5 Salad Mistakes to Avoid

America's Test Kitchen

Think salads are too simple to mess up? Think again. Paying attention to the details and knowing the right techniques make all the difference in preparing a salad that’ll impress everyone at the table.

Start making salads like a pro and avoid these 5 common mistakes.

1. Don’t Buy the Precut Stuff

Precut lettuce will be inferior in quality because the leaves begin to spoil once they are cut (bagged hearts of romaine are fine but stay away from bags of cut romaine). Endive and radicchio are always sold in heads, and because they are sturdy and will last a while, they are nice to have on hand to complement other greens and just to add more interest to a salad. And when a special salad is planned for company, for the best results you should buy the greens either the day of the party or the day before.

2. Do Measure Correctly

If a recipe calls for a certain amount of lightly packed greens, simply drop them by the handful into a measuring cup, then gently pat down, using your fingertips rather than the palm of your hand. We like to measure greens for a salad using a very large glass measuring cup.

3. Do Use the Right Dressing with the Right Greens

Mellow-flavored greens are easily overpowered and are best complemented by a simple dressing such as a red wine vinaigrette. Assertive or spicy greens can easily stand up to strong flavors like mustard, shallots, and balsamic vinegar and can also be paired with a slightly sweet or creamy vinaigrette.

4. Don’t Overdress Your Salad

Getting a properly dressed salad requires a few simple steps. You never want to dump a set amount of dressing over greens and assume they will be perfectly coated. Once you have overdressed your salad, there is no going back, so it’s best to lightly drizzle and toss the salad with tongs a couple of times, tasting as you go. Generally, ¼ cup vinaigrette dresses 8 to 10 cups of lightly packed greens, enough for 4 to 6 side salads or 2 to 3 dinner salads. For the freshest salad, make sure to dress your greens just before serving. Also, for just a hint of garlic flavor, rub the inside of the salad bowl with half a clove of peeled garlic before adding the lettuce.

5. Don’t Try to Dress Wet Greens

Greens must be dry for the dressing to cling. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a bowl of naked greens and a puddle of dressing. Drying greens (a salad spinner is a smart essential) also keeps the greens fresher longer; damp greens spoil more quickly in the refrigerator.