How to Make Great Salads with Garden Lettuce

, written by us flag

Salad with violas

In late spring, about a month into garden lettuce season, I start running out of answers to the daily question of how to make tonight’s salad. What should I add to make it different, better, or just right? I also confess to being a salad snob, probably because I’ve gotten so spoiled with the fantastic quality of garden lettuce that whatever a restaurant offers is never good enough. And so, what follows is my short guide to enjoying the spring salad season without getting bored or letting great garden lettuce go to waste.

Of course, salad is not the only use for lettuce. Any sandwich or wrap can use some lettuce, or you can use individual lettuce leaves as wraps for cold salads or Thai-style spiced meat or tofu mixtures. You also can cook excess lettuce in soups, on the grill, or you can try garlicky stir-fried lettuce, which works especially well with butterhead types.

Harvesting and Cleaning Garden Lettuce

Morning or late evening are the best times to harvest lettuce, because the leaves are nicely hydrated then. You can pick individual leaves or pull up whole plants, or do a little of both. Within minutes after picking, rinse the lettuce in cold water. Then place it in a clean bowl with more cold water. This is when I whip out my salad spinner, but if you don’t have one the next best thing is two clean kitchen towels. Spread one towel on a clean surface, arrange cleaned lettuce leaves in a single layer, and top with the second towel. Pat gently to remove excess water, inspect closely for debris, and re-clean trapped dirt before placing the lettuce in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Salad spinner

I don’t know how you lose a salad spinner, but I did. Hoping it would turn up, I went a year without use of a spinner. Bad decision! In the interest of both cleaner leaves and crisper salads, gardeners who grow lettuce and other salad greens should have a salad spinner. When you eat things raw, they must be clean.

Regardless of which cleaning method you use, I suggest postponing tearing or cutting of lettuce leaves until they have been given some time to crisp up in the fridge. Only 30 minutes can make a difference. Once your garden lettuce has been cleaned and chilled, it’s time to come up with a concept for your salad.

How to Make Salads by Balancing Flavours

While you can put anything you like in a salad made with garden lettuce, I think the best creations include a balance for four distinct flavours which I shall call sharp, sweet, salty and aromatic. My system is to choose one ingredient from each group when composing a salad, with the dressing often carrying one of the four-part flavour harmonies.

Lettuce in garden
  • Sharp – vinegar, lemon, orange, radishes, mustard
  • Sweet –fruits (strawberries, cherries, raisins, apples), or honey-sweetened dressing
  • Salty – cheeses, olives, anchovies or other salted fish, pickled beetroot or other vegetables
  • Aromatic – toasted nuts, special oils like walnut and sesame, fresh chopped herbs, fresh garlic or ginger

If the salad is to serve as the main dish, you will also want to add cooked grains, meats, or perhaps beans or potatoes to give it more substance.

Finally there is the visual appeal of the salad, which often changes as ingredients are added. When I’m close to finished making a salad, I often run back out to the garden to gather a few edible blossoms to add a sprinkle of unexpected colour. From Johnny jump-ups to calendulas, petals snipped from edible flowers (including any culinary herb) are often the crowning touch for spring salads that look and taste nothing like the ones we ate in the days before.

By Barbara Pleasant

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"I love adding just a tiny amount of dill to my salads. "
Ray on Friday 3 June 2016
"When I get fresh lettuce from my garden I immediately think of wilted lettuce. Lots of lettuce on a plate. Chop with knife into smaller pieces, a boiled potato on top of that, a soft boiled egg, bacon that has been chopped in smaller pieces and fried. A green onion on this. Then take some of the bacon grease along with vinegar, then flour and salt and pepper to make a sauce to place of all of this. You have a great meal. I have a dutch heritage and there this is called seuerstep. "
Barbara Emmons on Wednesday 15 April 2020
"A few months ago I found seeds in my tool cupboard.. There was a stem with twigs on the end and each twig had a dandelion like seed mass about the size of a marble.. They were not the primula seed I had expected to find but I planted all the seeds- perhaps not expecting them to grow- and hundreds of them came up. The early plants look exactly the same as your picture of long thin weak leaves and a more mature picture of the leaves broader and stronger are very much like what I have. A friend took a picture of the lettuce and the app told us it was a Garden lettuce. I chose Garden lettuce on my computer and found this particular article which gives a lot of information and seems to say there are more than one kind of garden lettuce. So does each different 'appearance' have a different name."
Kathy Edwards on Wednesday 14 October 2020

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions