Grow Your Own Simple Salad; Create Your Own Signature Vinaigrette

It doesn’t take a lot of space, a widow box or even a pot on your stoop can hold a cherry tomato plant and some lettuce!

One of the things I love the most about this time of year is putting out the first lettuce and kale starts. I’m impatient to begin again, so I tuck these little plants from the garden center in the cold frame and know that in a few weeks, I’ll be making salad! I also sew some lettuce seeds at the same time for the next wave, so my gardening is not all about instant gratification. Peas must be planted early, and I’m glad to oblige. The old New England adage is that if you have to roll up your sleeves when you plant the peas, you waited too long!

Peas love cold weather, and thrive in our New England climate.

A new routine

This year, I had to order the local plants online, pay for them, and show up to the farm stand to pick them up. The process was pretty easy, I parked, the masked worker, 15 or 20 feet away, asked my name and she brought the flat out and put it on a table well away from me so I could pick it up. It was pretty flawless, and the only down side was that I did not get to choose the plants myself, although they did a great job and not a “skip” to be found, those little empty cells in the six-pack where a plant should have been.

Always room for a few vegetables

When the kids were at home and we lived in a cabin in the woods, I had a massive garden and grew much of our own food. I loved it, but it did require a lot of work. When we moved to this house in the village to operate an inn, I decided to devote my lot to flowers and let the local farmers provide most of the food. However, I’ve always had tomatoes and lettuce, kale and pak choi, Swiss chard and snow peas, as well as tons of perennial and annual herbs to add to our plates. I’ve tucked parsley in with the pansies in the flower beds, kale with the Sweet William phlox, and underplanted rose bushes with thyme. It all seems to work.


Every year, I plant something different to supplement the greens. Last year it was stevia and artichokes! The artichokes were not as successful as the stevia, and I’ll grow this “sweet herb” which was how it was labeled, again. Not sure what I will find this year that’s different, although I ordered seeds of a few new radicchio varieties and some dark purple carrots.

Even limited space can provide lots of food!

You don’t need much space to grow a few treasures. One cherry tomato plant can provide tons of fruit all summer long if you cheat and get a big plant that is already in flower. Underplant it with some cut-and-come-again lettuce and you have salad for months!

Plant a Victory Garden, or a Victory Window Box

Many of us have felt vulnerable this spring with shortages of a lot of staple foods, and we’e been wise to go to the stores for food only when absolutely necessary, this means we have perhaps a little less fresh greens in the refrigerator. A lot of folks are planning their own little Victory Gardens this year, and that’s good news for everyone. If you’ve never grown even simple vegetables before, check out your state’s Extension Service for lots of tips on growing for your own climate, but start simple until you get the hang of it.

Then top off your creation with a delicious dressing that you make according to your own taste. It’s much cheaper than store-bought, tastes better, and is better for you because it is not filled with a bunch of chemicals! Plus, you might just avoid another trip got the market.


Spring Salad and Your Own Signature Vinaigrette

I think of making the first spring salad of my own greens as a ritual. The tender leaves are sublime! To show them off at their best means a simple vinaigrette and perhaps a few fresh herbs.

While you can get by with just oil and vinegar and a little salt, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just a couple more additions, a few taste tests, and you have a house dressing of your very own. This vinaigrette is how I like it in its basic form, but I fiddle with it all the time. Often, I turn it into a lemon vinaigrette by using the zest from the lemon as well. When my tarragon starts coming in nicely in the herb bed, I’ll frequently use that as well.

What do you like best? Use the oil, vinegar in whatever proportion pleases you. Start with one part or so of acid (vinegar and lemon juice) and three of olive oil. Taste on some lettuce and add more acid if you like, or more oil. Then, think about other additions to make what your family will love to call its own, and forget about those expensive bottles of dressing that are filled with who knows what!

