Monday, November 21, 2011


Hot damn, this is a great fall-winter salad. I saw something similar on Annie’s Eats last month and thought it looked good, although I wasn’t quite sold on the dressing. (You can tell I’ve truly become a mustard convert, because I looked at the recipe and thought, “But where’s the Dijon?”) Then I skimmed the comments and noticed that someone mentioned making “almost the exact same thing but it had a maple-cider vinaigrette…and curry spiced pecans.” One quick Google later and I located that very recipe, from Southern Living, on MyRecipes, where it had an “Outstanding” rating—and Dijon in the dressing. Sold!

I made no changes to the recipe, except to halve the quantities because two people don’t need eight servings of salad (hence all the rather odd measurements; I went with “pinch” for the spices rather than “1/16 teaspoon,” but if you have a measuring spoon that small, by all means, go for precision) and to substitute feta for the goat cheese because I don’t like goat cheese. It sounds like kind of a hassle to have to candy the pecans, but (a) it’s actually super-easy, reminding me that I should make spiced, candied nuts all the time, because they are also awesome, and (b) you can make them ahead of time if you want, although I don’t recommend it because they’re so tasty they’re likely to get gobbled up as snacks before you even get around to making the salad. I do sort of question calling them “curried” pecans when they actually have more ginger than curry, and just as much salt and cayenne as curry; mine didn’t have a really noticeable curry flavor, but they were so good just as they were that I don’t really feel the need to tinker with the spice mixture—I just renamed them in my version of the recipe instead.

We loved everything about this salad—the crunch of the apple, nuts, and onion against the tenderness of the spinach and the creaminess of the feta; the salty-savory-sweet balance (the dressing is seriously delicious—I’m normally pretty sparing with salad dressings because I hate a soggy salad, but I used every last drop of this one); the colors; the wonderful fallishness; everything. I made it twice in the space of two weeks, first with this chicken recipe and then again with this one; it went perfectly with both and I’m still not tired of it, so you can bet it will be a cold-weather standard on my menu from now on. It makes a generous amount, so that even though I’d still technically call it a “side dish” (because it’s not quite hearty enough for me to make a meal of on its own), it took center stage at the table, with our small plates of chicken looking like side dishes in comparison. Which, really, is the way I prefer it—lots of veggies, fruit, and cheese with a modest garnish of meat!

Spiced candied pecans:
3 ounces pecan halves
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1½ tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch curry powder
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch ground red (cayenne) pepper

Maple-cider vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (I recommend Grade B)
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

5 to 6 ounces fresh baby spinach, thoroughly washed
1 small apple, thinly sliced (original recipe calls for Gala; I’m not sure what kind I used, since I tend to buy a big assortment of apples at the farmers’ market and then forget which one is which by the time I get them home, but I’d recommend leaning toward the tarter, firmer end of the spectrum)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled feta

1. To prepare the pecans, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss pecans in melted butter. Stir together sugar and next four ingredients in a bowl; add pecans, tossing to coat. Spread in a single layer in a nonstick aluminum foil- or parchment-lined pan. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned and toasted. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes; separate pecans with a fork. (Pecans may be made up to 1 week ahead; store in an airtight container.)

2. Meanwhile, to prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together cider vinegar and next four ingredients. Gradually whisk in oil until well blended. (Vinaigrette may be made up to 3 days ahead; cover and chill until ready to serve.)

3. To prepare the salad, combine spinach and next three ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle with desired amount of vinaigrette; toss to coat. Sprinkle with pecans.

Serves: 4 as a large side dish or a light lunch
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Poor for the completed dish, but the pecans and the vinaigrette will each keep tightly sealed and refrigerated for several days, and the rest of the salad is easy to put together, so you can make some salad right away and the rest later.

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