How often have you tossed the dinner salad? And, I am not talking about tossing it with dressing!
If I had a nickel for every time that I’ve seen the salad bowl, left untouched and droopy at the end of the night—tossed into the trash can—I would have a lot of nickels.
This fact is understandable as it is difficult to make a dinner salad that is as appealing as the main course. (And, I’m not talking about the delicious main-course salads and decadent wedges dressed with rich blue cheese and crisp bacon bits that are enthusiastically eaten.)
My solution to this common problem is to make a simple salad that compliments the other dishes instead of making a salad that is an afterthought and misses the mark.
My recipe is tied to my long-standing love affair with the simple French “salade verte” (green salad). Whenever I am in France, I order a salade verte with everything that I eat. It is a simple salad traditionally made with butter lettuce—sometimes called Boston lettuce—and a mustard-rich perfectly emulsified vinaigrette dressing. The perfect emulsion makes it creamy and it clings lightly to the lettuce, accenting the sweet delicate leaves with just the right amount of tang.
I can’t get enough of the soft sweet lettuce and the perfectly emulsified dressing. It sounds weird, but this is a salad that I actually crave. The only downside is that the dressing is difficult to duplicate and sadly, these days—even in France—there are cafes using bottled dressing instead of the homemade vinaigrette. Luckily, my version of this green salad doesn’t rely on making a perfect vinaigrette to dress it.
Before I created my Luxurious Lettuce Salad, I spent years perfecting my vinaigrette so that I could make my favourite French salad at home. But more often than I care to admit, my salads fell short of my memory of the great salade verte. Then one day I spotted a favourite bottle of olive oil and it helped me, quite accidently, create my perfect dinner salad.
I was in my local grocery store perusing the shelves to see if anything new had been added and I recognized one of my favourite olive oils from Italy—it had previously not been available in the U.S. I immediately bought a bottle and took it home.
Even though I really wanted to drink the fruity, green, fragrant oil directly from the bottle, I decided to make a simple salad instead. I washed and dried Boston lettuce, sprinkled the leaves with fleur de sel—coarse sea salt—and drizzled it with a few teaspoons of my new olive oil. I tossed the salad, and came back a few minutes later ready to add some vinegar, but I greedily tasted it first. Oh, my! It was perfect! No vinegar necessary. Fresh, clean and luxurious... thus the name.
And, the rest is history. I have been making this three-ingredient salad to go with everything from steak to beer-can chicken to omelets, stews and soups ever since that day.
My Luxurious Lettuce Salad is deceptively simple but relies on the absolute best ingredients for it to be a success. That is, fresh butter lettuce—I like the living lettuce or farmers market lettuce—fleur de sel (coarse sea salt from Brittany) and your favourite first-press extra-virgin olive oil.
LUXURIOUS LETTUCE SALAD
Start to finish: 10 minutes
1 head Boston or Butter lettuce, washed and dried
Fleur de Sel (a few pinches)
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
The method is very simple. Place the lettuce leaves in a large bowl, sprinkle with about 2 pinches of fleur de sel or coarse sea salt. Toss. Drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons (or more to taste) of olive oil, toss very well to coat all the leaves.
Let sit for 5 minutes and toss again. Add a little more oil if the leaves are not coated but be careful not to use too much oil, otherwise the salad will be heavy and the lettuce will get soggy. Add freshly ground pepper if desired.