This broccoli salad with cheese and bacon is a popular side dish for summer gatherings and special occasions. My recipe includes a creamy Greek yogurt dressing to bring all of the components together.
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This easy broccoli salad makes the green cruciferous vegetable the star of the dish. Broccoli has numerous health benefits like fiber, vitamin C, and calcium, so this recipe makes for a healthy option to offset other heavier menu items. It’s the perfect summer salad that you can even prepare ahead of time for a potluck, barbecue, or picnic.
Bite-sized pieces first blanch in hot water followed by a dunk in ice water, so they don’t overcook. To complement the broccoli, I use a lightened-up salad dressing. The mixture contains high-protein Greek yogurt and honey for a sweet and tangy combination.
Broccoli selection and preparation
The broccoli stalk is composed of a head that contains clusters of buds. When trimmed down, they become florets. I use a small paring knife to cut off the pieces, halving them if needed to make them easier to eat.
I usually save the stems as they are edible and can be sliced and used in stir-fries or shreds for broccoli slaw. Nothing goes to waste! For convenience, you can use packaged pre-cut florets. Just make sure to cut down any large pieces.
Blanch and shock
Raw broccoli is highly fibrous, hard to chew, and has a sulfurous taste. Similar to cooking green beans, I use the blanch and shock method to soften the pieces. The florets first take a quick 1 to 2-minute plunge in boiling water to tenderize the thick stalk and buds.
To ensure the florets stay vibrant green and crisp-tender, immediately add them to an ice water bath until chilled. This technique halts the cooking process and limits any residual enzymes like peroxidase and polyphenol oxidase from deteriorating the texture or color. A bonus is you can store the blanched broccoli for several days before using it.
For the creamy dressing, I use non-fat Greek yogurt as the base. I mix in some red wine vinegar, honey, and Dijon mustard to balance the tart flavor. Since there is no fat in the dairy product, I add a small amount of homemade mayonnaise to provide a smooth mouthfeel. However, you can substitute that with olive oil.
The dressing texture is smooth and creamy, with a tangy and sweet flavor. The consistency should cling to the ingredients for maximum flavor delivery but not be heavy or clumpy. After tossing, I like to serve the remaining dressing on the side so guests can add as much as they’d like.
To add dimension to the salad, I use a variety of sweet and savory mix-ins. Fry up a few slices of thick-cut bacon, then chop for bursts of smoky flavor. Cubes of aged sharp cheddar cheese add more protein, although you can switch that up with other semi-hard varieties like smoked gouda, mozzarella, or provolone.
Diced red onions and sunflower seeds add a pleasant crunch. Dried cranberries have a concentrated sweetness and tartness that complement the other ingredients. Dried apricots, cherries, or raisins are good swaps. You can even add in fresh fruit like apples, pears, or peaches for extra crispiness.
Make it ahead of time
To cut down on day-of preparation, you have a few options. You can make the broccoli ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days until ready to use. You can also make a large batch of oven-roasted bacon up to a week in advance. When ready, pull some out of the refrigerator, chop, and add it to the salad. You can make the dressing three days ahead, then toss right before serving.
Serve this with
Yes, steaming takes about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of your pot. You may need to cook in batches. You’ll need to prepare an ice water bath to stop the cooking process, no matter which method you choose.
Use a small paring knife to remove about 1-inch sized florets from the head of the stalk. If the piece is large, cut it in half lengthwise.
Rinse the florets under cool running water to remove any dirt that may be trapped in the buds. Blanching the broccoli in boiling water will destroy any harmful bacteria like salmonella and Escherichia coli.
Yes, however, the stem and buds are tough and fibrous, making them hard to break down. You may also notice a slightly sulfurous taste. One bonus is that it retains more heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C. Cooking helps soften and tenderize the vegetable, making it easier to eat.
Blanching makes broccoli more edible
Fresh broccoli is challenging to eat raw due to its fibrous stem and top. Briefly blanching the florets in hot boiling water brightens the green color and softens the pectin in the cell walls to make it easier to chew. Immediately plunging in ice water stops the cooking process, preventing the vegetable from becoming mushy.
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- 3 quarts water, divided
- 4 cups ice cubes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 6 cups
- 2 slices bacon, uncooked, thick-cut
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup sunflower seeds
- ⅓ cup red onion, ¼-inch dice
- 2 ounces sharp cheddar, ¼-inch cubes, about ½ cup diced
- In a large pot, bring 2 quarts (8 cups) of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir to dissolve.
- In a medium bowl, add 1 quart (4 cups) of cold water and 4 cups of ice. Set aside to use as an ice water bath.
- Add broccoli florets to the boiling water and cook until bright green and crisp-tender but not too soft, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Immediately transfer the drained broccoli to the ice water bath until cool, about 5 minutes. Drain the broccoli florets in a colander, shake to remove the excess water. Set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the bacon slices and cook until crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined sheet pan to drain. Once cooled, chop into small pieces. It should yield about ¼ cup.
- In a large bowl, add blanched broccoli, chopped bacon, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, red onion, and cheddar cheese.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, honey, water, dijon mustard, salt, and black pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Drizzle half of the salad dressing over the broccoli mixture and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, serve the remaining dressing on the side.
- Recipe Yield: About 6 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Yogurt selection: I recommend using Fage nonfat Greek yogurt because it has a neutral flavor and not too sour. You can use low-fat or whole milk, but it will provide a richer consistency.
- Vinegar option: Apple cider vinegar can be substituted for red wine vinegar.
- Mayonnaise substitution: Add olive oil instead, although the dressing will be slightly less thick.
- Storing: Place the salad in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Make ahead: Blanched broccoli can be made two days in advance. The dressing can be made three days ahead.
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