The salad

  • 1 head Boston or other favorite spring lettuce
  • Few leaves of favorite herb

 Vinaigrette (how I like it):

  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. white wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Other additions (depending on the mood and the dish):

  • The zest from the lemon
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced shallot, optional
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced, optional
  • 1 tbsp. crushed capers
  • Freshly snipped chives
  • A sprig of fresh thyme or tarragon
  • Swap out other oils for the olive oil
  • Swap out other vinegars such as champagne or cider

First, wash the lettuce gently, Rinse it quickly under cold water or dip in a bowl of water. Don’t let it sit in the water as many of the nutrients will end up there rather than in your lettuce! Shake the excess water off and place it on a tea towel.

Gently roll up the tea towel. I roll it up burrito style and stash it in the refrigerator if not using immediately. I’ve tried everything, and I think this is the best way to keep the lettuce fresh.

Make the vinaigrette by combining everything in a jar and shake like crazy to emulsify. If there is just about the right amount of Dijon left in the jar, use that as your shaker!

Taste. Correct the acid or oil level if needed, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. This is your dressing, so make it how you like it best, but taste with a leaf of lettuce, it is too hard to tell if the balance is where you want it if you are tasting it straight up, all your tongue will probably pick up on is the acid.

Use just a bit of dressing, then gently mix. You can always add more, but you want to preserve the texture your spring treasures.

Place two tablespoons of the dressing in a large salad bowl and add the leaves. With your clean hands, gently mix the lettuce with the vinaigrette. Taste. If you want a little more vinaigrette, add it, but you want the delicate lettuce to be lightly dressed and not limp and soggy!

Garnish with the herbs and serve!


You can any of the extras that you like to the vinaigrette, and any other vegetables you want to the salad. Spring radishes are nice, as are scallions or chives.

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32 Comments Add yours

  1. Angela says:

    Wonderful advice, as usual. Following my daughter’s lead, I’m trying to root a scallion on the kitchen counter. But I think I will try to get some lettuce seeds and at least one tomato plant. The herbs are thriving–all but the basil, of course–after over-wintering. That’s always a wonderful surprise.

    1. Wonderful, it’s so rewarding. I love watching all the herbs wake up from the bed once the spring rains start. However, this morning we had spring snow! Never fear, everything is snug in the cold frame and happy, except for the peas, and they are happy even with snow on them.

  2. Sounds like you have a firm hand on your gardening needs, and that’s always a good thing. I think you’re right – lots of people are trying gardening this year. It will be interesting to see how that story unfolds. There is nothing that quite beats fresh salad from the garden.

    1. You’re so right! It really is wonderful to walk outside, pick what you feel like eating, and make it!

  3. You are amazing, Dorothy, what a post. So much information and what a delicious ingredients. Enjoy your spring harvest. Thanks for inspiring us. 😍

    1. You are so very welcome Doc V! I love to be able to show the simple connection between the earth’s true treasures and our own health and enjoyment. I am hopeful that one of the silver linings in all this will be people paying more attention to local foods, especially if they can grow them, and the awareness of how precious food is so perhaps we’ll waste a bit less.

  4. Great post!! In MN I still have snow in my yard…too early to work the ground. I am still inundated with animals from neighbors feeding them and trying to figure out if it is even worthwhile to put in anything!

    Now I’m more inspired! Your pictures are gorgeous!!

    1. Thanks you so much! I’m so happy to add any bit of inspiration. There are a few tricks to keep the animals away – hanging soap worked pretty good at my other house to discourage some critters, but fences and repellents can also work. Good luck!

      1. I’ve never begrudged the occasional rabbit a bite or two but with neighbors feeding we have them in great numbers. It’s craxy. It’s not unusual to see five or six at a time in my yard even in the daytime, and they’re are a lot more. They’ve pretty much decimated my lawn, destroyed well over a hundred plants, roses, iris, they’ve even took out my bed of lily of the valley….My son had to help me remove their droppings from my garden that borders the neighbors fence last year (not safe for my dog) and it amounted to 3 55 gallon garbage bags, some places it they were piled over a foot deep, and that garden is an odd shape, but if squared off would be about 15 x 12 feet! I finally had to trap squirrels and I’m a crappy trapper, letting the traps sit closed if they were accidently triggered, being lazy about it and in 2 1/2 months relocated 67 squirrels from my front porch! They got in my garage! Imagine had I been diligent! Then there are all the other animals, raccoons, possums, those darned chipmunks that undermined my patio drainaige system to the tune of thousands of dollars and now we have coyotes! Oh and the mice! They infested my car, seeds everywhere. So the only way I can think to effectively garden is to dig down and place fencing but I also need something over the top to keep the squirrels out….I’ll keep thinking about it. I just think it’s so important with everything going on to try to do some planting if I can. My other neighbors put in raised beds and up a huge chain link fence around their vegetable garden but it only stopped the rabbits, not the squirrels!

