Quick Green Salad from Scratch: A Taste of France
With this technique for making a quick green salad, I guarantee you and your family will start eating more greens! Using only 5 ingredients and in just 5 minutes, you can whip up a killer green salad any night of the week without relying on bottled dressings. The secret, my friends, is in the bowl. (Hop straight to the Video or Recipe)
We eat a quick green salad at least three times a week with dinner. Until recently I never thought to post the recipe here, as it seemed too simple, but over the past month I’ve had three good friends drop their jaws when I made the salad, and not just to steal greens from the bowl. It’s so good, but beyond easy. I’ve been making the same version for over fifteen years, ever since I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence in college.
France is awesome
Like so many cooks, France is where I fell head-over-heals-in-love with food. Every night my French maman, who didn’t speak a lick of English, would make a four-course meal, starting with a simple vegetable dish or thick potage soup (like this one), then moving onto a piece of meat or fish, followed by a huge plate of salad before finishing up with dessert. Her cooking was beyond simple—we’re talking seared pork chops, baked fish, tomato salads and oozing crème caramel—but it blew my mind. She shopped every single day at the farmer’s market, which, like most things in Provence, was taken straight out of a Cézanne painting. All of the foods I thought I knew, from tomatoes, to cheese, to pumpkin, to pork, to lettuce tasted so… incredible. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Midwest at a time when convenience food ruled (salads chopped and ready in a bag, shredded bright yellow cheddar, pork as lean as a piece of wood), but living in France was truly revolutionary, and I have no doubt it set me on the course I’m on today.
Quick green salad: make it ahead
Our salad every night was exactly the same. Michelle, my French mom, would pull a wooden bowl from the fridge after we had cleared our main course plates. The bowl would be brimming with torn lettuce leaves (never anything else), which she had purchased and cleaned earlier in the day. As she tossed the leaves, they would almost magically start to glisten with dressing. Her secret was to whisk together a vinaigrette in the bottom of the salad bowl, pile the leaves on top, and then stick the bowl in the fridge until it was time to eat. The sweet lettuce would remain crisp and cold, and the flavors in the dressing would have time to mingle. I had never in my life craved greens until I discovered Michelle’s salad. She taught me how to make her salad dressing, and I’ve been whisking it up ever since.
Here’s the lowdown, you start with fresh lemon juice in the bottom of the bowl, add a crushed garlic clove and rub it around the bowl. Spoon in some good quality Dijon mustard, followed by a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Finally, she’d whisk in good quality extra virgin olive oil—the glowing green cloudy stuff that smells like fruity olives. Pile in a head of lettuce, and boom, the best salad you’ve ever tasted.
These days I adapt the salad nightly. Sometimes I use bibb lettuce, sometimes spinach or kale. Occasionally I’ll add shaved fennel or citrus. Sometimes cheese and nuts. But always, the best quality olive oil and Dijon mustard, and the best looking leaves I can find. No matter what, it transports me back to Southern France. Which, for an average Wednesday night, is a pretty awesome thing.
- ½ lemon
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
- 1 spoonful Dijon mustard
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 head or bunch of salad greens (the freshest you can find), torn into bite-sized pieces if needed
- Optional add-ins: toasted nuts, shaved raw vegetables, tomatoes, cheese, etc.
- Squeeze the juice from ½ lemon into the bottom of a large salad bowl. Add the garlic, and rub it around the bowl. If you like a mild dressing, you can pull the clove out, but I always leave it in. Whisk in a spoonful of Dijon mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil—you’re aiming for about twice as much oil as lemon juice. Dip a lettuce leaf into the dressing and give it a taste. Adjust the flavorings as desired.
- Pile the lettuce leaves into the bowl. If you’re not eating the salad right away, stick the bowl in the fridge (without tossing). Right before serving, season the greens with salt and pepper, and toss them with the dressing. Do Ahead: The salad (before it’s tossed) can be refrigerated for up to 2 hours. If you’re storing it for over an hour, lay a couple of damp paper towels over the top to prevent the greens from drying out.