I mentioned almost a year ago that this shaved Brussels sprouts salad with a warm maple bacon vinaigrette would likely end up on the blog some day and I am thrilled to report that that day is today.
This is also the 100th post on The Practical Kitchen (thank you all for being here on this journey with me!), and what better way to celebrate hitting triple digits than with one of my least practical recipes of all time???
It's a good thing this shaved Brussels sprouts salad is so dang tasty you won't regret a single second you spend making it.
I was first introduced to the concept of a shaved Brussels sprouts salad with a warm maple bacon vinaigrette at Simon Pearce restaurant in Vermont. That was three years ago. How often do you remember a salad you ate three years ago? NOT OFTEN, if you're me.
It wasn't on their menu when I went back a year later and I was so unbelievably bummed. I knew I had to try making my own version of it.
I had never considered eating raw Brussels sprouts before that salad. But omg, y'all. Thinly sliced raw Brussels sprouts are so good. And a warm maple bacon vinaigrette? Before that, all my salad dressings were still cold from the fridge. It was a revelation.
Thinly sliced raw Brussels sprouts are delicate and crunchy, and just a little bit bitter. Just like roasted or sautéed Brussels sprouts go well with bacon or pancetta, raw Brussels are no different. So this salad is topped with crispy bacon bits and a warm maple bacon vinaigrette made with the reserved bacon fat.
To contrast with the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts and acidity of the vinegar in the dressing, this salad has lots of sweet components. Extra dark maple syrup is just one of them.
Dried cranberries are a must, imo. I'm such a sucker for a salad with dried cranberries and they're perfectly at home here. The candied walnuts (or pecans) add a nice, brittle crunch and sweet, nutty flavor. The shaved parmesan adds salt and fat to cut through the sharpness of the red onion and contrast with the sweetness of the nuts and berries.
It's all just so good when you mix it all together.
I've served this salad to people who have warned me in advance that they pretty much only like caesar salad, and they've been surprised by how much they like everything in this salad. FWIW, there's no higher compliment than a person who doesn't even like salad handing you a clean bowl and saying, "Look, I didn't even pick around anything!"
And yeah, okay, like I said — this is not the most practical dish. It's not necessarily quick to make, it's got multiple components, and needs a bit of prep work. You've got to thinly slice Brussels sprouts, make bacon bits, reserve the bacon fat for the vinaigrette, and yes, I even have you candy your own nuts in the recipe.
But I think this is a good reminder that what's "practical" is variable and looks different to everyone! I had a few slices of bacon I needed to use up, I wanted to practice making candied nuts, and I wanted to work on my knife skills. This recipe gave me an opportunity to do all three!
At the end of the day, when you're making the kind of salad that dreams are made of — all the prep work feels worth it — practical, even. Because this salad really is just that good.
making your own candied nuts
I used to think making candied nuts would be a messy, sticky process that would be irritating to clean up. (I hate cleaning up.) It turns out it's a super quick process with just a few ingredients, and a lot of fun to do, too.
Even though the sugar can be sticky when it cools, don't panic if you get it on the counter or it hardens in your pot. Because it's just sugar, it's easy to clean. Just wet a sponge with hot water and give it a good scrub, the sugar will melt and dissolve and come right off.
You can use pecans or walnuts here. I like pecans for the sweetness, but if you prefer fewer sweet flavors, you may find you prefer walnuts.
a few quick notes
- I used my favorite "very dark" maple syrup from Vermont in this dressing. Maple syrup that is labeled "B" or "very dark" is best for when you're cooking or baking because it has the most intense, robust maple flavor. You can use other maple syrups, but believe me when I tell you using the dark stuff makes a huge difference here.
- It can be a bit tedious to thinly slice all the Brussels sprouts so if you're feeling brave you can use a mandolin. I do not do this because I am a coward. Just use a sharp knife, you'll be fine.
- If you don't want to make your own candied nuts, you can use store bought ones, of course. No judgement here. Ditto store-bought bacon bits, but it really is worth making your own bacon bits just so you can get the bacon fat for the vinaigrette.
