My father in law has one of the best green salad recipes, but unfortunately it’s a trade secret. He’s retired (over 70) and spends his summers at his cottage in Northern Ontario, where he has a large vegetable garden. Every day he’s out in the garden tending his lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, kale, zucchini, and other vegetables, and every day he comes in around dinnertime with a bin(or sometimes two if there’s a big crowd) full of more than a dozen varieties of leafy greens.
I’ve tried to capture the spirit of one of my father in law’s green salad recipes below – since he improvises, no two salads are ever alike, and he has never been willing to write his recipe down. Of course if you can’t come across some of the more esoteric ingredients, such as Anise Hyssop, or Bergamot leaves, you will miss out on some of the complexity, but you should still have an excellent green salad. And remember, you don’t have to limit a green salad to lettuce and other leafy greens and diced vegetables.
I’ve added a number of other green salad recipes on separate pages linked below:
- I threw this spinach apple salad, together when I couldn’t find the strawberries for a more typical spinach and strawberry salad. This salad is a great finish to a main course, easy to assemble from spinach, apples, and common kitchen ingredients.
- Raspberry spinach salad combines two great midsummer salad ingredients with baby salad greens and a touch of citrus.
- A steak salad recipe that combines a traditional green salad with steamed green beans and strips of fried steak.
Grandpa’s great green salad
Start in the garden, or at the farmer’s market, or, if all else fails, at your local greengrocer or grocery store. You need to gather enough greens for the audience you’ll be feeding, and they need to be fresh, and there needs to be variety. In terms of bulk for green salad recipes, you should shoot for:
- 80% or more ordinary salad greens such as leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, or other non-bitter greens
- 20% or less bitter salad greens such as chicory, endive, escarole, radicchio
- 20% or less crunchy vegetables such as kale leaf, tomato, pepper, cucumber
- 10% or less herb greens such as basil, parsley, arugula, anise hyssop.
Wait a minute! Why doesn’t that add up to 100%? It doesn’t have to. Just stay within each of the above suggestions and you’ll avoid a salad that’s overpowered by bitterness or excessive flavor or too much crunch! You want subtlety.
Green’s green salad greens
My father in law’s last name is ‘Green’, so my kids call him Grandpa Green. Aptly named considering how green his salads are! Anyhow, here’s a typical list of the greens in one of Grandpa Green’s green salads!
- Lettuce: romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, oak leaf lettuce. Also spinach, endive, escarole, dandelion greens.
- Belgian endive, blanched inner leaves
- Kale (curly area of leaf only) cut into small pieces – small, young leaves best
- Arugula and radicchio cut into small pieces to spread the intense flavor around. If the arugula has flowered, include some of the flowers.
- Bergamot (also called bee balm – use the leaves as well as the red florets when in bloom), anise hyssop (leaves and florets), fresh tarragon (just a trace), fresh oregano, chives (stalks or flowers), garlic greens or flowers.
- Sweet red peppers or green peppers cut into 1/2 inch squares
- Cherry tomatoes cut in half
- Anise or fennel bulb, excluding the pithy part, cut into 1/2 inch or smaller squares
These French salads from French-Recipes-to-Love.com include an easy green salad recipe along with several other French classics.
A classic dressing for green salads
This green salad recipes dressing is a classic olive oil vinaigrette with a couple of extra touches – soy sauce and maple syrup. I’ve had to experiment quite a bit with the proportions, because Grandpa won’t tell anyone exactly how much of each ingredient he uses. (I think he just eyeballs it but he has an uncanny ability to get the balance between acid, sweet and salt just right!)
The best way to mix this or any other classic vinaigrette recipe is to buy a decent bottle of salad dressing, use it up (on days when you don’t have time to make your own), and save the bottle for making your own salad dressings. This way you can make a big batch, and keep it ready-made in the refrigerator for salad after salad. Mind you, when father-in-law makes his salad, the bowl is about 18 inches in diameter and contains enough salad to fill a 10-liter bucket, and he uses at least half a salad dressing bottle worth of his custom vinaigrette on it!
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup hazelnut oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A few other tips from grandpa:
- Don’t put many tomatoes in your green salad recipes, no matter how sweet or juicy the tomatoes are. They overwhelm the subtle flavors of the greens and herbs.
- You can add sunflower seeds to give it a bit of crunch
- If you’re not a purist as far as local foods, a ripe avocado, scooped in small pieces and added to the salad, adds a creamy, avocado flavor
- Anise hyssop, anise bulb or fennel bulb, and tarragon, all have a licorice-like flavor that some people find bothersome – and tarragon can even make your mouth feel numb. Don’t overdo it!
Italian green salad
One of the green salad recipes I learned to love very young was a very simple green salad or insalata verde served in Italy, where I lived for two years as a child. Its simplicity is part of its attractiveness – subtle flavor, and easy to prepare!
3 slices or wedges of very ripe tomato (beefsteak, Roma, etc.)
6 leaves romaine lettuce
6 leaves boston lettuce
2 large leaves fresh basil
A vial of olive oil and another of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1. Wash and dry lettuce and tear into pieces roughly 2×2 inches. Arrange on a salad plate.
2. Spread the tomato wedges or slices over top of the lettuce leaves.
3. Mince the basil leaves and sprinkle over the tomatoes and lettuce. (You can use a 1/2 tsp dried basil if you don’t have fresh
4. Serve undressed, and provide the vials of oil and vinegar at the table. Guests dress their own. If they don’t know how, suggest they add a small drizzle of oil and a smaller drizzle of vinegar.
A main course topped off with a fresh green salad is fantastic; even better, serve fresh-baked bread with your food.