I've been playing around with salads more, recently. Sacramento has such an abundance of great produce--and is so hot in the summer--that raw produce cut and tossed together becomes an ideal dish to prepare in the summer.
After a couple months of more regularly making salads and trying different things, I've come to one general realization about what makes, to me, a better salad: it's about the produce rather than the dressing.
Unless the produce you're working with isn't very flavorful, and you're trying to cover it up with the flavor of a stronger sauce (same thing with higher vs. lower quality meats). The produce around here is so good (if you pick well) you could eat it straight, without any preparation except washing. So those flavors really shine best in a raw salad when the dressing is kept simpler and not too strong.
I'm really liking a basic lemon vinaigrette currently. It's just:
- 1 part lemon juice
- 3-4 parts olive oil
- a pinch of salt and pepper, and
- optionally a touch of honey
Whisked together. It goes great on all sorts of salads, brightening up and accenting the flavors without overpowering them, while also balancing out the sharpness of bitter greens.
I've never been a very frequent maker of salads, not because I dislike them (I like them), but I guess rather for efficiency and convenience's sakes. I think cut, raw produce is best consumed while fresh, even more so than cooked vegetables (excluding stews, curries, and marinated dishes that need time for flavors to develop and be absorbed). So, what with work and life, and a strong appreciation for better tasting food, I've historically tended toward cooked vegetables. Plus, with my Taiwanese background, we never ate a lot of raw salads when I was growing up, too. You'll notice that raw salads are more of a western thing.
Plus, I find that cut tomatoes don't keep long at all in the refrigerator; it seems like every time I have cut tomatoes in a leftover salad it gives me a little stomach discomfort. So I keep them whole if I need to make extra for a later meal.