      2. OMG! What a nightmare! You must feel like you got stuck in a Stephen King novel. It sounds like this is also a health hazard, not even counting a mental health hazard. I know one time years ago, we had a neighbor up the road, poor soul, who was a released patient who would not take his medication for a severe mental illness. He started breeding rats who he said were really part of the royal family. He used all his monthly income to feed them, while he got thinner and thinner, They escaped from their “houses” and began infesting all the neighbors’ yards, houses, gardens, etc, and it didn’t take long for everyone to be overrun. Eventually, a health order had to be issued and the animals were destroyed, an incredibly long, medius, and toxic project. Such a horrible situation all around. I’m thinking of you and hoping you can find a solution.

      3. I kinda hijacked your comments, didn’t I? The Royal Family? Oh gosh! Yes, I was in urgent care 2x, even with n95 respirators (last summer) got an awful lung infection from the clean up. Some friends suggested I never need to go out for food, just learn to make squirrel and rabbit stew, lol!!

      4. Oh my! Now that is certainly a health hazard. Is there a health officer in your community?

      5. The police were finally involved because of other issues,’s a mess. They’re renters, and it was the my old neighbor the landlord who finally laid down the law late last fall, but they’ve since started up again. Also had two barbecues and frequent company since our state lockdown!! If they keep that up the neighborhood issues will be solved in the worst, most unfortunate way.

      6. Oh, I am so sorry to hear this. I guess all you can do is keep letting the landlord and the authorities know what is going on, especially since this is such a health hazard, No one needs this kind of extra stress during this time of uncertainty. I’m thinking about you and wishing for your wonderful greens in your future!

      7. You, too! And where there’s a will there’s a way!!

  5. I really enjoyed this post. We’ve added raised beds to our garden this year. The various salad seeds have already sprouted and are coming along nicely. Homegrown food is the best!

    1. Thank you so much! Good luck one your ventures, it is so rewarding, and incredibly tasty!

  6. We had better hurry before the atmosphere gets worse. Great concept!👍

  7. Kitty Jade says:

    Gardening is such a beautiful process, I love watching the process of seeds sprouting into plants 🌱

    1. It’s a reminder of the magic that surrounds us all!

      1. Kitty Jade says:

        Yes, and there’s nothing more magic than a kitchen 🙂

  8. Is that sliced daikon radish? Mmmm. 😋🌿

    1. It’s one of my last watermelon radishes from the winter farmers market. They are so flavorful and just the right spicy.

      1. Very nice! 😋🍃🍉

  9. I admire you for planting lettuces and other vegetables, that must be so satisfying, not to mention delicious! Happy gardening!

    1. Thank you so much! Gardening has always been one of my ways to relax and connect, and when you get to have some lovely vegetables in the bargain, all the better!

  10. Carolyn Page says:

    It seems so obvious, Dorothy, now that I’ve read your helpful tips. Lettuce grown under the cherry tomatoes. Now, why didn’t I think of that? I will have to wait for Spring to arrive. We are enjoying Autumn now in all its cooling splendour. However, I will remember to do this.

    And asparagus; how wonderful are those soft and plump little beauties. Hahah.. Another wait!

    1. I’ve had large gardens and tiny ones, the tiny ones taught me far more! It’s so funny, in the spring, we want everything that is wonderful of the season, but still secretly wish for September corn!

  11. Love it! What can be more healthy than a fresh own grown salad 🥗 😋

    1. Nothing better! I dream of this in February!

  12. So true! I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes from scratch for the first time and am quite nervous about it. But having my on will be so good if it turns out well.

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