This easy radicchio salad combines all the best of winter's vegetables and fruits into a single, gorgeous recipe that pops with flavor. Radicchio's bitter notes find balance with sweet apple, tart pomegranates, and just the right amount of creamy hazelnuts. Plus it comes together in less than five minutes.
What is it?
Radicchio is a bitter-tasting leafy vegetable in the chicory family, and it's related to other cold-weather greens like endive and escarole. It's popular in Italian cooking where it's served both raw in salads as well as cooked in dishes like risotto.
There are several types of radicchio, but the one you'll most likely find in your grocery store resembles a small red cabbage. Its red leaves, streaked with white, form a sphere. And it makes a delicious wintertime salad - especially paired with sweet apples, a pop of pomegranate, and creamy hazelnuts.
Is it good for you?
Bitter vegetables and herbs such as radicchio are traditionally used before meals to support digestion, which makes this salad a nice start to heavier meals - especially the cold weather winter meals that tend to feature heavy proteins like slow-roasted turkey. Italian folk medicine values radicchio for its ability to support digestion as well as a tonic for the blood (1).
Radicchio is a bitter leafy vegetable that is rich in micronutrients. It is a very good source of vitamin K, and also contains a fair amount of vitamin C, folate, and potassium (2). It is also high in antioxidants that give it its distinctive red color. These compounds, called anthocyanins, combat oxidative stress, and support gut health (3), particularly when organically grown (4).
What's in the salad?
Some radicchio salads are grilled, and others, like this one, are served raw and fresh. Regardless, good salad recipes rely on a balance of sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and acidity. In this recipe, you'll want to balance the bitterness of radicchio with acidity (lemon juice or vinegar works well), sweetness, and salt.
- Radicchio. It's the foundation of the salad. You can use the round variety (chioggia) you find at most grocery stores, or heirloom varieties you might find at the farmers market. And any bitter green works as a stand-in.
- Microgreens. I like to use purple radish micgrogreens because their color complements radicchio and pomegranate arils, but any tender sprout works well here.
- Apple. Apple's sweetness balances radicchio's bitterness. Honey Crisp and SweeTango apples work well in this salad because they have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.
- Pomegranate arils. Like apple, pomegranate arils bring sweetness and acidity to balance radicchio's bitter notes. They also bring a pop of juicy, crunch to the salad, too.
- Blue cheese. Gorgonzola cheese brings a satisfying creaminess to the salad and just the right punch of salt. You can also substitute manchego cheese or feta, both of which have a salty edge that works well with radicchio.
- Toasted hazelnuts. Like gorgonzola, hazelnuts bring a bit of creamy, buttery flavor to the salad. Their protein and fat content also help make the salad more satisfying, too.
Tips for making a killer salad
This radicchio salad recipe takes less than five minutes to toss together. It's nearly effortless, but there are still a few things you'll need to keep in mind.
- Balance radicchio's bitterness. Radicchio's bitter flavor needs balance. When you add a salty ingredient, a sweet one, and a little bit of acid, you'll balance that bitterness and provide multidimensional flavor.
- Add fat and protein for satisfaction. Since radicchio is a low-calorie vegetable, you'll need to add a couple of ingredients that are rich in fat and protein. Fat and protein increase satiety, meaning your salad will taste more satisfying.
- Let it rest a few minutes before serving. Since radicchio is a sturdy green like kale, it can benefit from a little maceration with salt and vinegar. Letting the salad rest a few minutes after dressing allows the flavors to meld and come together, too.
Swap the blue cheese for something equally salty like olives, anchovies, or bacon. Or try a different cheese, such as parmesan, manchego, or feta.
Try grilling the radicchio, it brings a pleasant sweetness and warmth to the salad.
Swap the apples for fennel. Fennel's sweetness and crunch make a nice partner for radicchio.
Serve it with grilled or roasted chicken breast to make it a full meal.
Swap lemon juice for the red wine vinegar. Lemon brings a distinct freshness in addition to acidity that also works well in this salad.
More simple salads you'll love
- Pieroni A. Medicinal plants and food medicines in the folk traditions of the upper Lucca Province, Italy. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Jun;70(3):235-73.
- Radicchio: Nutrition Facts. Nutrition Data, accessed 2020.
- D'evoli, L., Morroni, F., Lombardi-Boccia, G., Lucarini, M., Hrelia, P., Cantelli-Forti, G., & Tarozzi, A. (2013). Red chicory (Cichorium intybus L. cultivar) as a potential source of antioxidant anthocyanins for intestinal health. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2013, 704310.
- Yook, J. S., Kim, M., Pichiah, P. B., Jung, S. J., Chae, S. W., & Cha, Y. S. (2015). The Antioxidant Properties and Inhibitory Effects on HepG2 Cells of Chicory Cultivated Using Three Different Kinds of Fertilizers in the Absence and Presence of Pesticides. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 20(7), 12061–12075.