Wilt the freshest greens for a season of exceptional salads.
If you asked me a year ago how I use my microwave, I’d give you a short, two-part answer: A. Melting butter. B. Reheating leftovers.
Now, I’ve discovered that this appliance is also the best way I’ve found to wilt greens for salads.
With all of the sweet and vibrant spring greens coming into the markets, I crave their chlorophyll hit, and yet the weather still brings a chill. A wilted salad answers both needs and offers a blank (er, green) canvas for creative and satisfying entrée-sized salads.
How to Wilt Salad Greens
There are two wilting methods I’ve used in professional kitchens and at home prior to the microwave. The first involves making a cooked dressing, generally after browning bacon lardons in a pan and using some of the fat for a mustard vinaigrette (as in the classic French bistro salad with frisée and a poached egg, which I adore). You toss the hot dressing with the greens and some wilting occurs–but not a whole lot and it’s somewhat uneven.
The second method is to make a hot water bath and set the bowl of greens over simmering water and toss with tongs nonstop just until they wilt. There’s way more control with the amount of wilting, but there are also drawbacks. Other than the pan set up (and I’m always on the lookout to reduce dirty dishes, though to be fair, my husband does 90% of it–thanks, Hon!) and hands-on attention, the bowl of greens often gets really hot and there’s a risk of over-wilting.
No, thanks limp salad!
Wilt in the Microwave
Then, one day way past lunchtime, I was assembling my typical midday bowl of leftover cooked grains, baby spinach and kimchi to top with a fried egg. My intent was to take the chill off the grains–barley, I think–and so I popped the whole bowl into the microwave for one minute.
Fascinating. The spinach was just turning limp but not shriveling or weeping water. It had the faintest hint of crunch. So, I tried again another day with a full-on spinach salad (again, same ad-hoc what-do-we-have-on-hand assemblage). I tossed the spinach with vinaigrette, heated it for 45 seconds and then tossed in the red pepper, kalamata olives, feta and pumpkin seeds.
This was good stuff. Next up: baby kale.
Same amount of time, same results. Cool. I have new appreciation for this appliance and haven’t turned on the stove for a wilted salad since.
Wilted Salad Greens & All-Purpose Vinaigrette
When it comes to dressing, I stick to simple and homemade and let the greens do the talking. Here is a straightforward vinaigrette that can flex any which way–from Mediterranean to Asian. The tamari makes it just salty enough through and through.
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I highly recommend raw, unfiltered brands like Braggs for flavor)
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pour the oil, vinegar, tamari and pepper into a jar with a lid and shake vigorously to mix before using. Store remaining vinaigrette at room temperature.
- To make a wilted salad, toss four cups of baby spinach or kale in a glass bowl with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat (1 1/2 tablespoons is my ideal), but not weigh down, the greens.
- Place the bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds* on the high setting (where mine always is; really, does anyone ever change their microwave settings?), remove and toss with your other ingredients before plating right away. (If the greens sit in the warm bowl, they tend to get limp.)
- Or, to make the most beautiful salads, plate the greens right away and tuck the other ingredients in and around them.
*For more tender lettuces, start with a setting of 30 seconds, then toss and determine if you want more wilting. If so, I recommend 10-second bursts so you don’t over-wilt them.
Here are three wilted salad combinations I’ve recently enjoyed:
- baby spinach, sliced avocado, sliced kumquats, dried cranberries, walnut halves, goat cheese (pictured)
- baby spinach, snap peas, hard boiled egg, diced avocado, bacon lardons, croutons
- baby kale, roasted parsnips, roasted red onion, crumbled feta, pumpkin seeds
Okay, now it’s your turn! What wilted salads will you come up with?