We eat a lot of salad in our house. My tiny family of three can go through six hearts of romaine and three butter lettuces in a week. I come by my salad obsession honestly. My mom serves a big salad with every meal (even if we had another green, like steamed artichokes, on the table).
For all of my salad enthusiasm, however, the version I make the most often is also the simplest—just a bowl full of soft butter lettuce and a handful of bright, flavorful herbs with a quick vinaigrette. The whole thing can be ready in under 10 minutes and is a super quick and easy summer side dish.
No frills, no colorful vegetables, no fuss—perfect for a lazy summer day. And the best part is that it’s absolutely delicious.
Choosing and Washing Your Greens
I almost always make this salad with soft, tender butter lettuce, because everyone loves it, and its mild flavor doesn’t get in the way of the herbs I add to the bowl. Also, it’s one of the easiest kinds of lettuce to keep around in the fridge if you’re purchasing the lettuce with the root intact— it will stay fresh for a week or longer if you don’t mind picking off some bad outer leaves.
That said, this salad is great with other lettuces as well. The best options are mild-flavored greens. Escarole’s springy flavor works equally well with fresh herbs. Romaine can work too, though it produces a very different textural experience. (If you’re going to use romaine, you might want to cut everything up and turn it into a chopped salad, so that the various textures work well together.)
If you do opt for the butter lettuce, make sure to treat it gently. Wash it in a bowl of cold water, then put it into a salad bowl lined with a towel and toss it dry. Whatever you do, don’t squeeze it or put it in a salad spinner; you’ll just bruise and crush its delicate texture.
Choosing and Cutting Your Herbs
This salad works with a wide variety of herbs, in many different combinations. The key is to choose flavors you like—and cut the herbs appropriately. I usually add a combination of mint and chives, because of all the herbs I have growing in the planters near my kitchen door, those are the two that are the healthiest and most prolific.
That said, I also find that this recipe is a great way to use up any herbs that I buy for other dishes I cook—the bunches of parsley or clamshells of oregano left in the fridge after I’ve used a few sprigs for a fresh pasta or a roast chicken.
Here are a few options, and how to prep them:
- Flat-leaf parsley: This is a go-to, no-brainer ingredient for this salad. You can use a huge handful of parsley without overwhelming the salad. All they need is a rough chop. Remove the thicker stems.
- Chives: This is another green that you can use in quantity in a salad. Cut the chives crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces so they’ll cling to the lettuce nicely.
- Mint: I personally love mint in my salads, but you need to use it a bit more sparingly than some other herbs, because it has a strong flavor. Cut mint leaves crosswise into thin pieces.
- Basil: This is a crowd pleaser, and works well in salad, but it has a very distinct flavor, so don’t use too much, and make sure it works well with the meal you’re serving. You can roughly chop your basil leaves of cut them crosswise into thin pieces.
- Oregano: This flavor is great, especially if you’re pairing the salad with a big bowl of red sauce pasta. The individual leaves are soft, so just strip them from their stems and add them straight to the bowl.
- Cilantro: Adding cilantro to a salad automatically gives it a ton of strong flavor. Chop these leaves roughly, and use them sparingly, as they might overwhelm the rest of the salad. (A lemony dressing is a good call if you’re adding cilantro to your bowl.)
Other options to include in your salad are celery leaves, which have a mild, lovely flavor; shiso, which will add a strong, licorice-like flavor to your greens, and fennel fronds, which have a soft texture and the same flavor profile of fennel bulbs.
A Super Simple Dressing
When I’m looking for a salad that I can get on the table as quickly as possible, the last thing I want is a complicated, multi-step dressing. Instead, I turn to a tried-and-true method—mixing up 1 part acid with 2 parts olive oil. The idea works with just about any kind of vinegar (or lemon juice), so I can adjust the flavor to suit whatever dish I’m serving my salad with.
This dressing only takes a minute to throw together, so I never really make it ahead of time. That said, it can last for up to a week in the refrigerator, so I often make extra and then keep it around for lunches later in the week.
If you store it, just make sure the olive oil comes back to liquid form before you use it. (A five-second zap in the microwave followed by a strong shake will do the trick if you’re in a hurry.)
More Salads to Make This Summer!
- Caesar Salad
- Cucumber Mint Quinoa Salad
- Radish Salad with Mint and Pistachios
- Cardamom Citrus Fruit Salad
- Stone Fruit, Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Tear the lettuce:
Tear the lettuce into large pieces, about 2 to 3 inches long (you’ll have about 4 to 5 cups, lightly packed.)
Put the lettuce and herbs in a large salad bowl; set aside.
Make the salad dressing:
In a jar with a tight lid, combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, water, salt, and pepper. Close the jar firmly, and shake the dressing until it is thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.
Dress the salad:
Dress the salad with about 2/3 of the dressing, and gently toss the salad. Taste a piece of lettuce and add more dressing if needed.
Serve salad immediately after dressing.
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