Little Gem Salad is crunchy, fresh, and super easy to make. This simple salad uses seasonal little gems lettuce and is perfect for a light lunch or an easy side, and is full of fresh ingredients!
The homemade creamy herb ranch dressing, toasted breadcrumbs, and little pieces of feta cheese perfectly complement and enhance the flavors of the salad.
Little Gem Salad Recipe
With warmer weather upon us, it has me thinking about all of the spring and summer foods that are coming into season. While gem lettuce is in season year-round, it hits its peak in the spring, which is great for all of us salad lovers!
This delicious salad only requires a handful of ingredients and is the perfect way to use up some of your homegrown cherry tomatoes or leftover feta. I like to use gem lettuce for this fresh salad recipe because it’s very similar to romaine lettuce but just a tad sweeter and has a nice crisp crunch!
What does little gem mean in a salad?
Little gem lettuce is a cross between romaine and butter lettuce. Gem lettuce originally came from France, but now you can find it in many different countries.
It’s sweet and has flimsy leaves like butter lettuce on the outside and crunchy, and has romaine-looking leaves on the inside. You may also hear it called “sucrine” lettuce, which the French call “sugar” lettuce.
What ingredients do I need for a little gem salad with herby ranch?
Herb Ranch Dressing
Mayonnaise: this is the base of the homemade ranch dressing and what makes it so creamy! Mayonnaise adds a salty and tangy flavor that pairs perfectly with the fresh herbs and buttermilk.
Sour cream: sour cream is also used as one of the bases for this recipe. It has a tangy and tart flavor but adds to the creaminess of the dressing.
Buttermilk: this is an important ingredient and what makes this homemade dressing SO delicious. Buttermilk adds a distinct tanginess and depth of flavor that complements the herbs and spices in the dressing. The acidity of buttermilk also helps to balance the richness of the mayonnaise and sour cream, resulting in a well-rounded and delicious ranch dressing.
Fresh herbs: dill, chives, and parsley are what give this herby dressing its flavor! You can change up the flavors with other herbs too, like mint or basil.
Garlic: fresh minced garlic is pungent and pairs well with the tanginess of the mayo and the acidy and fresh flavor of lemon.
Spices: you’ll need onion powder, salt and pepper to round out the dressing.
Lemon: because of all of the thick and creamy ingredients, I like to add an acid to this recipe. Lemon juice is my favorite because it brings such a nice bright flavor.
Panko breadcrumbs: panko adds a delicious crunch. If you’re in a rush, you can substitute sunflower seeds or pepitas.
Little gem lettuce: it wouldn’t be a little gem lettuce salad without this main ingredient! Imagine a small romaine lettuce head, and you’ve got little gem lettuce. Most of its properties are very similar to romaine; however, little gem is a tad sweeter, almost like butter lettuce.
Cherry tomatoes: I like to toss in a few cherry tomatoes because they have a great flavor that is bright, sweet, and not overwhelming. You can also use plum tomatoes or grape tomatoes as a substitute.
Feta cheese: crumbled feta cheese is tangy and sharp. It adds flavor to your salad and will pair well with any dressing, especially homemade herb ranch dressing.
How to Make A Little Gem Salad
1. Prepare the dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice until smooth. Then add the chopped dill, chives, parsley, minced garlic, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir well to combine.
One of the best ways to store extra dressing is in a small bowl with a tight-fitting lid for 3-4 days in the fridge.
2. Toast the panko. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Then add the panko and toss to coat. Spread it out in an even layer to toast in the pan, tossing occasionally for 3-5 minutes or until it turns golden brown.
3. Dress the lettuce. Place the lettuce in a large bowl and mix with as much dressing as you like.
4. Prepare the salad. Add the cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and half the panko to the mixing bowl with the lettuce. Toss until the salad ingredients are fully incorporated, and add more dressing if needed. Top the salad with the remaining panko and serve.
What is little gems lettuce?
Simply put, little gem lettuce is a small version of romaine lettuce but is a little sweeter, like butter lettuce. When it’s full-grown, it’s about half the size of romaine, about five inches tall.
It has flimsy, bright green outside leaves and crunchy inside leaves. Baby gem lettuce is also called “Sucrine Lettuce”, which is French for “sugar lettuce”. This is my favorite lettuce for when I want to make sure that I am only getting sweet lettuce and not bitter lettuce.
What is the difference between romaine and little gems?
While romaine and little gem lettuce are very similar, there are a few key differences between the two. The first is size; little gem lettuce is about half the side of romaine at about 4-6 inches tall.
Gem lettuce is also sweeter than romaine – similar to butter lettuce. It also has thicker leaves than romaine, allowing it to be extra crunchy.
Recipe Variations for Little Gems Salad
- Make it Caesar: little gem caesar salad is super easy! Instead of adding in dill ranch, you would add in Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese. You could also add shredded chicken to the salad. Keep in mind the lettuce is smaller, so you want to make sure your chicken is cut up into smaller pieces or shredded.
- Make it burrata: Another super easy swap would be creating a little gem burrata salad. For this salad, you would add in cucumber, tomatoes, burrata, and maybe a few olives or pita chips. Instead of homemade ranch, you would use light and fresh dressing, like lemon vinaigrette.
- Add more veggies: There are a few more things that I think go great in this salad; try adding in cucumbers, pickled onions, red onion radishes, or avocado. You could also add an egg on the side if you’d like.
- Change up the dressing: you can always switch up the salad dressing to blue cheese, honey balsamic, or just some fresh lemon juice.
- If you’re feeling fancy, add a little lemon zest to the pan while toasting the panko. It adds a nice bright citrus flavor to the salad.
- The dressing recipe makes more than you will need for this salad. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days. If you don’t want leftovers, you can halve the recipe, but I suggest using the same amount of herbs even if you halve the recipe.
- If you’re in a rush, you can use toasted sunflower seeds instead of making toasted panko breadcrumbs. You can buy them already toasted in the store, they are called pepitas.
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Little Gem Salad
Herb Ranch Dressing
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 4 cups little gem lettuce, or butter lettuce
- 3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Herb Ranch Dressing
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice until smooth.
- Add the chopped dill, chives, parsley, minced garlic, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir well to combine.
- Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning as needed. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to let the flavors meld together.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Then add the panko and toss to coat. Spread it out in an even layer to toast in the pan, tossing occasionally for 3-5 minutes, or until it turns golden brown.
- Add the lettuce to a large mixing bowl and mix with as much dressing as you like.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and half the panko to the mixing bowl with the lettuce. Toss until the salad ingredients are fully incorporated, and add more dressing if needed. Top the salad with the remaining panko and serve.
- If you’re feeling fancy, add a little lemon zest to the pan while toasting the panko. It adds a nice citrus flavor to the salad.
- The dressing recipe makes more than you will need for this salad. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days. If you don’t want leftovers, you can halve the recipe but I suggest using the same amount of herbs even if you halve the recipe.
- If you’re in a rush, you can use toasted sunflower seeds instead of toasting panko breadcrumbs. you can buy them already toasted in the store. They are called pepitas.