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.
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?