I’m a sucker for those restaurant salads—you know the ones with a list of fun ingredients that cost double what you’d pay for a burger? Then you order the salad and start eating and the thought comes to mind, “Hey, I could do this at home.” And you can.

Salads are easy to dress up with different ingredients and flavors. But you might want to start first with the main ingredient. Yup, lettuce. Forget iceberg. Save that to dice and put on your burger. If you want to make lettuce into your entrée, look for heartier, tastier varieties like argula for a spicy kick; butter lettuce for soft, tender pieces; and crisp, crunchy romaine. This is just a sampling of the different varieties you can use. I usually mix in at least a few baby spinach pieces too, which adds a bit of heft (not to mention nutrients) to the meal.

Once you have a good mix of lettuce, it’s time to consider what kind of mix-ins to use. Don’t stop at grilled or roasted chicken. Think about what kinds of fruits and vegetables you can mix in. For ideas, I turn to menus from my favorite restaurants or even to cookbooks. In cookbooks I look in the entrée section, not the salad chapter. For example, this recipe was based on a favorite pork dish that includes sautéed apples and a mustard sauce. I knew the combination of mustard and apples was a good one, now I just needed to add lettuce into the mix.

I chose romaine lettuce because it’s stiff and holds up to a good tossing of vinaigrette. Then I figured I would just chop fresh apples (sprinkle them with a little lemon juice before putting them into the salad to prevent browning), and add in dried cranberries and walnuts. Why? Probably because I’ve had it once at a restaurant.

Now for the vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes are simple really. I pair equal parts vinegar and olive oil and then spice it. For this recipe, I used Dijon mustard (substituting it with regular doesn’t work well). Add in a little cayenne pepper for a kick and salt and pepper to season and you’re ready to mix it with your lettuce. It’s that easy.

So forget ordering the big salad the next time you go to a restaurant. Copy down the ingredients and make it yourself at home.

Mustard vinaigrette with romaine lettuce, apples and walnuts

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4-6


4 cups romaine lettuce, torn

¼ cup dried cranberries

½ cup apples diced (tossed with fresh lemon juice)

1/3 cup walnuts

1/3 cup feta crumbles (optional, but good)


¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup vinegar (I like red wine or something fun like orange)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or more to taste)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (I usually toss in more)

dash of cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

  1. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Add the lettuce ingredients. Toss.
  3. Serve. That’s it.
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