Kitchn Love Letters

This Is the Summer Salad I’ve Been Making on Repeat for 7+ Years

published Jun 22, 2023
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The first year I joined a CSA, I expected to leave those early June pick-ups with bags packed to the brim with cucumbers, peppers, and beans, maybe even some zucchini. That is not even close to how it went. Instead I left with a few tote bags overflowing with lettuce, lettuce, more lettuce, and some other dark leafy greens. And so it went for the next several weeks (with cucumbers and peppers slowly working their way in). If you’ve ever been part of a CSA, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

You’d think that coming home with upwards of eight heads of lettuce would be totally overwhelming. I felt nothing but pure excitement, however. I knew exactly how to use up all of these lettuces and greens — and it didn’t involve the fresh green salad you’d expect. Week after week I used my bounty of lettuces to make my favorite lettuce salad with warm beef dressing. These days I pick up a similar bounty of lettuce from the farmers market or grocery store, or, if I’m lucky enough, from my vegetable garden so I can still make this salad as frequently as possible.

Why I Love Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing

I have to admit that when this recipe was first published on Kitchn eight years ago, I was skeptical. What even is hot beef dressing? Fresh, crisp green salad was more my speed. But after hearing so many Kitchn editors rave about it for months, I finally tried it. I was instantly smitten and just wanted to keep eating it.

Romaine isn’t exactly a sexy lettuce, but toss it with a hot ground beef dressing and it becomes something truly special. The leaves soften and wilt, while the center rib keeps some of its crisp bite, and the salty dressing makes a simple romaine salad impossibly savory. This salad is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I love it because the combination feels so unexpected. It’s basic and complex at the same time, in the absolute best way possible. It’s both rich and light, extremely flavorful, quick and easy to pull together, simple to scale up (which I highly recommend), and wildly versatile (more on this below). It works as a starter, it works as a main course, and it’s in my roster of go-to dishes for when I have people over because it inevitably becomes such a hot conversation starter.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

How to Make Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing

The salad comes together in no more than 15 minutes from start to finish. You’ll start by stir-frying a few minced garlic cloves and fresh ginger in a wok or heavy skillet just until fragrant, before adding ground beef. Break up the meat and cook until just browned. Stir in soy sauce and black rice vinegar, followed by warm water. As the beef dressing mixture is coming to a boil, stir together a smooth paste with cornstarch and cool water. Once boiling, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until the dressing thickens slightly. Stir in toasted sesame oil, then spoon the dressing over a large bowl of chopped romaine lettuce and toss to coat the leaves. Serve immediately.

If You’re Making Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing, a Few Tips 

  • Any type of ground meat will work. The rich fattiness of the beef is a nice contrast with the greens, but you can use any type of ground meat you have. Ground turkey, chicken, pork, and lamb are all excellent options.
  • Any kind of lettuce (or greens!) will work. The recipe calls for romaine, which does add a nice crunch, but any kind of greens truly work well here. Use whatever kind of lettuce or other greens (kale, chard, bok choy, and mustard greens are great) you have handy. I love a combination of greens for a blend of textures and flavors.
  • Scale the recipe up. As written the recipe serves four as a small side. I definitely recommend doubling (or even tripling, depending on how many you’re feeding) the recipe, which comfortably serves two as a main dish.