An uncomplicated gem lettuce salad recipe with a punchy vegan tahini ranch dressing. This a quick side dish you can make at your next BBQ or gathering. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity; the flavours will surprise you.
Why You’ll Love Little Gem Salad
I love this little gem salad. Not only because it is so simple to make but because of the surprised, happy looks I get from friends. And when they ask for more!
Grilled lettuce? Yes. You can grill lettuce! Especially little gem lettuce. This miniature lettuce’s shape and texture is the perfect candidate for getting some charred marks on it. The grilling process changes the flavour, adding smoky depth to the vegetable.
This easy salad recipe is a fantastic way to add some extra greens to the table.
This is a no-fuss little gem lettuce salad with deliciously lush tahini ranch dressing drizzled over the top. A quick side salad worth making over and over again.
What Is Little Gem Lettuce?
Little gem lettuce is the smaller variety of romaine lettuce (AKA cos lettuce). They grow up to about 10 cm in length.
Gem lettuce has a more elongated head compared to iceberg lettuce which is round. I find little gem lettuce has sturdy but tender outer leaves with a tight ribbed-like centre.
Little gem lettuce also has a few different names, so it can be confusing when searching it up! Other names include baby gem, sucrine or even mini cos lettuce.
This palm-sized vegetable is one of my favourite lettuce varieties. You will be surprised by how many different ways you can use it with minimal wastage.
What Is Ranch Dressing?
Ranch dressing is by far one of the most popular salad dressings in America. Invented in the 1950s, this creamy dressing now goes beyond salads.
It turns up regularly to parties as a dip for French fries, chicken wings, corn chips, vegetable crudites and anything that likes a good dunk. And I have read for the real fans; it is often drizzled over…well, pretty much everything!
The main ingredients in a ranch dressing include buttermilk, salt, garlic powder, onion, chives, dill and spices. Together they create a creamy but not too heavy mixture with a good kick of garlic and herby flavours.
When I decided to create my own version, I didn’t have buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt in the house! Basically, all the options for the base of the dressing.
However, I did have tahini. So I decided to try a vegan ranch dressing recipe that is healthier. I substituted buttermilk with tahini as a base and added a good dose of fresh herbs and garlic to the mix.
The result was delicious! Still creamy but with a nutty edge.
Flavours/Textures: Crunchy and creamy. Even though the baby gem lettuce is gently grilled, the overall texture still has a crunch. I love the charred bits on the end of the gem lettuce that gives a slightly bitter flavour.
Together with the tahini ranch dressing, I enjoyed the creamy yet nutty flavours oozing out of the baby gem with a touch of zing from the herbs, red onions and lemon juice.
Ease: All you need to do is to throw some cut gem lettuce on the hot grill, whip up your salad dressing and a tasty gem lettuce side dish is done.
Time: It will take less than 10 minutes to prep and grill the baby gem lettuce and another few more minutes to prepare the tahini ranch dressing.
Ingredients you will need to make Grilled Little Gem Salad:
Little gem lettuce: When choosing little gem lettuce, look for fresh, bright-looking leaves and ones that are not wilted or with blemishes. The head should be compact and firm.
Extra virgin olive oil: Good quality extra virgin olive oil delivers a sharp, fruit and peppery flavour. You only need a little oil to brush over the little gem.
Red onion: I prefer to use red onions in salads as it is sweeter than brown onion. Plus, it adds a lovely colour too. A red shallot would also work too.
Dill/Chives: Dill and chives are important for ranch dressing to add herby freshness. Dill brings a hint of licorice, whilst chives add a delicate oniony flavour.
Garlic: In most ranch dressing recipes, they call for garlic powder. However, I prefer to use fresh garlic to give the dressing a good punch.
Tahini: A staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, tahini is a paste made of ground-up sesame. It is a fantastic way to add a nutty flavour to salad dressings and dips, stir through stews or even drizzle on falafel.
You can buy tahini made from hulled or unhulled sesame seeds. Unhulled tahini is darker in colour and more robust in flavour.
Tahini is thick in consistency, but good quality tahini will have a silky, smooth texture: no lumps and not dry or chalky.
Water: As tahini is too thick to add straight into dressings, we usually add a little water to break it down and thin it out.
Olive oil: Good quality olive oil is always needed in the pantry for salads.
Lemon juice: The thick consistency of tahini needs a little citrus to cut through the richness. Fresh lemon juice brings balance to the mixture.
Dijon mustard: Tangy and sharp, Dijon mustard adds a little spice to tahini ranch dressing.
Maple syrup: Adding natural sweetness to balance the nutty and creamy flavours. Maple syrup is a great vegan alternative to honey. I find it to be more mellow when it comes to sweetness.
Variations and Substitutions
Little gem lettuce substitute: If you can’t find little gems, you can use romaine or cos lettuce like our classic Caesar salad recipe.
Tahini substitute: For the tahini ranch dressing, if you don’t have tahini and do not need a vegan salad dressing, you can substitute the tahini with buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt.
I would start with 2 tablespoons and then check consistency and taste. You could reduce or omit the lemon juice if that is the case.
Variations to ingredients: Other than little gem lettuce, you can add other ingredients for this salad such as grilled radicchio, roast fennel, endive, cherry tomatoes, red onions, toasted breadcrumbs, parmesan or pecorino cheese, red peppers or toasted tamari seeds.
Step by step instructions for how to make Grilled Little Gem Salad:
How To Prepare Vegan Ranch Dressing
Let’s prepare the tahini ranch dressing first. This way, you can prepare ahead and plate the little gem salad when ready to serve.
