How often have you tossed the dinner salad? And, I am not talking about tossing it with dressing!
If I had a nickel for every time that I've seen the salad bowl, left untouched and droopy at the end of the night -- tossed into the trash can -- I would have a lot of nickels.
This fact is understandable as it is difficult to make a dinner salad that is as appealing as the main course. (And, I'm not talking about the delicious main-course salads and decadent wedges dressed with rich blue cheese and crisp bacon bits that are enthusiastically eaten.)
My solution to this common problem is to make a simple salad that compliments the other dishes instead of making a salad that is an afterthought and misses the mark.
My recipe is tied to my long-standing love affair with the simple French "salade verte" (green salad). Whenever I am in France, I order a salade verte with everything that I eat. It is a simple salad traditionally made with butter lettuce -- sometimes called Boston lettuce -- and a mustard-rich perfectly emulsified vinaigrette. The perfect emulsion makes it creamy and it clings lightly to the lettuce, accenting the sweet delicate leaves with just the right amount of tang.
I can't get enough of the soft sweet lettuce and the perfectly emulsified dressing. It sounds weird, but this is a salad that I actually crave. The only downside is that the dressing is difficult to duplicate and sadly, these days -- even in France -- there are cafes using bottled dressing instead of the homemade vinaigrette. Luckily, my version of this green salad doesn't rely on making a perfect vinaigrette to dress it.
Before I created my Luxurious Lettuce Salad, I spent years perfecting my vinaigrette so that I could make my favorite French salad at home. But more often than I care to admit, my salads fell short of my memory of the great salade verte. Then one day I spotted a favorite bottle of olive oil and it helped me, quite accidentally, create my perfect dinner salad.
I was in my local grocery store perusing the shelves to see if anything new had been added and I recognized one of my favorite olive oils from Italy -- it had previously not been available in the U.S. I immediately bought a bottle and took it home.
Even though I really wanted to drink the fruity, green, fragrant oil directly from the bottle, I decided to make a simple salad instead. I washed and dried Boston lettuce, sprinkled the leaves with fleur de sel -- coarse sea salt -- and drizzled it with a few teaspoons of my new olive oil. I tossed the salad, and came back a few minutes later ready to add some vinegar, but I greedily tasted it first. Oh, my! It was perfect! No vinegar necessary. Fresh, clean and luxurious ... thus the name.
And, the rest is history. I have been making this three-ingredient salad to go with everything from steak to beer-can chicken to omelets, stews and soups ever since that day.
My Luxurious Lettuce Salad is deceptively simple but relies on the absolute best ingredients for it to be a success. That is, fresh butter lettuce -- I like the living lettuce or farmers market lettuce -- fleur de sel (coarse sea salt from Brittany) and your favorite first-press extra-virgin olive oil.
• Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."