This easy asparagus salad is full of the tastes of spring, with asparagus, greens and radishes topped off with a bright lemon vinaigrette and crisp pancetta. It's perfect as a side or appetizer for a spring time meal.
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While I probably prefer autumn from a weather perspective (at least since moving to New England), I do love how spring announces itself with bright bursts of color in the flowers that pop up and the produce you find.
While many things are available year round these days, there is still a lot to be said for eating relatively seasonally with what is around locally.
Not only does it cut down food miles, it often tastes better too. And I definitely find it feels right to enjoy more comforting dishes in colder weather and fresher flavors as it warms up.
Spring produce to me means plenty of green, a bit more crunch and light, bright flavors. There's the last of the seasonal citrus, the first of the green veggies and the odd early fruit.
I think I might have a thing about incorporating spring vegetables into salads, but they can work so well like my spring salad with asparagus, fennel and strawberries. And this salad, too, is a really simple way to bring a few seasonal favorites together.
Spring salad ingredients
Salads are the perfect excuse to show off some of the wonderful produce that starts to make its way into the stores at this time of year. There's so much natural green, light flavors and crunchy textures that fit in perfectly in this format.
Here I've chosen two classic spring vegetables:
- Asparagus - the star of this salad, and such a classic spring vegetable, it is also a highly versatile vegetable in the kitchen.
- How to prepare and pairings: You can steam it, roast it, sauté it and enjoy it raw. It's great as a side to fish and meat, cooked in egg dishes, added to salads and made into soup. Like I say, it's versatile!
- Watch outs: Check your asparagus before you buy it as it is a vegetable that really needs to be used fresh. There's a huge difference between old, woody or stringy asparagus and fresh spears with a good snap. Check that the tops are not wilted and you don't have too much purple at the bottom. Then if you are cooking, take care not to overcook it. If overdone, it can become mushy and have a harsh flavor.
- Radishes - these add a lovely burst of contrasting color as well as crunch and a slightly sharp flavor. They can seem like they are only good for salads, but they are more versatile than you might think.
- How to prepare and pairings: Radishes are often eaten raw, but you can also sauté and roast them. These methods bring out their milder, sweeter side. Raw, they are a great addition to salads and to top tacos, while cooked they can be used like other root vegetables. It's also a great vegetable to pickle, and the daikon variety is often enjoyed that way as part of Vietnamese cuisine.
- Watch outs: They can be a little sharp when raw, so it's worth using them sparingly so they don't take over. They keep relatively well, but avoid ones that feel soft.
If I can find them, I love using pea shoots as the base for this to really add to the spring vibe. They have a great texture and flavor that fits so well. However the season is short so as an alternative, arugula (rocket) works well too.
A light, citrus vinaigrette
Since this salad has relatively few ingredients, and is all about bright spring flavors, the lemon vinaigrette I have added here pairs perfectly.
It's really simple - just olive oil, lemon juice, a little salt, pepper and honey. The honey helps to take the edge off the acidity of the lemon. But you don't want too much for it to become overly sweet or lose the lemon flavor.
If you like, you can add in a little chopped herbs for additional flavor (mint, basil or thyme work well). However I also like just the bit of mint leave added into the salad as I describe below.
Ways to adapt this salad
Not only is this salad really simple, it's also easy to adapt based on taste and what you have. Some easy swaps or additions you can make include:
- Add extra veggies - this keeps things relatively simple, but you could easily add in other vegetables, especially other spring veg like peas, thinly sliced fennel or avocado. Some bell pepper or grated carrot would also work well. I'd suggest you don't add anything with too strong a flavor to help let the asparagus shine.
- Use a different dressing - while I think the simple lemon vinaigrette pairs really well here with it's lovely bright freshness, a classic French vinaigrette would also work well. You could also probably use a creamier dressing though again, I'd recommend not too strong a flavor.
- Add bacon instead of pancetta, or skip it altogether. While I like the slightly salty contrast in flavor, I can see it might not be for everyone.
- Add some feta - as an alternative to pancetta (or in addition), feta is another great way to add a little contrasting saltiness and another texture (that would pair nicely.
This tasty asparagus salad with lemon vinaigrette is light, bright and so easy to make. It works well as an appetizer or side to a range of mains, too. Whenever you enjoy it, it's a lovely way to enjoy some spring favorites.
Try these other asparagus recipes:
- Asparagus frittata (a simple and tasty egg dish, perfect for brunch)
- Asparagus mimosa (asparagus, a simple vinaigrette and fluffy grated hard-boiled egg - the egg might sound unusual but it's so light and makes a great side/lunch)
- Asparagus with easy blender Hollandaise sauce
- My poached salmon salad is another light salad that includes asparagus.
- Plus get more spring recipes in the archives.
Asparagus salad with lemon vinaigrette
- 12 stems asparagus
- 4 radishes
- 2 oz pea shoots 60g, or approx 1 ½oz/45g arugula/rocket
- 2 tablespoon mint approx
- 2 oz pancetta cubes 60g
For lemon vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper
- Snap the ends off the asparagus as low as it will naturally break and break each stem in half. Steam the asparagus until just tender, around 5-10 minutes depending on thickness. Once cooked, remove from water/steamer and either run under cold water or place in a bowl with cold water and a little ice to stop them cooking further.
- While asparagus is cooking, thinly slice the radishes. Divide the pea shoots or arugula between plates and lay the sliced radish over the top. Note you might want to cut the pea shoots first if they are long. Roughly tear the mint leaves if larger (or leave whole if small).
- Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper for the vinaigrette. Alternatively, you can shake in a small jar. Be sure to give a little stir to make sure the honey is dissolved. You may need to re-shake/whisk right before using.
- Warm a small skillet over a medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook, turning once or twice, until gently crisp. Drain and set aside on some kitchen towel to drain a little more.
- Arrange the asparagus over the pea shoots/arugula, scatter over the mint and pancetta then drizzle over the dressing and serve.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
This post was originally shared in April 2018 and has been updated, primarily with new photos.
Try these other side and salad ideas that would also be great for Easter:
- Mushroom Couscous by Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
- Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan by Cooking Chat
- Skillet Green Beans with Citrus by Gourmet Everyday
- Tallow Roasted Vegetables by Pies and Plots
- Easy Spinach Salad with Bacon, Eggs and Tomatoes by That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Mustard and Egg Potato Salad by Palatable Pastime
- Springtime Pasta Salad by Tara’s Multicultural Table