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American classic salad gets practical update

When was the last time you had a wedge salad? Doesn’t the very thought make you smile?

My memories of wedge salads take me back to when I was a kid and my family would go to our local steakhouse. What a rare treat. The first course was always the same. Chilled plates filled with chunky triangles of pale green goodness, swimming in dressing and loaded with toppings. Knife and fork at the ready, we’d dig in. Why was it so good?

This salad begins with cold, crisp iceberg lettuce as the crunchy base topped with cool, creamy dressing. Add to this the salty, funky taste of blue cheese, the smoky chew of crisp bacon and the cleansing explosion of acidity when you bite into a cherry tomato. Each bite is slightly different, and each bite is perfection. The wedge is a simple salad, perfect in its simplicity.

Some may argue this salad shouldn’t be messed with, but this week I’m going to revisit and revise this American classic. If you’re a purist, I understand completely, and you should avert your eyes right now.

Let’s talk iceberg. With the rise of all things kale, iceberg has gotten a bad rap as being nutritionally void. While it doesn’t contain the same amount of nutrients as darker leafy greens, it does provide important vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, vitamin C and folate. Its high water content makes it especially hydrating in summer, and it’s very low in calories. Now, the stuff we put on it … not so much.

Traditionally, when you make a wedge salad you slice the head of lettuce into quarters and top it with the other ingredients. But have you ever tried to place a cherry tomato on a slope? Eating it requires a fork and a knife, and you have to really hack that wedge to get manageable bites. I see opportunity for improvement.

Here’s where I reinvent this salad. Rather than triangular wedges, let’s cut the lettuce into big discs. It’s just as beautiful, but the toppings don’t slide south, and it’s much easier to eat. Since we’re serving such a simple salad, each element must be stellar.

BACON AND BLUE WEDGE SALAD

Yield: 4 servings

What you’ll need

For the dressing:

5 ounces blue or Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, divided

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon hot sauce

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

3/4 cup walnuts or almonds

4 slices bacon

1 head of iceberg lettuce, cut crosswise into four 1-inch-thick slices

2 celery stalks, thinly sliced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, cubed

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs, optional

Here’s how

To make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together half the blue cheese with the sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice and hot sauce until combined. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet on medium heat, toast nuts until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool, coarsely chop.

In the same skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Let cool, crumble.

To assemble the salad: Slice the lettuce vertically into discs, leaving some of the core attached to each piece. Place one slice of iceberg on each plate and drizzle about 1/4 cup dressing over each. Dividing equally between the plates, top with walnuts, bacon, celery, tomatoes, avocado, herbs and remaining blue cheese.

Serve this classic with flourish. Say it with me: “I wedge allegiance to the salad of the United States of America.”

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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