Best Romaine Salad with Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette

Well here you go. A week or so ago I promised (on Instagram) to share this wonderful romaine salad with you (sorry for the teaser) and it kind of feels like a holiday, all this bubbly anticipation in my tummy like something really exciting is about to happen. Salad will do that to you when it’s as amazing as this one.

My friend Teri kindlyΒ gave me this recipe after she and I made about 3,000 pounds of it for a church Christmas party last month. I can tell you this, there were more rave reviews over this magical salad than any other thing on the menu. Literally, people were rushing into the kitchen after the party wanting to know what was in the magnificent salad and what prompted the change from the usual bowl-of-iceberg-lettuce-with-enormous-bottle-of-ranch-dressing that is normally served at such things (we quickly hid the gigantic, sanitized tub we had used to mix it all up in – you know, keep the magic alive that whipping it up for 400 people wasn’t a big deal at all).

Best Romaine Salad with Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette

The light vinaigrette (kind of sweet, kind of savory, kind of all things yummy) can be made in advance, along with the candied walnuts, and then it’s just a matter of tossing things together: crisp romaine lettuce, bacon, dried cranberries or cherries, any number of cheeses (feta, bleu, Parmesan) and sweet, crunchy candied nuts. Oh, and just a note about those divine candied nuts? Um, you should probably just go ahead and quadruple that batch because I may or may not be able to testify that they are also divine sprinkled atop yogurt and eaten for a snack at about 2:43 p.m. every single day.

Best Romaine Salad with Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette

I’ve been keeping all the ingredients in separate containers in the fridge/pantry so I can get this on my plate lickety-split for lunch. Talk about a pick-me-up on your average Tuesday afternoon. Plus, try adding grilled or rotisserie chicken to this salad for a heartier, main dish option. Heaven. I think I know what that is now.

Best Romaine Salad with Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette

One Year Ago: Roasted Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Two Years Ago: White Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Three Years Ago: Lemon Crinkles

Amazing Romaine Salad with Light Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Yield: Serves 6-8

Amazing Romaine Salad with Light Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

I've also made it deliciously with red wine vinegar and an orange champagne vinegar I spied at Trader Joe's.


  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar (see note above)
  • 1/3 cup avocado oil, olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • Candied Nuts:
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are my favorites)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Small pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
  • Salad:
  • 2 heads of romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta, bleu or Parmesan cheese
  • 6-8 strips bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled
  • 1/2 - 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries


  1. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients except the poppy seeds in a blender and process until combined. Add the poppy seeds and give it another whirl to combine. Pour in a jar and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  2. For the nuts, in a 10-inch skillet, combine the nuts, sugar, butter, salt and cayenne. Heat over medium, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until the sugar and butter melts and coats the nuts, 3-5 minutes. Immediately scrape the nuts onto a sheet of parchment and separate carefully into pieces to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the lettuce, cheese, bacon, dried fruit, and cooled nuts (break them into smaller pieces with a mallet, if needed). Pour a bit of the dressing over the top and toss to combine. Add more dressing, if needed (you may not use it all). Serve immediately.

Recipe Source: adapted from my friend, Teri (reduced the oil and sugar a bit in the dressing, added a pinch of salt and cayenne to the nuts)

69 Responses to Amazing Romaine Salad with Light Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

  1. margie says:

    I to did this for a church dinner with the same results! Since then, I have made this salad with some minor changes at least once every two weeks. The dressing stays in the fridge at all times. My husband wants it on every salad! And the nuts! Sometimes I just make them as an appetizer. Bless you for posting this Amazing salad. Here are my minor changes: Use walnut oil and Dijon mustard. Truly enjoy your website and go to it almost daily. You have made me a better cook!

  2. Sarah says:

    I made this to go with your Shepherd’s Pie, as per your suggested beneath the recipe, and it was the right decision. I did leave out the bacon for time reasons, but the salad was delicious and right combination of everything a salad should be.

  3. Glindy says:

    Hi Mel! I’m making this for a family reunion, but we’re flying and I’ll be making it in a rental house, so I’d have to buy every single ingredient for the dressing. That’s too expensive for just one salad, and I don’t want all those ingredients leftover. Do you have a store-bought dressing brand you’d recommend for this salad? I’m sad about the store-bought dressing, but it’s just more practical! Thank you!

    • Mel says:

      I totally hear you, Glindy; the storebought dressing is probably the best idea. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what to recommend. My favorite dressings are the refrigerated (like Litehouse brand) and maybe they’d have a good sub? Something creamy or vinegary with poppy seeds? Good luck!

