Even when we go out to eat, 9 times out of 10 I order a salad (and it drives my husband nuts).
This year I added a winter wedge salad to our weekly salad rotation and the whole family is raving. Could it be the bacon? Or the blue cheese? Or perhaps it’s the maple balsamic glaze?
Let’s call it a tie, because really, that’s what a wedge salad is about: all the toppings.
Without the toppings, a wedge salad is just plain iceberg lettuce. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a taste test with lettuce before, but I have and let me say this: iceberg normally loses.
It’s not buttery and silky like bibb lettuce. It’s not peppery like arugula and it lacks the mild yet classic taste of green leaf lettuce.
Iceberg lettuce, all by itself, is incredibly plain. However, it’s very crunchy and super affordable and because it doesn’t have an overpowering flavor, it’s the perfect lettuce for this salad, because THIS winter wedge salad is all about the toppings.
I used classic chopped walnuts for this salad because that’s what I have in my pantry right now. I opted not to toast them for the sake of time (and I’m assuming you don’t want to bother with toasting the walnuts either, right?), but I recommend giving them a quick chop with your knife if they’re not already.
Whoever said bacon is only for breakfast was obviously just kidding, so we’re proudly cooking it up for dinner. I normally save my bacon grease for future cooking, but anytime I cook bacon for dinner I intentionally use my cast iron skillet for two reasons:
- It’s a natural way (and my preferred method) to properly care for cast iron.
- Leftover bacon grease in a cast iron skillet makes for amazing fried potatoes for breakfast the next morning.
I used to have this thing against eating blue cheese. To me, the blue streaks looked too much like mold. Now I ignore them and eat up, because blue cheese is gosh darn amazing in this salad.
I should admit though that I usually substitute Gorgonzola for blue cheese because it’s more affordable. Just one of my tricks for saving on cheese.
Kind of sweet and definitely tart, dried cranberries compliment the savory taste of bacon and blue cheese SO well that I cannot imagine serving this salad without them. Plus they’re red and festive and the kids love them (as do the parents).
Aside from the iceberg lettuce itself, the red onion is the only other “fresh” ingredient in the salad so again I don’t recommend skipping. Red onion has a peppery hot flavor, and I like it both thinly sliced or finely diced, depending on my mood that day.
Let’s not forget about the dressings now either.
A classic wedge salad is served with blue cheese dressing, but I found that on top of chunky pieces of blue cheese, it was just a bit too much for me. Instead I really like homemade ranch dressing. It was cool and refreshing with a nice tang from the dill, and it complimented the existing flavors rather than covering them up. Buttermilk ranch would be exceptionally good too!
Finally, we’re topping this wedge salad with a drizzle of maple balsamic glaze, and a serious hats off goes to my assistant Heather for suggesting this idea.
This glaze is 2 parts balsamic vinegar and 1 part maple syrup, reduced down to a thick, caramely syrup that hides in the crevices of the lettuce. You haven’t tried a wedge salad unless you’ve had it with the glaze my friends.
A few keys to prepping and serving a wedge salad without making a mess or the toppings falling off the plate:
- Cut big wedges into smaller wedges. Part of the fun of wedge salad is cutting the lettuce, but every time I try that with a big wedge, I make a huge mess. Simple work-around: cut the wedge into two smaller wedges.
- Keep the toppings small. This is part of the beauty of a wedge salad too, but it’s also for functionality. Big toppings will get flipped off the plate or tossed across the room on accident. Keep them small and they’ll stick to the dressing that’s on the plate. (The only exception being slices of red onion, in which you should put those on first so they’re underneath the other toppings).
- Prep ahead for a crazy fast dinner. The bacon and maple balsamic glaze can both be prepared ahead of time, reducing time in the kitchen. In fact, you can also cut the lettuce into wedges ahead of time too. If you do all three, dinner prep will literally take 5 minutes, tops.
- Store toppings separately. For lunch the next day, pack the lettuce (pre-chopped) separately from the toppings. You can mix the dressing and glaze together to save a container. When you’re ready for lunch, just mix it all up and shake well (with the lid on, mind you).
- 1 head iceberg lettuce
- ½ - 1 lb bacon
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ½ red onion
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- 3-4 oz blue cheese or Gorgonzola
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- homemade ranch dressing
- Roughly chop the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet over medium low heat, turning and stirring now and then to ensure the bacon cooks evenly and doesn't burn.
- Meanwhile, measure vinegar and maple syrup in a small saucepan and bring just to a simmer. Allow the glaze to cook while the bacon cooks. The glaze is done when it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Meanwhile, prepare your lettuce. Remove the outer leaf and cut out the core. Cut into 4 wedges, cutting each wedge in half. Divide between four dinner plates.
- Slice the red onion thinly, or dice it.
- Top the wedges evenly with red onion, chopped walnuts, cheese and dried cranberries.
- When the bacon is done, remove with a slotted spoon and top the salads.
- Drizzle homemade ranch dressing and glaze.