The Simplest Salad In The World

Salad days are here. My lettuce is responding to our cool drizzly weather by growing big and verdant and tender. Say what you will about a crappy, sunless spring; the lettuce loves it.

Thanks to an over-eager over-seeding of lettuce back in February, I have a bed of lettuce to eat, and it all looks like this:

When butterhead lettuce is in prime – and I mean prime – eating condition, you do not pour a bottle of ranch dressing all over it. That simply will not do. You dress your lettuce just enough to bring out its flavor without overwhelming it.

You go for the Simplest Salad in the World. This is not a recipe, it’s a technique. I believe I first learned of this particular way to dress a salad from one of Thomas Keller’s excellent cookbooks.

Start by washing your lettuce gently to remove any dirt and look it over to make sure no slugs are curled up inside a leaf, waiting to surprise you. Spin your lettuce dry and tear (don’t cut) into bite size pieces.

The important thing here is to apply your salad dressing ingredients to the lettuce in the proper order. Start with olive oil. Use just enough to lightly coat the lettuce. The olive oil goes on first to form a kind of protective barrier around the lettuce leaf and prevent it from being damaged by the salt and acid in the dressing.

Toss the lettuce in the oil with your clean fingers. Be gentle.

Salt goes on next because it will cling lightly to the oil. Sprinkle the lettuce with kosher or sea salt. Sprinkle from way up high so you get an even showering of salt, not big clumps in one area. Again, toss the lettuce together gently. Use a bit less salt than you think you need and taste the lettuce. If it needs more seasoning, add it.

I like a good grind of black pepper too.

At this point, if you wanted something really simple, you could stop. Really. Lettuce, oil, salt, pepper: that could be your salad and that would be great. Really fresh, tender lettuce doesn’t need anything more. But most of the the time, I like to flavor my salad greens with a bit of acid. It goes on last, just before you dig in to your big ol’ plate o’ greens so that the acid has the smallest amount of time to wilt your lettuce.

Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar was my acid of choice for this salad, but lemon juice or any of the pleasant tasting vinegars (champagne, red wine, sherry, balsamic, etc.) would work as well. I generally stay away from “white vinegar” except for cleaning.

Use just a splash. You really don’t need much. If you aren’t confident in your ability to pour a small drizzle out of the bottle and around the salad evenly, you can pour a little bit in the palm of your hands and then toss the lettuce again to just coat.

Taste and always adjust the flavors based on what you like. You’re done. Simplest salad in the world.

This method is my preferred dressing for butterhead and most loose-leaf lettuces. I generally pair heartier lettuces like romaine with heavier or creamy dressings.

Are you enjoying homegrown salads? What’s your favorite dressing?


  1. says

    We're in the at-least-one-salad-a-day, every day, phase of our garden. My all-time favorite way to dress homegrown salad greens is to do just what you did, but with warmed bacon grease instead of olive oil.

    But I admit, I also like ranch dressing a lot.

  2. says

    I'm going to have to try this. I've got 4 heads of buttercrunch in the garden this year. One can be sacrificed for a single salad for sure. The rest are leafed out to add a bit of butter to my mixed salads. Those mixed salads is all I've ever done. Salad bowl, Red Sails, Italianshier, Buttercrunch, Spinach and Mustard Greens. If I've got other stuff, great. Otherwise it's tasty fresh from the spinner. I used to use dressing but realized if I added a more flavorful mix of greens, I didn't need it. Sometimes I add Craisens to the party, since both my kids have decided they don't like them and we have a big bag… hehe.

    Thanks for the technique. I bet my wife would love it.

  3. says

    No aphids to rinse off?! Holy cow, we're in aphid heaven here right now, although they are finally started to taper off with the increase in ladybug populations.

    My sweetie likes just salt and pepper on his lettuce oftentimes. I like a nice low-fat balsamic vinaigrette.

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