  4. Janet says:

    Do you happen to still have quantities of each item needed to make this for 400? I was just put in charge of our stake rs luncheon and I have no idea what I’m doing!! The only thing in my corner is that I have your recipes to aid me!! Did you use a Rubbermaid bin to mix it all? how many bins dud it take?

    • Mel says:

      Ah, this conversation is bringing back great memories. My friend Teri was in charge of the salad. Let me check with her and see what she has to say. Yes, she did mix it in a rubbermaid bin (just one bin in several batches portioned out in large bowls).

      • Janet says:

        Thank you! Thank you!! I literally could not sleep last night tossing and turning worried about having to figure out a meal for 400. I must channel my inner Mel!! We eat Mel recipes a few times a week for sure!!!

    • Teri S. says:

      Hi Janet! I was Mel’s partner in crime for the Great Salad Event. The keys to making this for a large crowd is to prep what you can ahead of time and mix at the last possible second. Here is what I suggest. First, make a single batch of the recipe as Mel gives it. Decide if: 1) you are ok committing to the candied walnuts? – it’s a 2-3 hr job to make that many ahead 2) how many do you feel the recipe will serve (especially the dressing)? and 3) do you like it and do you think others will like it? If after that you want to go for it, just do the math to get to the number of servings you need. A couple other tips: 3 servings per head of romain is just about right. Use pre made bacon bits in a bag – I believe we used 2 of the big bags from Costco. Walnuts are expensive – buy bits and pieces in bulk but cook them in small batches. In my experience, the dressing goes a lot farther than you think but it’s cheap so don’t worry about it. I made 2 batches at a time in pint size mason jars which were also handy for transporting and remixing. When we arrived at the event, I had the bacon, walnuts and dressing prepped. We chopped the lettuce there – this took 3 people about an hour, I think. I don’t think we added cheese, mostly due to the budget. If you do add cheese, I would suggest Swiss for a crowd. We used a giant Rubbermaid bucket, clean of course, to mix at the last possible second so the romain wouldn’t wilt. We probably did it in thirds. We just dumped in the lettuce, then some dressing, then the toppings. It was not scientific or mathematically accurate.

      For a luncheon, you could add chicken and make it a main dish.

      Good luck!!

  5. Julie says:

    This was so delicious! Love, love, love! I used Truvia for the dressing, added grilled chicken, and used plain pecans. It was so yummy! Thank you for sharing! Will definitely make again!

  6. Brenleyb says:

    This looks yum! Tips for making this for a large group like you did? Did you use pre-cooked bacon crumbles? Looking to add this to our RS Dinner menu. Thanks for all your superb recipes and tutorials. Big fan!

  7. Carly says:

    This has probably been mentioned already, but swap out the yellow mustard for Dijon mustard & use honey instead of sugar. YUM! Also, instead of vinegar could use fresh orange juice, it’s SO GOOD. Citrus honey mustard dressing: it’s good on any salad!

  8. Nadia says:

    Absolutely delicious!!!! The dressing is out of this world!!!

  9. Michelle says:

    I made this for dinner tonight (along with your whole wheat rolls, and your oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip bars for dessert!), and I LOVED it!! My husband did, too! The combination of ingredients was fantastic, and I like the dressing! I have a normal poppy seed dressing I use, but I like the more mustardey taste in this one. Thanks!

    Oh, and your photography is amazing! That one with your salad tongs on the right side looks like it came from a magazine! πŸ™‚

  10. Courtney says:

    WOWZA! I made this today for a friend who came over for lunch and it was so yummy. I made it with an entire package of pre-washed hearts of romaine. My friend and I each had a bowl for lunch. Then after she left, I stood at the counter and ate the entire rest of the salad. Didn’t even bother putting it into a small bowl first, just ate it right out of the wooden salad serving bowl. It is that good. Thanks for your awesome recipe! Love your site!

  11. Gail says:

    Yummmm! Another fabulous recipe! We had this for dinner tonight and so enjoyed it! I wasn’t sure how the yellow mustard was going to taste but it all worked! We added grilled chicken and a dinner roll…just perfect!

  12. Barbara says:

    This is truly calling my name! I LOVE salad!

  13. Jill says:

    Made this salad for dinner last night and both my husband and I LOVED it. Sooooo yummy that I stopped at the store to get more ingredients to make a big batch to keep on hand for the week’s lunches. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes!

  14. Lisa says:

    Made this salad yesterday for my husband & myself. It was AWESOME!!!!! The first time I make any recipe I try to follow it exactly. I wouldn’t change a thing, it was so good. Loved the nuts, used gorgonzola, and the dressing was amazing. Thank you

  15. Cammee says:

    I know what’s for lunch today! I have never added cayenne to my candied nuts, I’m excited to try it.