Finely chop ¼ red onion.
Wash and finely chop chives and dill.
Use garlic presser or knife to crush garlic cloves.
In a small mixing bowl, add tahini and water. Mix until you have a smooth consistency. If still too thick and gluggy, add a little more water.
Add olive oil, lemon juice, red onion, chives, dill, Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Mix until well combined.
Taste and then season with salt and pepper.
How to Prepare the Salad
Cut little gem lettuce into halves or quarters lengthwise (depending on the size of your little gem lettuce). Lightly brush the cut side with extra virgin olive oil.
With the heated griddle pan, grill for 2 mins or until lightly charred but still holding shape. Don’t wait until the leaves are falling apart.
Remove from the pan and place on a platter.
How To Assemble Salad
On a serving platter, layer the grilled little gem lettuce and then drizzle the tahini ranch dressing over the top.
How to Make This Salad Perfectly (Expert Tips)
Fresh ingredients: As this is a very simple salad of gem lettuce, be sure to have fresh lettuce. Avoid any gem lettuce that is limp or with dark/slimy spots.
Consistency of dressing: Tahini can be quite thick and does need some water to help thin it out to the right consistency. You don’t want to have a lumpy salad dressing.
Great Mains for This Salad
A great side needs some great mains. Here are some great ideas:
Grilled pork chops with blueberry balsamic BBQ sauce goes so well with the sesame based ranch dressing. Lemon honey glazed salmon makes for a wonderful mid-week meal. the 10 minute side dish is exactly what you need to go with it.
Carne asada recipe is also such a fantastic main to try. Juicy steak and grilled lettuce? Yum!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can make the dressing a day in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Little gem lettuce is best grilled at the time of serving. Only a couple of minutes to prepare, so no fuss.
If you are heading to a barbeque, just pre-cut the little gem lettuce and put on the barbeque grill towards the end after the meats are cooked. Within minutes you will have a delicious side salad ready.
You will find tahini in most larger supermarkets in a variety of forms – hulled, unhulled, roasted or not roasted. Middle Eastern grocery stores will also have an excellent selection to purchase from.
As mentioned, tahini is a versatile ingredient and can be stored in your fridge. Check use-by dates on your jar. Great salad ideas with tahini include:
Purple Cauliflower Salad
Roasted Spiced Pumpkin Salad
Baby Cauliflower and Spiced Chickpeas
Asian Eggplant Salad
Tahini Miso Dressing
Besides eating raw lettuce into your salad, there are many different ways to use lettuce, including cooking. So what are the best ways to cook lettuce?
First is to grill as we have done in this little gem salad. Little gem lettuce or the larger version of romaine lettuce is fantastic for grilling. There’s also radicchio and endive.
Grilling always helps bring out the natural sweetness and complex flavours. I haven’t tried iceberg, but I feel it would also work grilled. Possibly just long enough to get the charred marks and the smoky flavour before the leaves wilt on the grill.
The following method you can try is stir-fry. Say what? Yup, stir-fried iceberg lettuce is one of my favourite Asian dishes. Add a little oyster sauce and chilli, and you have a delicious Asian-style side dish perfectly matched with meats and a big bowl of steamed rice.
I also like to add shredded lettuce to my fried rice. Add a cup full at the last minute and stir it through. Lettuce adds bright green colours and a slight crunch as it does not cook through.
Another popular method on how to cook lettuce is braised. Think of little gem lettuce and romaine lettuce as a substitute for braised cabbage. They absorb other flavours well and would hold up in the slow cook process.
Finally, when having your next bowl of noodle soup, add a few lettuce leaves as your greens. You will be surprised how deliciously sweet they turn when in soup.
This is a no-fuss, one-vegetable side salad that seriously feeds the tastebuds. I love the charred bits on the little gem lettuce salad.
I love the healthier ranch dressing drizzled on the top that falls between the lettuce leaves, giving the salad a creamy and nutty flavour.
Match our little gem salad with your favourite main, or even have it over a good slice of sourdough toast. It won’t disappoint.
More Quick Salad Recipes
Little Gem Salad with Vegan Ranch Dressing
- 4 lettuce, baby gem
- 1 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Finely chop ¼ red onion.
- Wash and finely chop chives and dill.
- Use garlic presser or knife to crush garlic cloves.
- In a small mixing bowl, add tahini and water.
- Mix until you have a smooth consistency. If still too thick and gluggy, add a little more water.
- Add olive oil, lemon juice, red onion, chives, dill, Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Mix until well combined.
- Taste and then season with salt and pepper.
- Cut little gem lettuce into halves or quarters lengthwise
- Lightly brush cut side with extra virgin olive oil.
- Grill for 2 mins on a griddle pan or until lightly charred but still holding shape.
- Remove from the pan and place on a platter.
- On a serving platter, layer the grilled little gem lettuce.
- Drizzle the tahini ranch dressing over the top.
- Serve immediately.
- Prepare tahini ranch dressing ahead of time and then grill little gem lettuce just before ready to eat.
- For some variety, try other vegetables such as radicchio, endive, fennel or romaine lettuce. They also grill very well and perfect match with the tahini ranch dressing.
- You can substitute tahini with buttermilk, sour cream or yoghurt if you don’t have tahini at hand. This will be more of a classic ranch dressing recipe and will no longer be vegan.
- Replace ¼ red onion with one red shallot if you prefer not to cut a full-sized onion.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
Don’t want to miss out on a recipe? Feed your FOMO and we’ll deliver it into your inbox!
Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you.