- The bacon fat in the maple bacon vinaigrette will start to solidify at room temperature. That's why it's a warm dressing. Just zap it in the microwave a few times and stir or shake it until it liquifies again before pouring it over the salad.
- I recommend drizzling or spooning the warm dressing over the salad once it's been plated instead of tossing the whole salad in the dressing before serving. That way you can save any extra salad as leftovers.
- Slice the Brussels and the red onions as thin as you absolutely possibly can. This is not a salad you want to eat diced or chopped. Thinly slicing everything cuts the bitterness of the sprouts and pungent raw onion flavor. If you go too thick, you'll be disappointed.
other recipes you might like
- lettuce and walnut salad with dill vinaigrette
- arugula and prosciutto pizza
- brussels sprouts carbonara
- cinnamon fruit salad with chocolate chips and walnuts
shaved brussels sprouts salad with warm maple-bacon vinaigrette
- ⅛ cup bacon fat (reserved from making bacon, or use olive oil if not adding bacon)
- ⅛ cup olive oil (if you have ¼ cup bacon fat, skip the olive oil and just use the ¼ bacon fat)
- ¼ cup maple syrup (very dark, "b" grade)
- 1½ tablespoon distilled white vinegar (apple cider vinegar will also work)
- 1½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ cup pecans or walnuts (roughly chopped)
- 150 grams sugar (¾ cup)
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- pinch salt
- 4 pieces bacon (chopped)
- 4 cups thinly sliced brussels sprouts
- ½ cup red onion (thinly sliced in crescent moon shapes)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup candied pecans
- parmesan cheese (shaved)
- Prepare a silicone mat or parchment paper lined sheet pan and have it nearby and easy to reach.
- In a small heavy-bottomed sauce pot melt 2 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
- As soon as the butter melts, add the sugar and stir to combine. The sugar and butter will initially form a crumbly mixture with the texture of wet sand, but as you keep stirring it will become smoother and turn into a thick paste.
- Keep stirring as the paste begins to turn golden brown in color. Every now and then pause your stirring for about 15-20 seconds to give the sugar on the bottom time to melt (you'll notice an amber liquid on the bottom of the pan), but then resume stirring immediately to prevent the sugar from burning.
- When the butter and sugar have completely melted, add the nuts and stir until they are fully coated.
- Pour the nuts onto the prepared sheet pan. Use a spatula (or two spatulas) to push and prod the nuts away from each other so they don't harden in large clumps. It's okay if some of them are touching or have long bits of sugar between them. Work quickly because the sugar will harden quickly as it cools.
- Let the candied nuts cool completely, then break them up into bite sized pieces with your hands (or use a knife). Transfer to an airtight container until ready to use.
- Fry bacon in a large skillet over medium to medium high heat until quite crispy. Remove to a paper towel to cool. Pour bacon fat into a liquid measuring cup.
- Add olive oil to the bacon fat, enough so that you end up with ¼ cup oil total. Depending on how fatty your bacon was you may need to add anywhere from 2 teaspoon to ⅛ of a cup.
- Whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients and set aside.
- Use a very sharp knife to thinly slice Brussels sprouts into ribbons and slice half a red onion into very thin crescents. Combine in a bowl with most of the cranberries and candied nuts.
- Warm the salad dressing in the microwave and give it a good whisk or shake. Divide the salad mixture into bowls, top with remaining cranberries and candied nuts. Drizzle with warm vinaigrette and use a vegetable peeler to finely shave parmesan cheese over the top.
- You need ¼ cup oil total for the dressing. You should get about ⅛ cup from frying the bacon, but depending on the cut of bacon you may end up with more or less than that. The recipe says to use ⅛ cup olive oil, but just add however much you need to have ¼ cup oil total. If you fry the bacon and end up with ¼ cup bacon fat, there's no need to add extra olive oil to the dressing.
- Unlike olive oil, bacon fat will start to solidify if left at room temperature. That's why this is a warm salad dressing. If you make the dressing in advance, pop it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds and give it a good whisk or shake before pouring it onto the salad.