Little gem lettuce means spring is here and it is here to stay y’all. This little gem lettuce salad looks and tastes like a big bowl of springtime sunshine and I’m obsessed! Peas are the easiest spring ingredient ever because you can just buy the frozen ones and steam them. Of course you could always get on with your bad self and peel and steam up some fresh ones – this is pea season after all. Even though green peas are always available, eating them in spring time just hits different, know what I mean? Sunflower seeds add a delightful nuttiness and savoriness while the quick pickled onions are tangy and a bit sweet. They add a nice crisp bite and exciting pickled flavor, plus I am obsessed with that pop of pink!
The lemon-basil avocado dressing is bursting with lemony brightness and the sweet, herbal notes from the basil. The basil is used two ways – first it is pulsed until finely chopped but not totally blended into the dressing. Then the remaining is basil is cut chiffonade style and stirred into the dressing. Not only does this add texture but then you get some bites with more and less basil flavor. Gotta keep things exciting! Thanks to the creaminess of the avocado and some olive oil this dressing is silky smooth, thick, and rich but completely vegan! Even if you are not vegan the avocado is just so much better than mayo or yogurt here because it has these delicate floral notes that work beautifully with the basil and lemon. In addition to the lemon juice, nut milk is used to thin the dressing to the texture you like while keeping it creamy.
Okay so basil is technically a summer herb, but it was looking good, smelling great, and was calling my name! That said you could sub mint, oregano, tarragon, chives, ramps (lucky, lucky) or any combination of these spring all-stars if you prefer. If you go this route, just adjust the amount, tasting as you go, so as not to over-season with stronger flavored herbs (I’m looking at you fresh oregano).
Since avocado is being used, the dressing will start to brown over time. The large amount of lemon juice keeps it fresh and green for up to two days. The recipe below makes quite a large serving (1 cup) designed for enough salad for 4 as an app/side or 2 as a main (with a bit extra dressing for anyone who loves their salad dressed-dressed). If you are not planning on eating this much dressing within 2 days, you could halve the recipe by using a quarter avocado and halving the amount of the rest of the ingredients.
I was originally going to make this post just about the dressing because it is that tasty. However, it felt wrong to not also post one of my fave ways to enjoy it – this lovely salad. That said, this dressing goes so well on numerous salads and bowls. It can even be used as a spread on sandwiches or wraps. You can also turn it into a dip for crudités by blending with another avocado half. Even if you’re not feeling the salad, you gotta try this dressing – use it however you like!
Little Gem Lettuce, Pea, and Pickled Onion Salad with Lemon-Basil Avocado Dressing
Servings: 4 small or 2 large servings
Time: about an hour for the onions to pickle
- 4 small heads of gem lettuce, rinsed, dried, and halved
- 1 small red onion
- 2/3 cup of white vinegar
- 1/3 cup of water
- 1.5 tbsp. sweetener (I used honey)
- 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
- 1 cup of cooked green peas
- lemon-basil avocado dressing (recipe follows)
- Start by making the pickled onions because they need to rest for an hour.
- Thinly slice the red onion (about 1/8-1/4 inch thick), separate out the rings, and place in a heat-proof jar such as Ball brand.
- Heat vinegar, water, and honey over medium until honey dissolves and very small bubbles start forming at the bottom of the pan.
- Pour vinegar mixture into the jar over the onions. Use a spoon to push the onions down to submerse them all (using a pickling weight is helpful here).
- Let onions rest on the counter for an hour or until cool and pickled to taste.
- To assemble the salad, place the little gem heads sliced side up on a platter.
- Top lettuce with lemon-basil avocado dressing, cooked peas, sunflower seeds, and pickled onions and serve with more dressing on the side.
- It is hard to say the exact number of servings because it will vary by the size of your little gems – some ain’t so little 😋. This serving size assumes one small head (2 halves) per person as an app or generous side and 2 heads (4 halves) per person as a meal-sized salad.
- For presentation, pile on as much of the toppings as you think looks nice and serve the extras on the side.
Lemon-Basil Avocado Dressing
Servings: makes 1 heaping cup
Time: 5 minutes
- 1/2 of a medium-large avocado
- 2 garlic cloves
- juice of one large lemon
- zest of half of the lemon
- 1/4 cup of nut milk plus more as needed to thin
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 tsp. of salt
- 1/3 cup of packed basil, separated
- Add all ingredients but the basil to a food processor and process until completely smooth.
- Add half of the basil and pulse in processor until basil is finely chopped but not totally incorporated.
- Chiffonade the remaining basil and add to the dressing. Stir to incorporate.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Remember when adjusting to taste that the dressing is meant to be punchy because when it is spread over all the salad ingredients the flavor will be distributed.
- Dressing keeps for 2 days.