Something about the change in seasons makes me crave salad. I don’t know if it’s because I fear winter weight gain and so this is my subconscious attempt to balance preemptively, or because lettuce, arugula, and many of the leafy greens I like to include in my salads are actually in season when it gets cooler. Either way, my salad cravings are strong in Fall.
It didn’t help that while we were grocery shopping the other day, one of the sample stations at the grocery store was offering blue cheese. I don’t normally stop at the sample stations because they often offer prepared foods that we try not to purchase, but cheese is my weakness and when I saw blue cheese being offered – which I hadn’t had in FOREVER since the Godfather isn’t usually a fan – I had to try some. It was good! Good enough to convince the Godfather we should pick up a small container to bring home. He was envisioning burgers, I saw my salad. This salad.
A few days later we drove out to Charlottesville to meet my baby sister and her husband for some apple picking, and I knew the apples would be my salad “sweet”. Did you know that’s actually the key to building a great restaurant-quality salad? Making an amazing salad is largely based on the mixture of textures and flavors. You want to have something sweet, something to add crunch, a little creaminess, and something salty. That balance is the key to a really great salad.
Since the blue cheese has such a strong flavor, the apples were the perfect sweet compliment. I add a lot of nuts to my salads in lieu of a meat protein, and so I made some really quick (like 5 minutes tops) salty sweet candied pecans to provide another sort of sweet item to balance the cheese, and then I made a delicious honey red wine vinaigrette. I made a small batch, and I should have made double, it’s a really good all-purpose dressing. In this salad, it brings all the flavors together without overpowering any one. To me, that’s important in a dressing. I want to taste all the beautiful layers of flavor in a salad, not have lots of homogeneous tasting differences in texture. Salads are much too exciting for that!
- ¼ cup red wine vinager
- 1 tsp honey
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ c olive oil
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- ⅛-1/4 tsp salt
- 5 cups washed salad greens
- ½ cup chopped apple
- ⅓ cup chopped candied pecans
- ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
- honey red wine vinaigrette dressing
- Combine all dressing ingredients in a mason jar or other sealed container. Shake vigorously for 1 minute. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Melt 2 tbsp unsalted butter over medium heat and add the pecans. Stir to coat and cook for a minute to toast slightly.
- Turn up the heat to a medium high and add the brown sugar to the skillet. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the nuts from the heat immediately and transfer them to a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet to cool and allow the candy coat to harden.
- Prepare the rest of the salad ingredients and combine in a bowl.
- Chop the pecans roughly and add to the salad. They should be cool by now.
- Add dressing and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate, undressed, for a few hours until ready to serve.