autumn salad with apple cider vinaigrette.

for the longest time, our house has been haunted.

well, not by actual ghosts. that would be totally spooky. the hotel we stayed at while in New Orleans was definitely haunted, and it was way creepy.

so while we may not have spirits and spooks in the house, we have been cursed for a while. it’s just been awful.

Ryan and i both love salads. we always order them when we go out to dinner, because for years when we tried making them at home, they’d never measure up. they were simply sub-par. hardly passable as rabbit food.

apparently, we’re not alone. i’ve asked around, and a lot of people say that they just can’t make a good salad at a home. people, we’ve got a salad crisis on our hands! we have to stop the madness.

friends, i think i’ve unlocked the secrets to making a fantastic, restaurant-quality salad at home.

well, i suppose they’re not secrets, per se. just simple tips. common sense. things that when i finally figured them out, i definitely said “no duh” aloud, like a sassy seventh grader. do seventh graders still say “no duh?” i definitely did when i was that age. well, i still say it. whatevs.

moving on…how about some tips and tricks for making great salads at home?

lettuce

use high quality stuff. spring mix, romaine, baby spinach, those are all great. iceberg lettuce? not so much. iceberg lettuce has a time and place–taco night. i’ve tried topping tacos with arugula, hearts of romaine…it’s just not the same. iceberg lettuce + tacos forever. but for a salad? nope.

i like to buy salad greens at the farmer’s market, but you can find quality produce at your local grocery store. i buy pre-washed bagged greens when i can’t get to the market.

i’d recommend investing in a salad spinner if you plan on making salads regularly (you totally should!)…they’re inexpensive, and do a damn fine job of getting rid of water on freshly washed greens. your dressing won’t stick to your lettuce if there’s any trace of moisture, so give ’em a spin!

dry greens make for happy salads. true story.

vinaigrette

please go to your fridge and throw away all of the half-empty bottles of salad dressing rotting away in there. most of those dressings are full of scary, undesirable ingredients, chock full of sodium, and frankly don’t taste very good.

you can make salad dressing! pretty much any dressing that’s available on the market today can be made at home for a fraction of the cost–higher quality, too! everybody wins.

i promise i’ll share great recipes for caesar, asian ginger, and other great flavors another time. today, let’s talk about vinaigrettes.

you can get pretty creative when it comes to making a vinaigrette. start off with great quality olive oil and vinegar. balsamic, apple cider, white wine, red wine…any of these vinegars are fabulous for vinaigrette. add fresh herbs, grated garlic/shallot/ginger, maybe some lemon juice and zest…the sky’s the limit!

oh, and be sure to season the vinaigrette well! kosher salt. fresh-cracked pepper. it makes a huge difference.

please, don’t drown your salad in dressing! there should be just enough so the leaves are lightly coated, but not so much that there’s a swimming pool at the bottom of your bowl. no bueno.

toppings/mix-ins

some people tend to get a little heavy-handed when it comes to topping their salads. i blame salad bars, with their endless amount of ingredients available to mix into your salad. hard-boiled eggs! beets! bacon bits! bleu cheese! olives! sunflower seeds! crunchy sesame sticks! ham cubes! pulled pork! well, maybe not pulled pork, but you get the point.

the best things in life are simple, right? so keep that in mind when making salads at home. three is my magic number in terms of mix-ins. i pick three things that go together, and sprinkle them throughout my salad. that way, there’s not a thousand ingredients buried in your salad, all fighting for your palate’s attention.

confession time: sometimes, i’ll get a little crazy and add four mix-ins to my salad. i know, i’m totally wild. but never more than that. promise.

so there you have it! a few simple secrets to making amazing salads at home. it’s doable, trust me. we were stuck in a salad rut for a long time, and i thought it was hopeless.

thank god i figured it out! salads are delicious, healthy and filling. i’m pretty much in love with them.

this autumn salad is definitely my new favorite. spring greens, dried cranberries, thinly sliced red onion, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese, dressed with a tart, sweet apple cider vinaigrette. doesn’t that just scream fall to you?

oh, and funny story: you know how i just said that this salad has red onion? well, if you look closely at the photos, you’ll see there’s no red onion to be found! i may or may not have forgotten to add it to my salad. oops. if red onion isn’t your thing, just leave it out. this autumn salad is fabulous with or without it.

autumn salad with apple cider vinaigrette

Yield: 8 ounces vinaigrette, four salads

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

for the vinaigrette

1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

for the autumn salad

five ounces spring mix, baby greens, or salad greens of your choosing
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (i like the salted variety, but you can use unsalted)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 red onion, sliced very thin (optional)
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (use more or less depending on your preference)
apple cider vinaigrette

Directions:

for the vinaigrette

you can either do this the proper way, or the lazy way. here's how to do both:

proper: whisk all ingredients except for the olive oil in a bowl. slowly drizzle in the olive oil a few drops at a time while whisking continually until the vinaigrette emulsifies and thickens.

lazy way: pour all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. screw the lid on tightly, and shake it like a polaroid picture.

the vinaigrette will keep, stored in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a month. it may solidify in the fridge, but just leave it out for a half an hour or so before using to let it come to room temperature. then, just shake it up and enjoy!

assembling the salad

place the salad greens in a large serving bowl.

add the pumpkin seeds, cranberries, red onion (if using) and goat cheese. toss to disperse the toppings evenly throughout the greens.

dress the salad with the vinaigrette, using about 2-3 tablespoons at first. you don't want a pool of dressing at the bottom of the bowl, so just use enough dressing to coat the greens.

portion the salad into four bowls and serve immediately.

vinaigrette recipe adapted from gimme some oven