All salad greens are not created equal. At least when it comes to salad dressings. No one wants a salad of overpowering dressing and soggy greens. Learn how to pair greens with dressings here. Our Salad Dressing topic is brought to you by Stonyfield Organic.
Pairing greens and dressings is kind of like wine pairings. The right dressing and green can totally make a salad. A heavy blue cheese dressing can come alive with endive. But a light vinaigrette will disappear against its bitter flavor.
Almost any dressing works with iceberg lettuce. Unlike other greens, iceberg is bland, but crispy. So it can hold up under strong-tasting and creamy dressings. It can also work with lighter-flavored dressings (just make sure you add lots of other fresh cold veggies, so you have some substance).
Romaine is as versatile as iceberg. It goes with any dressing. But it holds a nutritional punch compared to iceberg lettuce. Of course, Caesar dressing is a no-brainer here.
If you look at a bunch of spinach wrong, it will wilt. In general, keep your dressings light. Baby spinach is best served with a basic vinaigrette like this one. Older leaves can be paired with a tad bit of creaminess or fat. And for some reason, spinach and bacon work. So any dressing made with bacon, just do it.
Let’s talk about delicate greens. And spring mixes are at the top of the list. Vinaigrettes are best. Anything heavier will result in soggy salads (Ew!).
This persnickety green will dramatically wilt under thick dressings like ranch or blue cheese. Light vinaigrettes will bring out its peppery flavor while retaining its crispness.
Bibb greens are like arugula. In the salad world, this lettuce is dainty and needs delicate care. Again, heavy dressings will not work. Instead go for vinaigrettes. It’ll hold up under the dressing just fine.
This is a good middle-of-the-road green for a good middle-of-the-road dressing. Nothing too light. Nothing too thick. Radicchio pairs well with a mustard-based or ranch dressing.
Watercress is another medium-bodied green. It has a peppery flavor that can hold its own against ranch or any fatty dressing.
OK, endive is made for a thick and creamy dressing like blue cheese. These leaves are heavy and bitter and can withstand something as glorious as a homemade blue cheese dressing. How many greens can brag about that?
This green tastes bitter, and pairs nicely with a fattier dressing, like thousand island. Heavier vinaigrettes work too. If a dressing has fat and salt, it’ll work with frisee.
Oh, what can I say about one of the trendiness of greens? Kale is rough and sturdy, so a good acidic vinaigrette is a must. Here’s a quick science lesson (I’m embracing my inner Bill Nye). Acids, such as lemon juice, break down kale’s cellular structure. In other words, it softens the kale leaves, making it much easier to eat. So mix those raw kale leaves with an acidic dressing and let them sit for a couple of minutes before digging in.
Swiss chard may be thinner than kale, but it is still a tough green. So what do you need? An acidic vinaigrette. It’ll soften the leaves and give the salad a nice bite.
Ok, I’m done. Which pairing are you going to try first? Let me know in the comments. I’m totally doing a search for bacon dressing and grabbing some spinach leaves.
This post originally appeared in March 2016 and was revised and republished in January 2023.