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Wilted Lettuce Salad

I asked a reader what wilted lettuce salad was and she said “Oh…I think I’ve had some of that before. You mean floppy lettuce that was too old to be served and we ate it anyway?” I laughed. Poor girl is from the West Coast, bless her heart.

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a bowl of finished wilted lettuce salad on a table with a fork

One member of the class of hot salads, this recipe is common in the Appalachian regions of the US but probably originated with the Romans–versions of it have been found in literature dating back to the 1300’s.

The concept is often backwards of what people assume: Crisp, cold lettuce is doused with a hot vinaigrette dressing and it softens under the heat of it creating a “wilted” but not floppy. And it is truly divine.

A perfect blend of tangy and sweet. Not oily or greasy like you might think, and a great balance to your next meal.

Five Stars! ⭐️

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    Best lettuces for wilted lettuce salad

    You’ll need a lettuce that will actually soften, for this to work best. Romaine and Iceberg are too firm. Instead, try:

    • Butter
    • Bibb
    • Living lettuces (the kind in the plastic case with the roots still attached)
    • Mixed greens
    • Baby spinach

    What does wilted lettuce dressing taste like?

    It’s the “dressing” which I have to think came about as desperate country cooks tried to find ways to use cheap ingredients to make something taste good. This is proof that it can be done.

    The dressing will almost remind you of coleslaw’s sweet and tangy mix–add the crumbled bacon to the top and a hard boiled egg and it’s just fantastic.

    How to make wilted lettuce salad

    Cook the bacon and drain away some grease but leave a 1/4 cup in the skillet. Add the water, vinegar, sugar and green onions and cook just until the sugar dissolves. Add salt and pepper.

    a skillet with wilted lettuce dressing ingredients in it

    Pour the dressing hot from the skillet over the lettuces and stir to combine. They will begin to soften immediately.

    a skillet pouring dressing over a bowl of lettuce

    Add bacon and hard boiled egg on top and serve warm.

    a finished bowl of wilted lettuce with bacon and green onions on top

    Can wilted lettuce salad be made ahead?

    The dressing could be made ahead and reheated later if you needed to but it wouldn’t work to mix the salad and the dressing and let it get cold. Mix this salad right before serving.

    a bowl of finished wilted lettuce salad

    What to serve with wilted lettuce salad

    I love to balance a recipe like this that’s tangy and tart with something a bit richer. Try these great additions to round out your meal:

    a bowl of finished wilted lettuce salad

    Wilted Lettuce Salad

    A southern classic, wilted lettuce salad was the way grandmothers used to make do with what they had but the combination of bacon grease (yes that's what I said), vinegar, and sugar makes the most divine dressing served warm over greens. 
    Prep Time 6 minutes
    Cook Time 2 minutes
    Total Time 8 minutes
    Servings 6 -8
    Author Rachel Ballard

    Ingredients
      

    • 5 slices of bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
    • 1/4 cup bacon drippings you can get rid of the rest of it
    • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
    • 2 green onion tops sliced
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    • 6-8 cups torn lettuce pieces (I use mixed greens but anything will work except Romaine)
    • 1 hard boiled egg diced

    Instructions
     

    • Once you have cooked your bacon and drained all but 1/4 cup bacon drippings from your skillet, return the pan to low heat and add the vinegar, water, sugar, green onions, salt and pepper and stir to dissolve the sugar--about 1 minute.
    • Heat the dressing until very warm but not boiling and turn off the heat.
    • Pour the dressing over your lettuce and toss well.
    • Add the bacon and crumbled egg and serve warm.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 204kcal
    Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
    Course Side Dish
    Cuisine American

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    40 Comments

    1. This is not the Wilted Lettuce of my childhood. Of course I am not a southerner. We never put sugar in anything but cereal and deserts. After the bacon was fried crisp sour cream was added to the bacon grease and warmed then poured over the lettuce and onions just before serving. Another dish with mashed potatoes with lettuce, onions mixed with a mustardd dressing was called Dutch Lettuce

