Simple Green Leaf Salad

This simple green leaf salad is a quick and easy side salad to serve with dinner or a good, basic tossed salad recipe that can be dressed with whatever veggies you have. The shallot vinaigrette is a classic French recipe that can be used in any salad or tossed with blanched or steamed veggies to brighten their flavors. I’ll even show you how to make this garden green salad several hours ahead so that the make-ahead leafy salad is prepared for you when you’re ready to eat.

Honestly, I don’t even think of this leafy green salad as a “recipe” per se. It’s my standard default to “What should I serve with…{fill in the blank}”.

A leafy salad goes with EVERYTHING. So, let’s approach this less as a recipe and more as a framework for assembling a salad on the fly.

The only actual “measurements” are in the shallot vinaigrette — and again, it’s more of a guide. Once you’ve got this basic outline down, riffing on it becomes second nature. Let’s start with the lettuce.

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A series of photos of washing the leafy greens for garden green salad and the remnants of what's left (including a bug) after washing.

Best greens for green leaf salad

I use the term “greens” loosely here. I’m referring to lettuce — and you can choose any type you like. From Boston bibb, to mesclun or Spring mix, romaine to iceberg or my personal favorite, red leaf lettuce for this green leaf salad.

Tell the truth – do you wash your lettuce?

Let’s address the elephant in the room… People who don’t wash their lettuce. Why bother– you might ask. I hear you… it’s the “God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt” mantra.

But… there could be pesticide residue on the leaves. Or, forget pesticides… there may be PESTS… That’s what happened to me when making this garden green salad. Check out the photo above.

I bought a beautiful ORGANIC head of red-leaf lettuce. As usual, I washed the lettuce, and when I transferred the leaves to the salad spinner, I noticed a black speck with ANTENNAS floating in the bowl of water.

I’m not saying it would have killed me, but EWWWW. And look at the color of the water after rinsing…. seriously.

How to wash garden greens for salad

  • Fill a large bowl with cool water.
  • Separate the lettuce leaves from the core and submerge them in the water. (You may have to do this in several batches if you’re using a whole head of lettuce.) Let the lettuce sit in the water for about 5 minutes — this will freshen the leaves a bit and make their cells more turgid.
  • Swish the lettuce leaves in the water vigorously.
  • In small, manageable batches (for the size of your spinner) lift the lettuce leaves out of the water and transfer to a salad spinner.
  • Spin like crazy to get as much water off of the leaves.
  • Then use a paper towel to pat dry any areas that still have moisture on them. Remember oil and water don’t mix, so in order for your shallot vinaigrette to nap and cling to the leaves, the leafy greens should be as dry as possible.
Spinning dry the leafy salad in a salad spinner.

Recipe ingredients for French vinaigrette

  • Shallots
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Standard vinaigrette ratio

  • The standard ratio for making a classic French vinaigrette is 3:1, that is 3 parts olive oil to 1 part acid (in this case vinegar).
  • If you’re making a salad for one person… use a teaspoon measure… 3 teaspoons of olive oil to one teaspoon of vinegar.
  • To dress a family salad with a whole head of lettuce, use a tablespoon and measure 3 tablespoons of olive oil to one tablespoon of vinegar
  • To make a batch of salad dressing use 3/4 cup of olive oil to 1/4 cup of vinegar.

See how easy that is? Of course, you’ll have to adjust the other ingredients to coincide, but that’s simple too and pretty soon, you’ll be able to eyeball it without measuring. Just use less or more according to how much dressing you’re making.

Adding shallot vinaigrette ingredients into a large salad bowl.

Assembling Shallot vinaigrette

  1. Add the minced shallot, dijon mustard, salt and pepper to a bowl. (Note: if you don’t have shallot, you can use 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic instead.)
  2. Add the red wine vinegar and olive oil.
  3. Whisk until thick and emulsified. The reason this dressing comes together so easily is the dijon mustard. It acts as a binder, suspending the tiny drops of vinegar in the olive oil without breaking.
  4. PRO TIP: You can also mix the salad dressing in a larger quantity in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store it in the refrigerator and whenever you want dressing for a green leaf salad, give the jar a shake and pour what you like.
whisking together the ingredients for the french vinaigrette recipe in the salad bowl.

Tossed salads are usually a last minute thing, because once a leafy green salad has been dressed with the French vinaigrette recipe, the lettuce leaves won’t last long and will start to wilt and look drab — not appetizing. This is how I make a garden green salad in advance so that it stays fresh.

Prepping sturdy ingredients (cucumber, carrots, green onion) to rest on top of the shallot vinaigrette in the salad bowl.