  16. Renee says:

    I can’t have bacon, it sounds so good, can I add tomatoes, and avocado? With nuts, cranberries? The dressing sounds so good, I’m giving a baby shower, want to try this , thanks

  17. Sheila says:

    Mel, you just described what I and probably many others feel when eagerly stopping by many times a week to visit Mel and her blog. “all this bubbly anticipation in my tummy like something really exciting is about to happen”. And you never disappoint — something exciting is always appearing here! What a wonderful sounding recipe after all the heaviness of the holiday meals! Definitely will add chicken along with the bacon for added protein. And you should too. Runners need lots of protein to build those muscles for marathons. πŸ™‚

  18. Liz says:

    This looked so good to me! Funny, but I “crave” cool salads more in the winter than in summer.

    I used this recipe as inspiration…I normally keep green and red cabbage for salads as I live rurally and the cabbages last a week or more. Shortening my story…I used a mix of finely shredded red and green cabbage. I used walnuts, but didn’t candy them as I do NOT need the sugar even though they sound wonderful. I had just crumbled and fried some spicy sausage so used in place of the bacon. Had real Greek Feta as well s dried cherries! AND, I made the dressing exactly per the recipe.

    No not exactly per the recipe but a close-ish match and it was wonderful.

    Mel, I look at your weekly menu plan always and have discovered so many things from before I found your blog. The skillet taco pie is on my list for tomorrow or Thursday!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Liz – your variation on the salad sounds fabulous! Thanks for letting me know you use the menu in the footer. I was tempted to stop updating it but if even one or two people look at the weekly updates, it’s worth it. Thank you!

  19. Meghan says:

    Candied nuts are magical.

  20. Karen says:

    Mel, long time follower here and I don’t think I’ve ever commented. For some reason I can’t get these nuts candied right. I’ve done slivered almonds in the past where you melt the sugar and butter first ans then at a certain point you add the nuts. Thought this recipe sounded much easier(and I’m sure it is!) but the sugar and better aren’t really melting persay but crystallizing and not coating the nuts is that how it’s supposed to be? Mine is Just small chunks of hard sugar and nuts! Making salad for the sister missionaries tonight! Thanks Mel!

    • Mel says:

      Do you think you might be using too high of heat to start with, Karen? Try putting the sugar and butter in the skillet first then dumping the nuts on top. As it heats up (without stirring), the butter and sugar should melt and then you can start stirring it all together.

      • Sarah says:

        I had the very same problem (Karen above) – thanks for the suggestion. I made this salad yesterday for my son’s birthday dinner – wonderful!

        • Trina says:

          I know the previous comments are older but I had the same problem. To me it seemed as if there was too much sugar or not enough heat. I’ll give it another try. Thanks for your blog!

  21. jennifer says:

    Hi was wondering if you could use honey instead of sugar? Thanks for all the amazing recipes – you are my go to for all things concerning food!

    • Mel says:

      Definitely worth a try although I haven’t experimented with honey myself yet.

      • Liz says:

        I make a honey-mustard vinaigrette that is not too far off from this poppy seed vinaigrette so think honey will work here. I find it takes bit more mixing depending on how runny your honey is. I sometimes add a wee bit of sugar in my honey-mustard v as it seems to help all combine.

  22. Hilary says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I fixed this salad for lunch yesterday, my supper last night AND my breakfast this morning πŸ™‚ it’s delicious!!!! A winner in my book!

  23. This salad looks delightful- I cannot wait to give this a try! I just came across your blog and really enjoy it- I look forward to reading more. Cheers!

  24. Sheryl says:

    I made this for dinner and it was delicious! We especially loved the dressing. Unfortunately I have a nut allergy, so I made candied pretzels instead. I have no idea if they taste like candied nuts, but they were yummy. And I added red onion.

  25. Ally Cathey says:

    Do you think you could make the dressing with maple syrup instead of sugar?

  26. Linda says:

    Mel, this salad sounds amazing! I make one that has similarities, it has romaine and pears and cranberries, and cashews, and Swiss cheese. I don’t recall if anything else…it’s been awhile since I made it but now I’m craving it! And it has the lovely lemon poppy-seed dressing. So yummy! Knowing how much I love the one from my friend, I’m sure I would love your version as well. πŸ™‚

  27. Kristen says:

    This looks great, can’t wait to try it. Question though… I’ve just started making my own salad dressings, and the oil-based ones all turn solid in the fridge. Which on the one hand makes sense, but on the other hand – it doesn’t happen to store bought ones, and I’ve never heard a home cook talk about it… So my question is, am I doing something wrong? πŸ™‚ I’ve been using veg oil or EVOO, is that wrong? Do you just nuke it before you use it? Thanks!!