      1. Hey Maureen, I understand. There are lots of versions of foods based on the cultures that influence them and isn’t that a wonderful thing! Let’s celebrate those differences and not criticize those who differ: After all, it’s just food. This version is specific to the south/Appalachian Mountain region and has been loved by many who hold just as much regard for it as you do for the recipe of your childhood. Neither is right or wrong–it’s just preference. Thanks. –Rachel

    2. 5 stars
      My gram made this with spinach and it was always my favorite salad. I lost her recipe in a fire and my remaining cousins think it’s gross. I was soooo happy to find this exact duplicate of her salad recipe. Thank you!

    3. 5 stars
      This salad does “hit the spot”! Am making now using escarole. I sprinkle the sugar right on the greens…add thinly sliced mushrooms and more hard boiled eggs. Makes a great side for fried fish or fish and chips! Just careful when you eat it…sometimes I mainline the vinegar and cough!

      1. 5 stars
        We’re always used romaine but after reading thru, I’m going to experiment with my greens! I wonder how the dressing would be on al dente green beans or grilled cabbage or a bag of undressed coleslaw from the store.

    4. As a child, my mother would make hot wilted salad for my five siblings, dad and I. Such a wonderful treat! She served her salad over mashed potatoes. Did I tell you that we are Irish & had potatoes every night for dinner! YUMMY! We are from Pennsylvania. After my husband & I married, mom would invite us up during the summer months for her delicious, fresh salad.
      Last night my sister brought us several bags of leaf lettuce. Guess what is on the menu for tomorrow’s dinner!

      1. I have never heard of serving it over potatoes Theresa, but you can do whatever you love! That sounds pretty interesting. 😉 I hope you love my version if you make it. –Rachel

      2. We are from PA as well. Ate our scalded lettuce over “salt water potatoes..”. potatoes boiled in salt water n smashed w a fork. I like to spread w butter and let it melt before covering it in scalded lettuce.
        Serious collateral but amazing flavor.

    5. I am from a very small Appalachian town in Kentucky. My grandma’s did their wilted lettace almost like you. There was no salad dressing to be found in their houses, in those days. (1940’s). That was the only salad we had when I was a young girl. I recently fixed some for my husband. Needless to say he loves it as much as I do. Thanks for the memories.

      1. Hey Marbeth–where are you from? I guess you know I’m a Kentucky girl too. 🙂 And those sweet, resilient ladies from the mountains always had some of the best food if you ask me. Made do with what they had and it came out great. I love them!!! And I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe. Please come back and see me soon! –Rachel

    6. 5 stars
      OMG…my favorite and we had to have cornbread with it…my family is from Boaz Al. or Sand Mountain we always said…my aunt has now gotten older and the last time I visited her I would volunteer to do all the lettuce green onion and cool the bacon if she would just make the dressing as she can’t stand for a long time anymore and it is all made just like yours but she always saved a little coffee from the morning to add to her dressing and it was the bomb…I need to try to make this one more time with her as I don’t think she will be able to do it much longer…best salad ever I totally understand the spiritual experience when eating this but you must have cornbread with it and I have to say your cornbread recipe is very close to hers.

      1. You know Patricia, if my recipes will bring back those memories for you, that makes me SO HAPPY. Food and family and memories. They just go together and I’m so glad you found one (almost two) recipes here the are similar to those good memories you have. I hope you’ll come back more often and find lots more you love. Thank you for your wonderful note. –Rachel

    7. I love wilted lettuce!!!! My mama made it all the time during the summer when her garden produced leaf lettuce and green onions. She didn’t make a dressing…she just poured the hot bacon grease over the lettuce and chopped onion. Salted it….perfection. But you had to eat it right away! YUM! Thanks for bringing back a memory! Pinned.

      1. I’d say you did have to eat that fast Mary! I hope you’ll give this recipe a try and see if you like it. Thanks for always being such a faithful reader!

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    About the Author

    Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.