Making green leaf salad in advance

  1. Get the salad bowl you’re planning on serving the tossed salad in and assemble the dressing in it, whisking until emulsfied.
  2. Add the heartier vegetables to the bowl so that they sit on top of the dressing. (I like to use cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, grated carrot, radishes, bell peppers, etc. Veggies like this are sturdy and won’t wilt if they come into contact with the French vinaigrette.
  3. Then gently lay the washed and dried lettuce leaves on top of those vegetables. They won’t touch the vinaigrette and will stay fresh.
  4. Cover the salad bowl with a clean dish towel and refrigerate.
  5. This salad will keep for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator before serving. When you’re ready to eat, just toss it and add any other delicate ingredients you like.
A salad bowl filled with green and red leaf lettuce.

More sturdy veg for tossed salads

You can also use veggies like these to top the dressing before adding the leafy greens.

  • Sliced Onion
  • Roasted Bell Pepper
  • Canned Drained Beans (Garbanzo, Great Northern, Cannellini, etc.)
  • Jicama
  • Oranges or segmented citrus
  • Radicchio
  • Snow Peas
  • Sugar Snap Peas

Last minute add-ins

Wait until your serving the leafy green salad to add in these more delicate mix-ins, so they maintain their freshness and/or crunch.

  • Croutons – no one likes soggy croutons – add ’em at the last minute.
  • Toasted Nuts – (like almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios) they’ll soften if left in the bowl too long, so they’re a considered more delicate (especially if they’re candied nuts).
  • Micro-greens or sprouts – they wilt fast.
  • Avocado – wait until serving to avoid oxidizing.
  • Sliced Mushrooms – you could add these earlier, but place mushrooms on top of the lettuce or they will soak up the French vinaigrette dressing like a sponge.
  • Crumbled Cheeses (like goat cheese, feta, queso fresco) – they can take on an unpleasant texture if added in advance.
  • Apples or Pears – so they don’t oxidize.
croutons and tomatoes to go with the salad.

Leafy salad and French shallot vinaigrette is a simple everyday side

This garden green salad takes about 15 minutes to make (and that includes washing the leafy greens) making it one of the easiest side dishes for any meal. In fact, it’s so simple, my daughter — at 7 years old, would be in charge of making the salad. I showed her how to measure the oil and vinegar for the classic French vinaigrette recipe — and instead of mincing a shallot, she would use a garlic press and a clove of garlic for a slightly different variation of the dressing. It gave her confidence in the kitchen and a bit of pride for turning out a perfectly dressed garden green salad.

Adding the cucumbers and carrots and tossing with dressing.

More green leaf side salad recipes:

A dressed green salad to go with dinner.

More dressing recipes you might like:

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Green leaf lettuce salad with tomatoes and cucumbers.
Print Pin
5 from 3 votes

Simple Green Leaf Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

This classic green leaf salad is quick and easy to make — and can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Appetizer, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, French
Keyword green salad, side salad
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, keto, Low-Carb, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 6



  • 1 large head lettuce can use green leaf, red leaf, boston, romaine, iceberg etc.
  • 1 cucumber peeled, seeded and cut into thin slices
  • 1 small carrot peeled and grated
  • 1-2 scallions thinly sliced


  • 1 small shallot or large clove garlic minced
  • 1 rounded teaspoon dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar can use red wine, white wine, champagne, or other flavored vinegars
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil



  • Fill a large bowl with cold water. Tear the lettuce into large pieces and add it to the water. Swish the lettuce with your hands to agitate any dirt or debris clinging to the leaves. Set aside for about 5 minutes. (Just a few minutes in the cool water will refresh the lettuce if its been in your crisper drawer for a few days).
  • Lift the lettuce from the water with your hands and transfer to a salad spinner. (You may have to do this in several batches). Spin the lettuce dry, then use a paper towel to blot off any excess water. Set aside.


  • Add the shallots or garlic, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil to a large salad bowl. Whisk together until the dressing is thick and emulsified.


  • Add the cucumber, carrot and scallion to the dressing and gently toss. Add the lettuce leaves, toss again with salad tongs and serve.


  • Gently rest the lettuce leaves on top of the vegetables and DON’T TOSS IN THE DRESSING. Cover the salad with a clean dish towel and refrigerate for up to 4 hours or until you’re ready to serve. Resting the clean lettuce above the dressing will allow it to stay fresh without wilting. Once a salad is dressed, it’s living on borrowed time.


Calories: 73kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 203mg | Potassium: 101mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1531IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg

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A pin of the green salad in a bowl with dressing and extras.

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  1. 5 stars
    Such a simple, but really delicious salad. I make this to go with rotisserie chicken for a healthy meal.

  2. Nola+Martin says:

    5 stars
    Love love this basic but elegant salad. This will be my go to vinaigrette!