertaining, it helps to have the right ingredients for making flavorful dressings always at the ready. Obviously, a good olive oil is a must. To that, Wells suggests stocking capers, cornichons, lemon confit, lemon zest-flavored salt, and curry powder — homemade if possible — in the pantry. Having light cream, lemons, and yogurt in the refrigerator enables you to make a variety of cream-based dressings as well.
Salad as a Meal Menu