Saturday, August 28, 2004

Spinach Fig Salad Recipe


Summer is the season for salads. Some days it just gets too hot to turn on the stove. And you never get quite as hungry on those days anyway. A salad for dinner makes perfect sense. Still I am always challenged to figure out how to make salad feel like a meal. Especially without adding fish or grilled meats.

Friday night was one of those salad nights. I had planned on making a chickpea and spinach dish but cooking was out of the question. A spinach salad was devised instead. Fortunately there were several delicious things on hand to make the salad something special. In this case Stilton cheese, red onions that were "bloomed" in vinegar, glazed pecans, and Mission figs.

I think the secret to a salad that feels like a meal is a formula of three elements. First off it needs some protein. It can come in the form of grilled chicken or fish or even steak. Or it can come in the form of cheese or nuts or beans. The second element is layers of flavors. Just as a good vinaigrette is a balance of oil and vinegar, for a salad to become a meal it too needs a balance of flavors. In this case there was the bite of the onion and the blue cheese, balanced by the sweetness of the figs and the dressing. The last element is texture. The Stilton provided a bite of flavor and a creamy texture. The nuts not only added protein and sweetness since they were glazed, but a crunchy texture as well.

The dressing for this salad was a vinaigrette of olive oil, blood orange olive oil, and fig balsamic vinegar. It's helpful to think about the dressing last, after you have composed all the other pieces. Sometimes you can add that extra flavor element that a salad is missing with the right dressing. Or it can highlight a flavor in this case it accentuated the figs. Other times it may be all about the texture. A good creamy blue cheese dressing is an example of this, it balances the cool, bland crisp crunch of iceberg so very well. I hope this salad inspires you to make up one of your own the next too-hot-to-cook day.

Spinach Fig Salad

Ingredients

4 big handfulls of baby spinach leaves
3 thin slices of red onion (soak briefly in vinegar to remove bitterness)
1/3 cup or so crumbled blue cheese of your choice
1/3 cup or so pecan halves
4-5 figs, cut into quarters

Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons blood orange olive oil (or more plain extra virgin olive oil)
2 Tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic)
Salt
Pepper

Instructions

Glaze the pecans by tossing in a saute pan with a tablespoon of sugar, melt over low heat and cook stirring until toasted. Let cool. Meanwhile assemble the other salad ingredients and whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Taste the vinaigrette and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss salad with vinaigrette and pecans.

Enjoy!