Next time you throw a dinner party, think about how the salad can play a larger role. It's easy to focus on a big main course or a unique soup, but the hardworking salad is often overlooked as such a common course that it's handled with just a few tomatoes and a vinaigrette. Your next soiree can stand out from parties past with an elegant salad course served on gorgeous salad plates. The combination of creative greens and perfect plating gets your social circle talking--just not during the salad course.
Even classic salads can make a big impact when done with an impeccable nod to tradition. You don't have to follow any recipe exactly to impart the flavors and feel of the classics. Just keep your culinary focus on what makes each of these tried-and-true courses unique and be sure to serve them with a special flair.
This doesn't have to be the basic bowl of tossed romaine you find at almost every restaurant in America. Yours is mouth-watering and memorable because of the dressing. Smash two cloves of garlic and four anchovy fillets in a bowl with a fork. Once it's a paste, whip in a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard and the yolk of one egg.
Drizzle the dressing on top of a whole head of romaine lettuce for a fancy and unique twist. Serve on a solid white salad plate to let the romaine pop!
The original Greek salad is distinguished by the absence of lettuce, so when you serve yours, keep it classic. Find a block of feta and don't be afraid to serve a hearty slice or big chunks of it with each salad. It's a much more elegant presentation than crumbles. The rest is easy. Quartered tomatoes, big slices of cucumber, kalamata olives, dried oregano and a drizzle of olive oil completes the dish. The traditional version usually has onions, but feel free to leave these out if you are having an intimate dinner party.
The right plating for a tasteful Greek salad is arranged for the chef to stack the cheese atop the veggies, but still leaves room for the diner to move the cheese to the side and enjoy it with bites of crunchy garden vegetables in one delicious, cohesive course. A plate with a nice rim and a country motif is a good choice.
Greens can be a delightfully bitter offering in some instances. Refined palates enjoy the bite of arugula, endive or escarole, but even the softer leaves have a light bitterness when served fresh. Stay moderate with your bitter salads unless you know your guests very well--or know they're adventurous.
Watercress has a delicious, peppery taste and a light crunch. If you like Asian-inspired salads, watercress is a great green base. Toss in pears, walnuts, bean sprouts, and curls of carrots. Mustard dressings go amazingly with watercress, too. So does bacon if you're a meat-eater, but if you're unsure of your guests' preferences around pork, you can get the same sweet-smoky taste with a little honey and hickory liquid in the dressing.
Serve this salad on a plate with a decorative edge for an lavish look.
Kale and Quinoa
Kale is never going out of style, so if you're looking for an exciting, elegant salad that you know everyone will adore, go for kale. Make yours special by skipping the predictable mix-ins, like cranberries and walnuts and go for a richer flavor profile. Two tips set your salad apart. First, cook the quinoa according to the package directions, but use homemade broth instead of water. The broth takes a few hours to simmer in either a pot or a crockpot, but it adds a level of mineral taste and nutrition that is undeniable. For a sweet, unexpected mix-in, try mandarin oranges or seedless clementines.
Arrange the kale topped with quinoa on a china bone plate for an elevated feel. The simple salad keeps the focus on the luxe table setting.
Main Course Salads
Say au revoir to dinner party convention and make the salad the star of the show. Sure, this might feel like a lunchtime move, but you can make it an elegant surprise with fresh creativity and confident presentation.
The trick to this salad is to grab a pair of kitchen shears, bunch up the leaves of your choice in one hand and snip away with the other. Don't worry about cutting evenly. The texture is the signature here--every salad is one of a kind. Keep other mix-ins proportionate. Seeds, crumbled cheeses, cherry tomatoes cut in half, tiny diced carrots and other veggies create a big meal that lets guests discover layers of flavor. A protein like tofu, chicken or steak elevates this to haute cuisine. Chop the protein and mix it in or lay it atop the green mix in slices.
Chopped salads need room to mingle, yet breathe, so a lipped salad plate is perfect.
The trick to making a pasta salad party fare for a sophisticated fete is to keep it mostly green. Whip up your favourite pasta salad recipe--some excellent ones are rotini with tomatoes and peppers, bow-ties with fresh spring peas and big pieces of parmesan, or spaghetti with broccoli, red pepper and soy sauce. Once you've cooled the pasta and stirred in the vegetables and dressing, use the same technique for your chopped salads. Cut big handfuls of spinach into the pasta.
This elegant-casual take calls for plating that maintains the mood. Try larger plates let guests pile pasta.