Oh my, do I love salad. Of all kinds. Cobb Salad, Antipasto Salad (coming soon), Cole Slaw, Greek Salad, Salad Nicoise, Panzanella (OMG), Tabbouleh, Caprese… I can’t get enough. And while my ‘last meal’ would probably include a Caesar Salad, ultimately my favorite salad is a green salad. Of a very specific kind.
One reason I love green salad is that I love lettuce. Love. It. Basically, I’m a rabbit. Years ago I saw my dear friend Tanja eating lettuce out of a bag like potato chips and I thought, ‘Yep, that’s another reason why we are such good friends.” Crispy, crunchy heaven, that lettuce. The basis for all green salad.
The term green salad, however, can conjure an image of a pitiful scattering of withered lettuce served for free before something better arrives. As the late great comedian John Pinette said, “Salad is not food. Salad comes before food. Salad is a promissory note that food will soon arrive. If my brain sees a salad it says ‘Something good is going to happen soon, wait right here.'” This might be true at a low-rent diner but it misses the genius of an amazing green salad.
When I was in High School, I took over making the salad most nights for our family’s dinner. As I experimented with a variety of salads and ingredients, I became obsessed with a salad that was literally all green. Nothing could go in it unless it was green. Which frustrated the hell out of my dad, who loved an everything salad, i.e. along with lettuce you throw in everything: tomatoes, peppers, croutons, mushrooms, cheeses, cucumbers, carrots, beans, black olives, nuts. An everything salad can certainly at times satisfy. But these kitchen sink salads are usually too chaotic without any thought of what is coming together on your fork or why. The myriad tastes all merge together into a bit of a mess.
For both a sublime taste and a beautiful aesthetic, try instead a pure green salad. I love the look of it, a salad that is nothing but green. If created properly, it also will dance on your palate like no other. The green salad I would make in high school was most often mixed lettuces with green onions and avocado. Sometimes I would throw in some celery to try to appease my dad. While I still enjoy that one, which back then we tossed with either blue cheese or ranch dressing, my current green salad has evolved into something greener, fresher and much more satisfying.
As are most dishes that are wonderful, this salad is very simple. The keys are using the best lettuces you can find, and then using more herbs than you might ever imagine in any dish.
Here’s how you do it:
(for 4-6 people)
– First, make a good vinaigrette, as we’ve discussed here. If you don’t have time to make a vinaigrette, just stop right there: you do have the time, it takes only minutes. For goodness sakes just do it. If you still refuse, use oil, vinegar and some lemon juice. Do NOT use a bottled dressing on this salad. Seriously. You will kill it.
Once the vinaigrette is prepped and resting — as it turns into a divine enhancement rather than the reason for the lettuce — then:
– Amass a bowl of your favorite greens. Branch out. As much I LOVE an iceberg wedge, this is not the time for iceberg, or even romaine, unless you use just a little romaine mixed in with a variety of other lettuces. Amass the equivalent of at least 2 large heads of lettuce.
NOTES: I love the baby lettuces that are available now. It’s nice to have some of the more spicy lettuces in the mix as well. Also, if you only have a few people, you can still assemble everything as I am describing, then before you dress the salad, bag or jar the mixture you will not use. It will keep a few days in the fridge so you can have more salad later, at work or the next evening.
– Chop a couple of green onions and toss them on top. If you want to be a purist, just use the green parts but there isn’t much white and we don’t want to be wasteful so you can throw in the few white slices.
Then comes the fun.
– Get a handful each of at least 5 fresh herbs. My go-to combo: basil, thyme, oregano, mint, Italian parsley, chives and tarragon. A nice handful of each, so this means at least 5 handfuls of herbs. Slice the basil leaves into ribbons, rip the mint leaves into pieces and pull off the parsley leaves, leaving them whole. Pull the individual leaves off the thyme and oregano stems, leaving them whole. Chop the chives and tarragon leaves. You will have glorious mounds of herbs that already will be producing a wondrous scent. Be sure to use the mint and tarragon, they really add a soft tang that elevates the salad even more.
– Throw the herbs into the bowl. Scatter on some salt, then some fresh cracked black pepper. Now you are ready to toss and dress the salad.
– First, toss the salad dry, to get a good mix. Then shake up the dressing and spoon the dressing over the salad, digging from the bottom of the dressing so you don’t miss the garlic and shallots down there.
NOTE: Not too much dressing! You want a nice sheen of dressing rather than soaked salad. You can always add more but you can’t get it off once it’s there. Remember, the dressing enhances the salad, it’s not the reason for the existence of the salad.
– Now toss. Keep tossing. And toss again. A good salad needs 20-30 tosses at least to dress perfectly. This salad in particular needs a good long toss to spread the herbs and lettuces all around. Now you are ready to serve.
– Mound the salad on salad plates. This should give you 4 very hearty appetizer size platefuls or 6 smaller versions. Also remember that the ‘good stuff’ always falls to the bottom of the salad bowl, so dig down as you plate.
This is such a delightful salad. Every bite is fresh and incredibly flavorful. You will also get a slightly different bite each time with a different mixture of herbs.
FINAL NOTE: I confess I am not above tossing a little crumbled blue cheese or crumbled goat cheese on top, so if you are inclined, feel free. Yum. Goat cheese in particular goes well with all these herbs. The same goes for some sliced avocado, which can add a creaminess. But if you do not have these around, the salad doesn’t need it. It’s just about perfect as is.