The combination of bitter, crisp greens with rich and fatty bacon is old-fashioned bistro fare that’s as delicious as it is persistent; it’s also a great way to add very-strong tasting leaves to your diet.
Bitter greens are a well-loved component of Mediterranean cuisine, bracingly sharp and filled with antioxidants and minerals (much research has noted that people in some of the longest-living areas of the world, the so called “blue zones," eat them every day).
This particular salad, which calls back to that classic bacon-plus-bitter pairing, is a flexible recipe—one I like to think of as a “baseline.”
My preference is to use bitter and wild-tasting dandelion greens alongside chicory, which, although not as bitter, still has a stern austerity. Soaking the greens in ice water, then chilling them, covered in a cotton cloth, in the fridge, leaches some of the bitterness from the dandelion greens and crisps everything up so that the leaves are crunchy enough to withstand the warm dressing. And while I enjoy this salad specifically as a way to make bitter leaves incredibly palatable, I've also used kale or beautiful baby spinach with great success.
The richness of bacon or any fatty pork pairs well with bitter flavors, adding sweetness and salty fat to balance out the leanness of the greens. You can modify it by using pancetta instead of bacon or by playing around with different vinegars: Try balsamic for a deeper, sharper flavor, or sherry vinegar for a sweeter taste. Sometimes I like to add a spoonful of mustard to the vinaigrette just before I add the vinegar.
The croutons, which add crunchy textural contrast, can also be swapped out: Feel free to substitute nuts of some kind, like roasted almonds or pecans, or even pumpkin seeds.
Once you understand the basic premise of the warm vinaigrette matched with hearty greens and something crunchy, your salad will taste exciting no matter what you use as your components.
For the bacon vinaigrette:
- 4 strips thick-cut Applewood-smoked bacon, cut into thin sticks
- 1 small shallot, peeled and minced
- 1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
- 1/4 cup Italian red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons to 4 extra-virgin olive oil, as necessary
For the salad:
- 1 small bunch dandelion greens
- 1 half-bunch (or 1 small bunch) chicory
- 1 cup small toasted plain croutons
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 pinch Salt and pepper, to taste
What's your favorite way to cook and eat leafy greens? Tell us in the comments.