Crunchy and a little sweet, this hearty Asparagus Salad Recipe gives you the one bowl wonder you’ll crave at the end of any long day. It’s chock full of colorful veggies, almonds, dried cranberries, and just enough bacon to make your heart sing.
In case you didn’t notice, tender crisp asparagus stands in for leaf lettuce here, making this recipe perfect for potlucks and barbecues. Nothing gets limp or wilted–in fact, the longer the ingredients mingle in the balsamic mustard vinaigrette, the better they taste. Just sprinkle on the almonds and crisp bacon right before you serve.
Making a giant Asparagus Salad for the week ahead? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Asparagus Salad ingredients:
There are lots of recipes out there, bit this one has the perfect balance of crunchy and tender, salty and sweet. Here’s what’s in it:
- Red bell pepper
- Dried cranberries
- Red onion
- Slivered almonds
- Homemade balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar)
How to select and buy the best fresh asparagus:
Once a boutique vegetable that only showed up for sale in the springtime at fancier grocery stores, asparagus is now commonly found year round almost anywhere. That doesn’t mean it’s always good to eat, however. Here’s what to look for when shopping for asparagus, especially when shopping for asparagus out of season (in the summer, fall, and winter).
Appearance: Asparagus should be bright green with a slight purple violet hue at the tips. Choose asparagus stalks that are smooth, firm, and straight. Pass up any that have wrinkled stalks.
Storage: Asparagus is usually stored on a damp pad, or in shallow pans of water or ice to keep them moist. Check the bottoms of the spears to see if they’re not completely dried out.
Thinner isn’t always better. Thicker asparagus is often tastier (and more tender) than the tiny, thin varieties that stores carry. Above all else, freshness counts more than stalk diameter. Fat, fresh spears can be so much better than wilted tiny ones.
Avoid past its prime spears. This is easy to spot. When the tips of the spears start to open, darken or appear slimy, skip the asparagus and make something else.
How to store fresh asparagus:
When you get the asparagus home, trim off the ends with a sharp knife, and stand the stalks upright in a container filled with a couple inches of cold water (a mug works great!) to keep in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook.
Some people believe that you take one spear in your hands and gently snap the bottom end off. Where it naturally breaks is generally where you should try to trim each spear. However, you may be wasting more asparagus than you care to, with this method. Instead, cut an inch or two off the bottom of the asparagus; if it’s fresh, that should be all you need.
In order to cook asparagus evenly, you may need to pare down the thicker ends using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. This prevents too much waste and lets you enjoy all that precious asparagus!
How to make Balsamic Vinaigrette:
This is definitely a dressing you’ll want to have on hand for last minute lunches and drizzling on ripe tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil. Make extra and store it in the refrigerator–it’s wildly delicious on almost everything.
If you’re just planning on making this recipe and nothing else, use the proportions outlined in the recipe. But…to make a big batch for several salads, you need:
1 cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix or shake everything up in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Now you have enough for a week’s worth of salads.
How to make Asparagus Salad:
- Cook the bacon. To cook the bacon, fry the strips in a roomy skillet over medium heat with some space around the bacon.
- After a few minutes, you’ll have to flip the pieces to brown both sides. Depending on your bacon preference (or the thickness of the bacon), this could take 5 to 7 minutes.
- Oven baking method for bacon: Bake bacon on a foil-lined sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees until the bacon is done to your preference.
- Set the cooked bacon aside and chop them into small chunks. Dare you not to nibble!
- To cook the asparagus, fill a saucepan or stock pot with about an inch of salted water. Make a large bowl of ice water and keep it nearby. Bring the salted water to a boil and add the whole spears, cooking until the asparagus is bright green and just tender–3 to 4 minutes.
- Immediately drain and plunge the blanched asparagus into the ice water. This is called shocking; it stops the cooking process and keeps the vegetable from getting overdone. Pat the cooled asparagus dry and chop into bite-sized, one-inch pieces.
- Now all you have to do is assemble the salad. In a big bowl, combine the asparagus, red onion, bell pepper, and cranberries. Gently pour in the balsamic dressing and give everything a thorough toss. Chill the salad until you need it.
- Before serving, add the bacon and slivered almonds. I recommend roasting the almonds to help bring out the flavor!
Can you make this salad with raw asparagus?
Yes! If you have the patience, you can shave the asparagus into long, thin strips using a vegetable peeler and transfer to a large bowl. Use the freshest asparagus you can find, at the height of the season during the spring months.
Can you make this salad with roasted Asparagus?
Sure! If you love grilled or roasted asparagus, go for it! It might add another level of flavor to the salad that you’ll love.
Other tasty Asparagus Salad mix-ins:
Nothing’s better than a sort of kitchen-sink salad, where you throw bits and bobs of what you have into the bowl. In case you like to improvise, here’s some ingredients that taste equally fabulous tossed in with everything:
Crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Toasted Walnuts. Learn how to toast them just right, here.
Shaved parmesan cheese. A veggie peeler makes the best shavings from this hard cheese.
Roasted or raw sunflower seeds.
For the balsamic vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
- 4 slices bacon (see note 1)
- 2 pounds asparagus trimmed (see note 2)
- 1/2 medium red onion thinly sliced (about ⅓ cup)
- 1/2 red bell pepper chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 3 tablespoons sliced almonds roasted if desired
- To make the balsamic vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper). Allow the flavors to blend at room temperature while preparing the salad.
- To a cold skillet, add bacon slices in a single layer (touching is okay but you don't want them overlapping too much). Turn heat to medium and cook bacon until brown on one side and curling, about 5 minutes (7 minutes for thick-cut bacon).
- Flip bacon and continue to cook until the second side is browned, about 3 to 5 minutes longer depending on your desired crispness. Drain on paper towels and chop.
- While the bacon is cooking, fill a large bowl with water and ice. In a large saucepan or stockpot, bring 1 inch water and 1 teaspoon salt to boil. Add asparagus, cover, and boil until bright green and crisp-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from boiling water and plunge into ice bath to stop the cooking. When completely cool, drain well and pat try. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine asparagus, red onion, red pepper, and cranberries. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and toss to coat. Cover and chill until serving time. Just before serving, stir in almonds and bacon.
- Bacon: To cook bacon in the oven, arrange it in a single layer on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven. ¼ cup store-bought cooked bacon may be substituted for the 4 slices raw bacon. Do not substitute bacon bits (the crunchy salad topping) which are often made of soy.
- Asparagus: Asparagus should be bright green with a slight purple hue at the tips. Choose asparagus stalks that are smooth, firm, and straight. Pass up any that have wrinkled stalks or dark, slimy tips.
- Yield: This recipe makes 6 servings.
- Make ahead: The vinaigrette can be made up to 4 days in advance. All vegetables and the bacon can be prepared a day in advance. The salad can be assembled, dressed, and refrigerated up to 2 hours in advance (hold back the almonds and bacon and add just before serving).
- Raw asparagus: If you have the patience, you can shave the asparagus into long, thin strips using a vegetable peeler and transfer to a large bowl.
- More mix-ins: Try chopped tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, feta cheese, shaved Parmesan, toasted walnuts, or sunflower seeds.