O.K., I need to come up for air. If you look over the recipes that I have posted over the last few weeks, you might notice that many of them err on the hearty, rich, or sugary side. It's a miracle that my husband and I haven't gained 20 pounds--thank goodness for all of my friends who have been kind enough to take the cookies, breads, and pies off of our hands. Well today, and only today, I am exchanging the butter, cream, and chocolate for some spinach, apples, and pecans. Yes, it's time for a salad.
This is my favorite salad--I should probably just call it my "House Salad." I am not a fan of creamy, mayonnaise-based or heavy salad dressings, and oil and vinegar is much too plain, so I am always on the lookout for a good vinaigrette recipe. I don't remember how I first came across the idea for a Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette, but from the moment that I tasted it, I was hooked. It is the perfect combination of sweet and sour, and the mustard seeds and shallots offer some texture. All you need is a light coating of this dressing on your salad, so it never feels heavy. The Granny Smith apples add a juicy tartness and the candied nuts contribute a crunch and a bit of spice to the salad. When we made this salad over Thanksgiving, my mom suggest adding some dried cranberries, which added some holiday color and another chewy texture.
Overall, this is a very simple salad, but one that presents well. What I like about this recipe (other than the flavor of course) is that you can just as easily serve it as a course for an elegant dinner party as you can for a simple light lunch or dinner when you just need a break from all of the heavy holiday food. The following are my recipe tips:
- This is a very flexible recipe with plenty of room for substitutions. Sometimes I like to use baby arugula instead of the spinach. Arugula is another green that has a similar appearance to baby spinach, but it has a peppery flavor. Try substituting pears or mandarin oranges for the apples. If you have walnuts in your pantry instead of pecans, then by all means use them instead. If you want to add cheese to the salad, I suggest a tangy goat cheese for the best flavor combination.
- The nuts can be made 3 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. The dressing keeps for up to one week, covered, in the refrigerator.
- When baking the nuts, I like to line the baking sheet with foil and then spray it with the nonstick spray. This makes cleanup much easier!
- I list safflower oil as an ingredient in the dressing. Chances are that you don't have this in your pantry as it is a little bit harder to find than some of the other oils. I don't particularly care for the aftertaste of canola oil, which is why I usually substitute safflower oil, which is virtually flavorless, in recipes, but safflower oil is more expensive, so I just buy several bottles when it is on sale. Go ahead and substitute canola or olive oil for this recipe. It is such a small amount that it will not make a noticeable difference.
- The Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette also makes a good marinade for chicken.
Spinach Salad with Candied Pecans and Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette
12 cups fresh baby spinach
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 cup Candied Pecans (recipe follows)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
In a large salad bowl, toss the baby spinach and the apples with enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves. Sprinkle the Candied Pecans and dried cranberries over the salad and toss gently to combine. Drizzle individual servings with any leftover dressing if desired.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
6 tablespoons whole grained dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons safflower oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, whisking well. Refrigerate, covered, for up to one week.
Makes 1 cup
1 cup pecans
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the pecans and all remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Spread the nut mixture on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the nuts are deep golden brown and the sugar mixture is bubbling, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet.