grilled bacon salad with arugula and balsamic

You guys, I owe you an apology. It’s been nearly a month since I first encountered this grilled bacon salad and I couldn’t find a window to tell you about it until now. That wasn’t right of me. When you try it, you’ll understand.

insanely thick bacon; use moderately thick instead

This salad is so delicious, it has spread by a modern sort of word of mouth alone. I tried it out on a friend’s grill a few weeks ago, and as social media will go, she Instagram-ed a photo of it, which led to two of her friends making it on visual suggestion alone, and then friends of that friend’s too. I imagine a web of people now partaking in the awesomeness that is a grilled bacon salad and here you are with a direct line to Patient Zero, and I was too busy dry-rubbing chicken and making pecan sandies into pie crumbles to get around to mentioning it until now. Tsk-tsk.

indoor grilling is just not the same

The inspiration for this salad is, amusingly enough, the worst meal we had in Rome. They say you can’t have a bad meal in Rome, and we almost proved the theory, but near the end we chose a place that was no doubt awesome when the person who recommended it to us spent many evenings there, but for us, was an series of flabby pastas with ketchup-like sauces and mealy antipasti. We hardly suffered, however, because this salad, the one dish we were the most skeptical about, will forever cement that mediocre meal in our minds as “totally worth it.” Bacon — yes, American-style bacon in Rome; not exactly the pork product I associate with the city, but who am I to question these things — was grilled to a perfect, lightly charred crisp then topped with peppery wild arugula and drizzled so-very-lightly with an aged balsamic vinegar, the kind that is thick, dark and almost syrupy, as sweet as it is punchy, the kind that probably costs too much but that I still encourage everyone to buy, just once, because used judiciously (which is to say, not in a steak marinade, please, use the cheap stuff for that) it will last forever.

spicy wild arugula

I mean, bacon + arugula + balsamic: that’s all there was. I added here a few shavings of parmesan and a couple quartered grape tomatoes, you could drizzle on a tiny bit of olive oil or some flakes or sea salt and grinds of black pepper, but it seriously needs none of these things to work. The spicy argula against the crackly smoky salty bacon and tiny droplets of black grapey vinegar work together in perfect harmony and beg to be part of your routine this summer.

grilled bacon salad with arugula and balsamic

Meat week! Okay, I hadn’t intended for this to be an all-carnivore week on the site, I just couldn’t let another weekend go by without sharing this. Don’t worry, next week, will begin with the very most amazing incredible one-pan, totally addictive vegetarian-with-a-vegan-option summer grain dish that we cannot get enough of and then, well, eat all the whole vegetables and grains you can now, because should all go as planned, the summer cake to end all summer cakes should finish out the week.

One year ago: Bacon Corn Hash
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Three years ago: Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint
Four years ago: Watermelonade (Watermelon Lemonade), Light Brioche Burger Buns and Blueberry Boy Bait
Five years ago: Chopped Watermelon Feta and Vegetable Salad
Six years ago: Quick Potato Pirogi and Rataouille’s Ratatouille

Grilled Bacon Salad with Arugula and Balsamic

This salad is ideal with a thicker-cut bacon (but there’s really no need to buy the insanely thick stuff I bought by accident), wild arugula (I find that the leafy bundled stuff has much more flavor and bite than the bagged/boxed stuff) and an aged, dark and almost syrupy balsamic that you save for special occasions. However, the good news is that we’ve made it all ways (I warned you it was addictive) and any old bacon + arugula + balsamic you keep around works too. The real beauty of this, however, is the simplicity of it. I personally loathe making bacon inside because it splatters everywhere and stinks and smokes up my apartment. On a hot grill, it’s done to perfection in just minutes and keeps your kitchen clean. And, if you’re going to a pot-luck with a grill around, there’s nothing easier than bringing a package of bacon, bundle of arugula and bottle of balsamic with you to throw together a salad that may start a summer obsession.

Servings: 4 (I’d estimate 1 to 2 slices of bacon, and 1 ounce arugula leaves per person, depending on how much other food will be served)

4 ounces arugula
8 ounces of thick-cut bacon
Handful of grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (optional)
Small amount of parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (optional)
Aged balsamic vinegar
Drizzle of olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Arugula is grown in dark, sandy soil and almost always arrives gritty. Don’t skimp on washing it. I like to fill a large bowl or basin with very cold water and drop the arugula into it, pumping it up and down a few times with your hands to allow any dirt and grit to fall to the bottom. Pull it out of the water, being careful not to drag any grit from the bottom of the bowl with it. Spread out on towels to dry it.

Meanwhile, get you grill very hot. Lay out all of your bacon slices and grill them* until browned underneath, which will take all of two minutes. Flip them with tongs; another minute should finish them on the second side. Transfer them to a platter. Tear your arugula into bite-sized pieces over it. Scatter with tomatoes and peels of parmesan, if using. Drizzle very thinly with olive oil and sprinkle with a few, spare droplets of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately, just as some of the arugula begins to sigh over the hot bacon.

* As I’ve already received a few comments about flare-ups on the grill from bacon grease, I want to add before you start that you should definitely use your judgement here; the recipe is not the law. Ours flared a little, but not so much that it worried me. If it’s flaring too much on a high heat, lower it or move it to a cooler part of the grill. You can also close the lid for a minute, or do fewer strips at a time. You know your grill best. Be safe.

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120 comments on grilled bacon salad with arugula and balsamic

  1. Sade

    This looks amazing! Any recommendations for sources for aged balsamic vinegar? Can I just pick it up at Whole Foods or will I need to go to a specialty italian store? What else would you use this kind of vinegar for?

    1. Noreen

      William Sonoma 25 year old barrel aged is the BEST! Also you can buy balsamic vinegar (I like Trader Joe’s) and put on low simmer a few minutes and it gets syrupy and sweet. So yummy!

    1. plarson67

      won’t work on an open coal grill. I just tried. Whole lotta nope, there! Do it in the oven with foil and a cookie tray. Much less mess than any other method. 20 minutes on 400 degrees give or take a few minutes. No preheat. Just turn it on and go.

    1. deb

      More about balsamic — So, this is one of these pesky things where I feel it’s really important that nobody feel that they need to spend a ton of money to cook well, because you don’t. It’s a need versus want thing. Here’s a way to fake it if you only have or want to buy the cheaper stuff. However, if you really love a good aged balsamic, if a few droplets here or there (with strawberries! on this salad! etc.) makes you happy, I think it’s a good investment. It keeps for years in a cool, dry place and the bottle I splurged on five years ago is still 3/4 full. Again, balsamic is something that used in Italy in very scant quantities. Here’s a good buying/info guide. Buy it somewhere that you can taste it first (cheese shops are great for this); it’s the only way to know that you’re buying what’s right for you. It’s the only way to be sure that you wouldn’t just be happy with a $10 bottle, too.

      Flare-ups — I suppose it flared a little but nothing that seemed too big of a deal to me. Definitely use your judgement here; the recipe is not the rule. If it’s flaring too much on a high heat, lower it or move it to a side part. You can also close the lid for a minute.

  2. Lindsey

    I have to ask — when you grilled thick-cut bacon on an actual grill (vs. a grill pan), how did you avoid a grease fire? I grill regularly — pretty much any meat I can think of — but I’m having trouble picturing hot grill + bacon without either an intermediary pan or moving the bacon over to the cool side of the grill to cook more slowly.

  3. Maria in Oregon

    Everything’s better with bacon! This looks so simple and yummy. I love the thick-cut type too. I know what you mean about it smelling up the house – Can you do this on a propane BBQ?

  4. Karen

    I’m switching the tomatoes out for blackberries and the parm for goat cheese, because that’s the kind of mood I’m in. After that, we gotta deal. Looks delicious!

  5. That bacon looks so delightfully thick. And I don’t know why I’ve never thought of grilling bacon before. I must try this salad . . . and possibly a million other dishes that include thick-cut, grilled bacon. :)

  6. Deanna

    I’m assuming I could put a poached egg on this and call it dinner. Or would the salad totally lose all of it’s charm? And grilled bacon will forever remind me of all you can eat Korean BBQ.

  7. Bacon makes everything better!! This flavor combination sounds amazing; spicy, salty, zesty, and acidic. A ton of different textures makes any salad much more enjoyable and less of a chore. Thanks for the yummy recipe!!

  8. MP

    Re: grease fires on actual grills

    Keep portion sizes in mind! A few strips should be fine, but a friend of mine tried to grill ~ 2 dozen strips at once on July 4th and it was touch and go for a few minutes.

    (Also, for those of you who live in New York, Schaller and Weber is WHERE IT’S AT when it comes to bacon.)

  9. Pam Gammill

    You should also know that in Italy, when they put basalmic vinegar on a salad like this, if it is really thick and tastes a little sweet, then they have mixed the basalmic vinegar with honey. One of my favorite meals here, is sliced medium rare beef served on a bed of arugula and topped with grana (shaved parmesan) and honey basalmic vinegar. It is similar to this salad, but served as a main dish.

  10. Colleen

    This sounds delicious. I bet it would be wonderful with some lightly grilled peach/nectarine slices is lieu of the tomatoes as well.

  11. This salad looks really tasty! Have you tried this with (an apple-wood or the likes) smoked bacon? Maybe just me…I have an affinity for just about anything smoked.

  12. This looks amazing!!! How is it that I’ve never grilled bacon before?!?!? We had a bacon chocolate wedding cake. But, never bacon on the grill. Will be changing that ASAP. Thanks for the great idea!

  13. No poet

    Sounds very delicious. I was already sold on the combinations of flavors since my favorite pizza here in NYC is a thin-thin-thin-crust bacon and arugula pizza.

  14. Donna

    My grandma used to make something similar – she added hard boiled egg too, it added to the consistency of the dressing when you tossed it! You are right – it was delicious – and it made me think of her!

  15. A tip for the bacon on the grill without the flare-ups: lay down some tin foil with the edges turned up to create a fake pan and grill the bacon on that. If you use regular aluminum foil, you should still get grill marks, and you can (carefully!) move the grease-filled foil off the grill and save it or use it to oil your grill grates. I find this much less scary than flare-ups, especially since I have a very tiny grill on a very small porch and big flames are intimidating.

    I have a picture of what I mean with the foil at the very end here.

    Also Deb, if you hate cooking bacon on the stovetop because of the mess, have you ever tried baking it in the oven? If you put the bacon on a cooling rack inside another baking pan (like you did with your dry-rubbed chicken), it also ends up less greasy, since it doesn’t cook in its own fat.

    I swear I don’t know how I know this much about cooking bacon…

    1. deb

      Christina — I remember doing it in the oven a long time ago and really liking the results but when I did it recently, it filled my apartment with so much smoke, we had to go out for a couple hours. FWIW, my parents do bacon in the microwave and it does indeed get pretty crispy.

  16. Oh that’s the worst! I put my bacon in a cold oven, then set it to 375 or 400 and bake for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Hotter than that and it cooks too fast for me to catch it before it burns. However, that temp for that long also makes the grill preferable in summer :-)

    I tried the microwave after seeing it suggested by, of all people, Jacques Pepin. It worked pretty well, but I prefer grilled or baked over microwaved or pan-fried (I also tried a tip recently to add enough water to cover the bacon when cooking it on the stove to keep it from splattering. Didn’t work).

    1. Julie G.

      Hi, I had to write and say that your unfussy sugar cookies were awesome!!! First, I have never been a fan of sugar cookies, eating or making them! When my kids were little it was a BIG deal for sugar cookies to be a part of cookie baking…..long story short, your method of using a pie, ravioli cutter stood out to me big time, oh and that there were no cookie cutters involve along with rolling and re rolling dough was brilliant!! Oh and your icing, which I have never made because it seemed complicated to me over the years, was truly the most simple way of dressing these cookies up simply and beautiful! I was your impressed with these cookies and evidently everyone at church thought so too!! Can’t thank you enough and now I am over my dislike for sugar cookies and icing! They are delicious and I applied your method if freezing the dough to a brown sugar shortbread that I make and they were the best I have made and tasted!
      Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    1. deb

      Michael — It’s a panini press/grill pan from Mario Batali. I bought it years ago when I had a store credit somewhere and don’t use it much, but do think it’s a pretty decent pan. (I’d probably buy one of those grill pans that go across a burner or two next time.)

  17. karen

    My boyfriend suggested grilling bacon a few months ago and I thought he was crazy. it actually works great though with no flare ups. Not sure why it doesn’t cause a huge blaze. It is THE best way to make bacon.

  18. Rachel

    The bacon looks good – though as a vegetarian I’m more looking forward to next week’s offerings. ;-)

    I wanted to chime in and say you can make your own balsamic syrup by reducing some mid-priced balsamic. Don’t use the cheap stuff with coloring, but there is no need to use the great stuff. Put a cup or so in a small saucepan and reduce over med-high heat until it is very reduced. At first it will bubble furiously, but once the bubbles look glossier and well, thicker, reduce the heat so it doesn’t burn. When I’ve made it, I’ve reduced it by about 75%. It will thicken a bit more as it cools. It will also be very sticky, so use a silicone spatula to stir as it reduces.

    Oh, and you’ll want to do it in a well ventilated kitchen – the vinegar fumes can be very strong.

    1. deb

      Balsamic — I don’t have a favorite brand per se, because I haven’t tried enough to know one from another. This is why I definitely advise (as I did in an earlier comment) that you not splurge on one without trying it first. I picked up this one at Murray’s Cheese when they were sampling it a few years ago (it was actually on sale in the low $20s then) and really love it. At the time, it came with a little droplet spout in the cork, and I’ve put it to frequent use.

  19. MichelleJulie aka Francesca

    I second cooking bacon in the oven! With three kids we go through at least one package.I don’t eat pork but am going to try with TJ’s peppered turkey bacon. Most of the slices are pretty thick although I like ’em thin and crispy! I also second the balsamic reduction technique and I think this would also be delicious with a strawberry or fig balsamic. YUM! A good sub for arugula is watercress or spinach. Won’t be exactly the same but still delicious!

  20. Mia

    This sounds delicious, but I cannot have the sulfites that are commonly found in balsamic dressing. Anyone out there know of a balsamic that avoids this ingredient? Thanks!

  21. Lily

    Once, at a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in Paris, I stumped the chef with my vegetarianism – there was no menue, he just came out with whatever he had cooked up and dumped it straight on your plate from the pan. He came up with a salad for me as a starter, and it was just some kind of cheese that I had never seen before, a hard cheese with flecks of, I think, dried mushrooms? And peppery baby greens and an aged balsamic, just like this one. It was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life.

    Later, by the way, the owner pulled me from my chair to dance in the middle of the room, and later yet, our waiter sat down at our table with bottle of Limoncello which we proceeded to empty while eating the simplest and best Tiramisu in the world. That was when I understood the magic of Paris.

  22. Janet

    I discovered how delicious grilled bacon is when we started wrapping scallops with bacon and grilling them outdoors. The bacon is better than the scallops!

    And I would like to remind everyone how easy it is to have a never ending supply of arugula all summer and fall long. Just get a packet of seeds in the spring, plant them and start cutting when the leaves are about 5-6 inches long. It will continue to grow and you will be harvesting it until November. We live in Philadelphia and it works every year.

  23. Anastasia

    I just made some “I like my bacon wrapped in bacon” t-shirts to use as presents; I may have to add this recipe to the gift. :) (Deb, do you want one?)

    Also, I second the question about a non-sulfite balsamic vinegar. I hadn’t a clue they may be lurking in there! Does anyone have any thoughts/ideas/experience with this? I try to choose my battles and avoid sulfates/sulfites so as not to aggravate the migraine situation.

  24. Aari

    Funny, just last week I was wondering if it was possible to grill bacon, as I had some really great pastured stuff on hand and in the heat we were only grilling. And here you are!

    Also, I realized this week my lovely old bottle of balsamic kind of mostly turned into this crazy gel & had to go. No idea what that was.

  25. Oh. My. Word. This looks delicious! I will definitely be adding this recipe to my repertoire. I’ve never bought bacon that has been sliced that thick before and now I am wondering why because it looks so wonderful. I love an arugula salad but this one takes it up a notch for sure.

  26. Darlynne

    It seems so obvious, a bacon salad, but I never thought of it; not just as a decoration or let’s-throw-in-some-crumbles, but the star of the show. Brilliant.

  27. Beth

    Definitely making this. BTW: I cook bacon in a foil-lined cookie sheet (with sides) in my oven at a high temperature–about 425. It comes out perfectly crisp. The splatter is a matter either ignored because I personally don’t fret over a messy oven or easily remedied by the self-cleaning option. And the grease can be poured into a container and saved or wrapped up in the foil and tossed. No fuss, no muss. Still have the bacon smell though.

  28. Devon

    We always cook our bacon in a high temperature oven, like 375 for about 15 minutes. It ends up flat and doesn’t make such a mess if you some tin foil lined cookie sheet. So much easier and the bacon grease and can be collected for other cooking.

  29. rouge


    I don’t know my grill at all, because I’ve not ever had one. Recently, our building mgr decided we could use an electric grill on our balconies. Can anyone recommend a brand, smallish?

    Until I hear, I’ll be making this recipe and cooking the bacon the regular way.

    No fool I.

  30. Kyla

    That’s the fattest bacon I’ve ever seen! Will definitely be trying this when my husband is working late, I love a minimalist salad, but he can’t quite get his head round it.

  31. Maddy

    I made this today with excellent arugula, but so-so balsamic and bacon, and found that I was wishing for better bacon to make it really come together. I think thick-cut is key here. I also added pea shoots too because I had them, and I found that was a very fun texture and flavor addition!

  32. Tee

    One of the earlier posts asked about where to find a good aged balsamic. Oliver 25 year aged balsamic is amazing! They use to sell it at Williams-Sonoma, but have now replaced it with their own balsamic in a very similar bottle. Don’t be fooled, buy it online. Oliver is located in St. Helena.

    P.S. I am not affiliated with this company, I have given this item many times as a gift and everybody always raves. I now will have to finally splurge and buy myself a bottle so I can make this salad.

  33. Lita44

    Aari (#65) the gel like substance remaining in your old bottle of vinegar is called the mother. I’m not exactly certain of the process, but it’s used to make vinegar. I found some once in an old gallon container of balsamic, it was pretty unsettling at the time.

  34. Everything’s better with bacon, that’s for sure! Deb, is your kitchen perpetually bathed with sunlight? Your photos are always so well lit. Willing to share any tips on how you do that?

  35. Susan

    Nooo! Not you too!! It is a ‘totally addictive vegetarian-with-a-vegan-option summer grain dish’, not ‘addicting’.. please. I adore your recipes and your writing style so much; it breaks my heart to read ‘addicting’ here. :)

  36. Ha! Bacon, a great thing you had in Rome! Cool. Do you think that regular old balsamic, reduced down to syrup, would be good here? Does everybody make that but me? Hm… Ideas?

  37. Made this last night with some locally grown arugula and thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon from a local market. Gorgeous presentation and the flavors…oh my. One of the best salads I have made all summer. 4-Stars!

  38. graushill

    I made this salad today and loved it. I did add grilled peach slices but otherwise kept it as simple as you said one could.This recipe is def a keeper :). Thanks!

  39. Sara

    So, it used to be that when I needed a recipe, I would Google it like everyone else, and I always came to Smitten Kitchen. My style of recipe finding has always been to choose several, and compose my own recipe from all their separate elements. After noticing several times that I ALWAYS stop at your blog, and ALWAYS use your recipes in total and by themselves, I don’t Google anymore. I just come straight to your house (today for the most beautiful peach pie). You’re my new favorite. Thanks for being my living recipe book. ;)

  40. Grilled Bacon is one method I have not yet tried. I can’t wait…It seems to me that every single time I grill this summer, I should be throwing a few strips on the grate.

  41. Delicious, the sweetness of the balsamic with the tomato and bacon. I cook a lot with balsamic in the Summer and I especially love the thicker balsamic glaze I found in Italy. I like my bacon cooked your way, even though I’m British. I hate what I call British flibby bacon when it’s uncooked and wibbly!

  42. elizabeth

    Wow… this is great and sooo easy. I made this tonight for dinner (my family consists of a picky husband, a 2 y.o., and twin 3 y.o.) and it was a success. I will definitely make this again.

    BTW Deb, my thanks to you .. without you I couldn’t feed my family. I gave up working to be a SAHM 1.5 years ago before which I could barely boil an egg and now I can actually cook by following your recipes.

  43. Amanda

    I always make my bacon on my electric grill now. It’s an amazing way to get it evenly crisp – I hate bacon that’s flabby in places and too crisp in others. Also, if you clean out your drip pan beforehand, it’s a great way to easily collect bacon grease. After you’re finished making your bacon, pour out the grease from the drip pan into a container and save it. Makes anything sauteed in it delicious.

  44. Jodi

    Hi Deb, I tried this last night with a gas grill and am grateful I didn’t burn down my house! It really caught fire, and we turned off the gas and kept the lid down. There were about 10 really scary minutes, as the temp rose till it maxed out the guage. Flames were shooting out the back, and OF COURSE

  45. Jodi

    shoot, somehow hit enter….

    we don’t have an extinguisher. I called 911 to get advice, and thankfully the flames began to die down. I relaxed a bit, and had this amusing exchange:
    Me: Yeah, hi, I tried to grill bacon and it really caught on fire. Don’t try everything you read on the internet. I do think it’s dying down.
    911: So the flames appear to be going out?
    Me: Yeah, just in the last half minute as I was calling you.
    911: So, the bacon’s a total loss, then?
    Me: Yeah. That bacon arugula salad’s not happening.
    911: Just keep the lid closed till it’s completely cooled.

    Our friend who was over for dinner (of course, this was a guest situation!) checked out the bacon much later and referred to them as bacon corpses. You could see the outline on the grill.

    So, this is a really funny story now, and I thought I’d share to give an extra caution to those who might try this on a gas grill!

  46. tariqata

    I made this for dinner tonight (with cheapo balsamic vinegar, but good thick-cut bacon), prompting my husband to announce that it was like we’d turned a BLT (aka, the best sandwich in the world) into a salad. It will definitely be dinner again in our house!

  47. I have not tried to grill bacon before, but it looks like I’m going to try it for next time!. Even though we’re just about in the midst of winter I still grill all the time (luckily I live in CA) and won’t hesitate to throw a few strips of bacon on the grill. Thanks for the inspiration!

  48. Yippee! I have bacon in the fridge and was trawling for bacon recipes. I also have a small bunch of wild arugula and a killer fig balsamic. And my partner buys out of season cherry tomatoes. You’ll forgive me if I pan-fry the bacon this time — we don’t have a grill yet…

  49. Allie

    I riffed on this recipe last summer for a backyard pool party, to great fanfare. I don’t have a grill, so I pan-fried the bacon, then seared sliced peaches in a tiny bit of the bacon grease and used them instead of tomatoes. It was a huge hit!

  50. Dahlink

    Big thanks to Allie (#108) who inspired last night’s dinner–thick bacon in the pan, not on the grill, followed by a perfectly juicy halved peach (after tipping out most of the drippings). Just before the peach was ready I sloshed in a bit of balsamic over the halves and cooked another minute.The juices together with the pan drippings made a great dressing over the arugula. Perfect veggie summer dinner, accompanied by fresh corn salad with green beans. Winner!

  51. Kelley

    I made this last week, although I used strawberries and grilled peaches because I didn’t have tomatoes. It tasted great, but I will definitely not be grilling the bacon again. We have Weber natural gas grill and after 5 years of grilling with very few flare-ups, I completely caught the grill on fire. I don’t know if the grill was too hot, the bacon too thick, or it was simply user error, but the bacon charred in places while being raw in others, and then as I was taking it off a major fire occurred. If you are trying to grill bacon I suggest medium or low heat and not high heat. The flavors of the salad were awesome so I’ll just be making the salad again, just with bacon cooked via another method.

  52. Mary Ward

    Before even seeing this recipe. I put thick bacon on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. put it on my grill and closed the lid. Checking it frequently. It produced the most glorious bacon I’ve ever had. (no smelly house!) Now that I have THAT down. I’m ready to make this simple recipe. You are right about the expensive balsamic vinegar. I still have some from 20 years ago. Like a fine wine it ages beautifully.

  53. Phyll

    After reading all the comments, I will make this tonight with arugula from the garden, raspberries, thinly sliced cucumbers, hard boiled eggs with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Didn’t have any tomatoes. Thanks for this simple, lovely, summer salad.