    • Nancy Long says:

      Just let them sit out for a short while before you want to use it and it will be fine. I’ve been making my own dressings for over 30 years and always get raves. You can use either veg. or Olive oil. I simetimes use a combo. Check out other oils, like grapeseed or walnut. etc.

    • Mel says:

      Hey Kristen – I think it also depends on what else is in the dressings. I’ve had some olive oil based dressings that stay liquid in the fridge and others that get thicker. I usually put it in the microwave for 5-10 seconds (it doesn’t warm it up, just loosens up the oil a bit). This dressing for the recipe I posted today hasn’t ever thickened up in the fridge when I’ve made it – I’ve used both avocado oil and olive oil so hopefully you’ll experience the same if you make it.

  28. Jessica says:

    Sounds so simple and yummy. Can’t wait to try it! I have a slightly similar recipe that uses a raspberry vinaigrette and a few different vegetables.

  29. Beth says:

    Made this for lunch and even the kids loved it! Than you!

  30. Kathy H says:

    I am adding this one to my menu for the week, also interested in the questions on the mustard so will be following up. I am excited to try this!

  31. Erin says:

    This looks and sounds amazing Mel – Thanks for sharing! I love poppy seed dressing but have never made it at home. I’ll be giving this a try πŸ˜‰

  32. Connie T says:

    Just a quick question… Should the mustard be dry mustard or just out of the bottle, like French’s? This salad is making me drool!!

  33. Susan from WA says:

    Putting poppy seeds on my shopping list. [On a complete side note, my oldest had to write a paper about his top 5 favorite internet sites, and he listed yours as one. πŸ™‚ ‘Mel’ has become a verb in our home, as in “do you mel?”]

  34. Natasha says:

    Would dijon mustard work for the dressing? I don’t normally keep yellow mustard, but there is big difference between yellow and dijon. Thanks!!

    • Mel says:

      I think it’s all about the flavors you like. The yellow mustard is more mild than Dijon but I think if you love the Dijon mustard taste, it’s definitely worth a try.

  35. Rachel says:

    I have been searching for a good, homemade salad dressing. I checked your blog this morning, and bam! There it was! I made it for lunch and couldn’t stop eating it!! YUM! Thank you for always having the best recipes!! Whenever I’m craving something, I always search your website first. MKC is my new “google”! πŸ™‚

  36. Holly W says:

    Sounds yummy! This will be on the menu next week! Love those ward parties! Glad you had help making the salad and you didn’t have to do it all yourself! Otherwise your salad might not have felt like heaven after all! :o)

  37. Jen T says:

    Yum! That is one lucky Ward Christmas party to have this!!! Thanks!

  38. Laurel says:

    I can’t eat walnuts. They do funny things to my mouth. The dressing looks divine! How ironic, I was just at GNC looking at a bottle of avocado oil thinking, what in the world would I do with it. Ta da!! Can’t wait to try it! Crasin make every salad better, they’re Magic yummy salad boosters. Thanks Mel! On the menu it goes.

  39. MM says:

    Ooh… this salad sounds amazing with the candied nuts, cherries, and popyseed dressing.. yum! Have printed out to add to my menu plan for the week!

  40. This looks divine. I love good homemade dressing and I LOVE candied walnuts. I just wish my boys would consider a salad ok to eat as a meal.
    I will definitely make this soon.

  41. This looks like a salad my husband and I would both love! I happen to have a ton of romaine I need to use so this may have to make its way onto our menu. πŸ™‚

  42. Teresa R. says:

    I love nuts and bacon in salads. I can’t wait to try this!

  43. This looks and sound delicious. I can’t even imagine making, let alone planning a salad for that many people.

  44. Kim in MD says:

    Wow…this is my kind of salad. It has all of my favorite things in a salad- dried berries, candied nuts, cheese and bacon! I have everything to make this except the poppy seeds. Since it’s snowing here today and tomorrow, I will have to make it without the poppy seeds until I can get to the store.

    I’m very intrigued about making salad for 400 people, Mel! The largest event I’ve ever hosted was about 60 people. I giggled when I read about the sanitized gigantic tub needed to toss this salad together! πŸ™‚

    • barb k says:

      I agree Kim in MD πŸ™‚ giggled also! Hope you had lots of help with the 400 peeps. Takes me back to youth group & making potato salad! <3 your website, Mel!

  45. Kim says:

    Ok…so I could not pin this fast enough! lol I just discovered your site this weekend and LOVE it!

  46. Hilary says:

    This looks delicious!!! I know what I am serving for supper tonight πŸ™‚ can’t wait to try it!!!

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