whole food ~ well made

How to dress a simple green salad at

The Very Best Dressing for Green Salad

A tossed green salad is anything but simple tasting when you follow an eye-opening technique for dressing it with vinegar and oil right in the bowl.

One of my favorite things about summer?

Real lettuce.

I know, that’s not earth shattering. But have you really tasted all of the wonderful varieties and flavors of lettuces in all their wondrous forms?

To me, a salad is not a tossed number with any variety of vegetables with a background of some bland green leaf or romaine lettuce. For me, salad means green salad.

Fresh, locally grown lettuce is the be-all and end-all of summer salads.

A mix of lettuce leaves, oil and vinegar, coarse sea salt and pepper. Is that too boring?

How to dress a simple green salad at

No doubt, there are tons of salad dressings to choose from, including these 10 to know by heart. And it’s good to change things up now and then. {Here’s a super handy guide for matching the right dressing with different salad greens, from the most delicate spring mix to hearty kale.}

Still, day in and day out, what I want on my salad is oil and vinegar–a simple vinaigrette. Only I recently learned from the chef who made kale salad a thing that I’ve been doing it all wrong.

How to Toss a Green Salad

I learned to toss a salad in a five-star restaurant using lovingly harvested and excruciatingly fresh salad greens. We always tossed the washed and dried salad greens with oil first. Very light, just to give them a sheen.

Then, while tossing we sprinkled in the salt. A good sea salt. Finally, we added sherry vinegar very judiciously. Just enough to balance the oil with a hit of acid.

On the day in June when I was doing my own TV cooking spot for Portland’s ABC affiliate, chef Joshua McFadden was there with his acclaimed new book Six Seasons. I stuck around the studio after my segment was done (you can view the video here) and watched him teach the host and viewers how to toss a green salad.

What did I have to learn? Turns out a lot.

His approach is the inverse of the one I’ve been using years. It starts with great quality olive oil {the kind you splurge on and keep in your cupboard just for salads, not cooking}, excellent fruity vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

How to dress a simple green salad at

But McFadden adds the vinegar first. This totally surprised me.

Then, I tried it.

Not Your Average Oil & Vinegar

I made side-by-side bowls of green salad. First, I made a salad using McFadden’s technique, carefully drizzling on the vinegar {I used champagne vinegar}, seasoning with salt and pepper and finally tossing it with the olive oil. Just enough oil to add more flavor.

In another bowl, I did my tried-and-true tossing method with the oil first.

Holy moly! You might think–yup, I was skeptical–that the order would not make a big difference. Seasoning the salad greens with the vinegar first really brightens their flavors. And the finished salad is so much tastier.

This way, you never end up with an overdressed salad. And I sure learned that I was using an excess amount of olive oil to no good effect.

What’s cool is that this same principle works for all kinds of vegetables, raw, roasted and grilled.

I’m converted. Aren’t you ready to try it?

Be sure to use your hands and you’ll actually get a feel for when it’s dressed correctly. Then taste and adjust the vinegar or salt to make this simple green salad like no other.

Oh, and this is just one another thing McFadden mentioned goes into his salad: whole fresh herbs. I’m on board with that 100%! Especially now that my herb garden is thriving once again.


and become a forager

Tossed Green Salad with Vinegar & Oil Dressing

This is a technique more than a recipe since there are no set measurements. Follow along and you’ll end up with a far cry from your standard overpowering and heavy oil and red wine vinegar dressing. The first step is obtaining the freshest salad greens as well as your favorite vinegar. I love sherry vinegar, but you can also use lemon juice, champagne vinegar or rice wine vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is too heavy for most delicate lettuces, but you could add a drop or two if you love the flavors. 
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne


  • 6 cups mixed lettuce, washed and spun dry
  • sherry vinegar or alternative as suggested in headnote
  • pinch sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil


  • Place the lettuce in large mixing bowl. With freshly washed hands, toss the lettuce gently as you drizzle in some of the vinegar. Toss well, add a pinch of salt and taste. Add the black pepper to taste.
  • Taste a lettuce leaf. Does it taste very good a acidity? If not, add a little more vinegar, then toss taste again.
  • While tossing with one hand, add a very small amount of the olive oil. It is easy to overdo it here, so hold back. Then toss and taste. The dressing should be very well balanced and lively. 


  1. Deborah Goldman

    Hi Lynne,
    I tried your recipe for the salad dressing and it was delicious and so easy. My husband and son enjoyed it very much and asked me if I had bought a new dressing. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe! Deborah

    1. Well that’s a big win, Deborah. Thanks for sharing the news with me!

  2. Anita

    What are the proportions of oil vinegar and salt? Tossing doesn’t tell me anything

    1. So the principle of this method is that the proportions are determined by the type and amount of lettuce and your taste. Salt is also very subjective to taste. As I wrote in the post, the whole thing is experiential (getting your hands in there). So, it’s not a precise measuring thing but an experience of trusting and tasting as you go.

      Of course, the classic vinaigrette ratio is 3:1. So, let’s say you have enough washed lettuce for 4 people (about 6 cups). I’d start with about a teaspoon of vinegar with a large pinch of salt. Toss that well and determine if that’s enough for your taste. If it is, then, you’d drizzle in about 1 tablespoon (equivalent to 3 teaspoons) olive oil. Toss and taste again.

      At this point, I’m always thinking about the balance of the acidity from the vinegar, the mouthfeel from the oil and the salt that should just highlight all of the flavors without masking the taste of the lettuce. If you don’t love it, tinker with adding more of any or all of the ingredients (it’s better to add the tiniest splash so that you don’t overdress the salad) until you are completely satisfied.

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