Salad 101

In “Salad Days” in the June/July 2014 issue of School Nutrition, author Brent T. Frei explores the popularity of salad not only in K-12 school nutrition programs, but in other U.S. foodservice industry segments, as well. There’s so much more to say about salad than could fit in a print article, so this additional online content is designed to provide some supplementary fun facts.

Say you’re a first semester culinary arts student. Here’s a test question:

How many types of salad exist in modern cuisine? That answer likely has everything to do with which culinary arts program you’re enrolled in and, more specifically, which textbook you’re reading in class.

Indeed, each of four lauded, well respected textbooks for teaching culinary arts basics lists a different number of formal salad types. That’s not to say any one text is incorrect. Salad, as a category, is a big animal, after all. So, here’s a composite of “official” salad types drawn from instruction from all four sources:

  • Green Salads (or Simple Salads). Start with greens, including lettuces, spinach, chicory, endive, herbs and sometimes edible flowers. They can incorporate vegetables, meats, seafood, cheeses, fruits, nuts and bread, among other items. Use delicate dressings with delicately flavored greens and more robust dressings with more strongly flavored greens. The green salads category includes tossed salads.
  • Composed Salads (or Plated Salads). Rather than merely tossed, the components of a composed salad are artfully arranged on a plate or in a shallow bowl. A composed salad often has a base, such as romaine leaves, upon which the salad is built with other ingredients and dressed. (Tossed greens might be one component in an attractively plated composed salad.)
  • Warm Salads. Also known as wilted salads, either toss greens with a hot dressing until they begin to wilt and change color slightly, or add a hot component such as grilled chicken breast or salmon fillet to the salad.
  • Vegetable Salads. When creating a vegetable salad, prepare the vegetables as required by the specific recipe. For instance, some vegetables are simply rinsed and trimmed, while others need to be peeled, seeded and cut, and some require blanching or cooking fully.
  • Potato Salads. In the United States, potato salads are usually bound with mayonnaise or a mayo-based dressing and served cold, whereas in Europe and elsewhere in the world, they’re more likely to be dressed with a vinaigrette (representing a ratio of liquid fat to an acidic ingredient such as vinegar). Such potato salads might be served cold or warm.
  • Bound Salads. When a protein such as ham, cooked crabmeat, hard-boiled egg, chunk cooked tuna or cooked chicken is diced or shredded, combined with additional ingredients and mixed with mayonnaise or a mayo-style dressing, it becomes a bound salad that can be scooped and served as part of a lunch plate or sandwich filling. Some U.S. textbooks consider American-style potato salad a bound salad, because it’s prepared with mayo.
  • Marinated Salads. At least one textbook distinguishes marinated salads from all others when the components are marinated or dressed in a vinaigrette or acidic dressing or sauce. A German potato salad, for instance, in this case would be a marinated salad.
  • Pasta and Grain Salads. Nearly all the textbooks caution that grains and pastas be fully cooked, but not overcooked, as they’ll continue to absorb some of the liquid in the dressing and quickly can become soggy.
  • Bean and Legume Salads. Both beans and legumes should be cooked until they have a tender bite. Unlike grains and pastas, beans in a dressing will not soften further, and in fact, acid in a salad dressing will toughen beans, even if they’re fully cooked. Take special care!
  • Fruit Salads. Fruits that turn brown can be treated with a citrus juice to keep them from oxidizing, as long as the flavor of the juice does not compete with the other ingredients in the salad. Mixed fruit salads that include highly perishable fruits can be produced for volume operations by preparing the base from the least-perishable fruits. More-perishable fruits can be combined with smaller batches or individual portions at the last moment, or they can be added as a garnish.
  • Gelatin Salads. Made from flavored gelatin, most of which also are colored. Gelatin can accept vegetables and/or fruits in the mold and thus can be savory or sweet.

Sources: The Professional Chef, 7th Edition, from The Culinary Institute of America; Culinary Fundamentals, from the American Culinary Federation; Culinary Arts Principles and Applications, 2nd Edition, from Chef Michael J. McGreal of Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill.; and The Culinary Professional, co-authored by Chef Christopher Koetke of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago.

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