Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I believe my love for BLTs is well known. My weakness for ranch dressing is a darker secret I try to keep in check. So when I saw this recipe in (of all places) Parade magazine, I knew I’d have to give it a try. I’m generally not in favor of entrĂ©e salads, but on a hot summer night they sometimes seem like just the thing, especially when they involve (a) arugula, (b) tomatoes, (c) bacon, and (d) bread cubes toasted in bacon fat.

As is noted in the comments on the Parade page, despite the lead-in “Hot August evenings call for light dinners,” this salad is not exactly a dieter’s dream (you can now click over to look at the fat content if you like, but I don’t really recommend it, especially since the fat stats aren't broken down into saturated/unsaturated and thus aren't that helpful). You could probably decrease the bacon quantity, and cook the bread cubes in less bacon fat or switch to olive oil instead (though I wouldn’t encourage that—those bacony croutons were amazing). You could use less ranch, and I think I did—two tablespoons per serving seems like a lot to me, although, granted, I’m not someone who likes my salads drenched in dressing. But how did I choose to make this salad more healthy? Via the dubiously effective yet undoubtedly exciting strategy of eschewing chemical-laden prepared ranch dressing and making my own instead! And I know maybe, speaking strictly statistically, my dressing wasn’t any less fatty than a bottled version—sure, I did use vitamin-rich fresh herbs and substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for the sour cream, but the majority of the dressing is good old mayonnaise—but shh! Leave me my illusions. Because that dressing was awesome. And it made this salad super awesome. And I plan on enjoying them together (with a side of fresh corn on the cob) at least one more time before summer (which, thankfully, in Southern California, lasts through September) is over.

You don’t really need an exact recipe to throw a salad together, so I just used the Parade instructions as a general guide. I split the recipe in half, to make two servings instead of four. I could have decreased everything a little further, since the quantities turned out to be generous, I guess because this is intended as a main dish—2 cups of lettuce, 1 cup of bread cubes, and 1 tomato per person. I could definitely eat that much, but I could not fit it into a bowl. (I prepped the salad in the two individual bowls we were going to eat out of, instead of in one large salad bowl. I suspect that if A were to serve himself out of a larger bowl, he would end up with 80% croutons and bacon.) I had neglected to buy frisee, but the bag of arugula from the farmers’ market was plenty for the two of us. So, just eyeball it. The point is the combination of fresh greens, good tomatoes (I used some gorgeous heirlooms—Cherokee reds, I think), and salty bacon, with the extra flourishes of bacony seasoned croutons (I am always suspicious of dried thyme, but it was great here) and creamy, herby dressing. (Not to neglect the chives—they add a subtle oniony touch.) And, I would like to argue, this salad is likely nutritionally superior to an actual BLT, since you get more lettuce, more tomato, and less bacon than a traditional sandwich contains.

So I recommend this recipe, and if you are going to bother with doing that, I strongly recommend making your own ranch dressing. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, and it will totally rock this salad.

¼ pound bacon (I used 4 slices), diced (1x¼-inch pieces)
1–2 cups cubed French bread (1-inch pieces)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
3–4 cups baby arugula (you can substitute frisee for half of this if you want)
2 ripe tomatoes, cubed (1-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2–4 tablespoons ranch dressing

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. While oven is heating, cook the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until it reaches desired crispness. Remove with a slotted spoon and set to drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the pan.

3. Toss the bread cubes with the reserved bacon fat, plus the dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden, 10–15 minutes, tossing once.

4. Place arugula (and frisee, if using) in a bowl and toss with the bacon, tomatoes, bread cubes, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with ranch dressing.

Serves: 2
Time: 30 minutes

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