When I was talking to The Artist about what I was going to make for today’s Food Network #FallFest celebration of spinach, he begged me to create a new spinach salad recipe. The original classic spinach salad uses a hot bacon-grease-based dressing to lightly wilt the leaves. It turns out that this version is one of the few that he truly dislikes. It is my pleasure to create something new that we all can enjoy for years to come!
I was sent a sample of some of Boyajian’s flavored oils and vinegars including a bottle of their Maple Vinegar and I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to feature it in a recipe. I cannot wait to add it to sauces and braised dishes, but for the first time when introducing it to all of you, I wanted it to shine. And boy oh boy did it! It is so good that all you need is a little oil, salt and peppper to make this a winning vinaigrette.
When you open the bottle and take a whiff, it smells like any other powerful vinegar, but when you combine it with the oil, the natural sweetness of the maple comes forward and you wind up with a slightly sweet and tangy dressing, perfect for any number of vegetable, pasta or other grain salads.
A traditional spinach salad contains bacon. While The Artist did not want the grease used in the vinaigrette, I definitely wanted to keep it as an important component of my salad. I love bacon. Any bacon, any day, any time. Eaten slice by slice, in sandwiches, as a component in a meal, it really doesn’t matter. I am a happy girl when there is bacon on the menu. You can use less expensive bacon, but honestly a high quality thick-cut bacon will make a huge difference in this meal. If you are gluten-intolerant and have to avoid most cured meats, Applegate makes fantastic gluten-free bacon!
In the waning days of summer we are harvesting the last of our beautiful cherry plum tomatoes. They were amazing and we have had a plentiful summer of beautiful fruit. But if you are making this salad in the middle of winter, leave out the tomatoes. It is better to wait until next summer for fresh-from-the-garden beauties.
The real trick to this salad is to use baby spinach. When it is picked early it is tender and sweet. The older it gets and the larger the leaves, the tougher and more bitter it becomes. Because of the eggs and bacon, this can easily be a main course salad so it is worth the extra price to buy the best fresh spinach you can find.
This is one recipe where you can use any type of mushroom that you like and it won’t make a huge difference. I chose cremini (baby portobellos) because they are readily available in my grocery store and The Artist likes them, but you could just as easily use regular white, shiitake or any other variety.
You may read the directions to toast the pecans and scoff at the extra step thinking I’m crazy for asking you to do this. But it makes a huge difference in the fullness of flavor of the nuts. You just pop them into a hot oven and let the roast, shaking the pan once or twice. When you can smell them and they are toasty and fragrant, it is time to take them out of the oven. With a few minutes in the oven they take on a richer, deeper, nuttier flavor that is truly addicting.
If you want to make this as a side salad or are serving vegetarians or vegans, just leave out the bacon and eggs. It will not be as filling, but it will still be delicious.
While I loved all the components of this salad, in my opinion the dressing is the real star and I can’t wait to use it on other salads this week. The dressing pulls everything together with a pungent sourness characteristic of vinegar but with a hint of sweetness that sets off the slight bitterness of the spinach, the hot bite of the onions, and the saltiness of the bacon.
I hope you enjoy this new take on an old classic. The Artist was thrilled with dinner and complimented me on my new interpretation. Make sure you check out the other spinach recipes from my fellow bloggers (links below the recipe) and go over to the Pinterest page for a one-stop-shop for all the recipes from this series!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Soaking the onion slices in ice water helps remove some of the heat and bite of raw onions. If you don’t like the intensity of raw onions in your salad, you can microwave them for a few seconds in a little water or lightly sauté them.
Make sure you use gluten-free bacon – Applegate makes a very good GF bacon.
Fresh Spinach Salad with Maple Vinegar Vinaigrette
© 2013 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserved.
Yield: about 4 servings
The classic version of this salad uses a warm bacon-dripping dressing to lightly wilt the spinach leaves. I have replaced the bacon fat with healthier olive oil and serve this cold so the leaves stay crisp and fresh. Xanthan gum helps the dressing stay emulsified and creamy and replaces the more traditional but strongly flavored Dijon mustard. Xanthan may seem expensive, but you use it in minute measures in recipes so a small bag will last forever.
3 tbsp Boyajian’s Maple Vinegar
1/8 tsp xanthan gum
3 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small red onion or large shallot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup pecan halves
8 to 10 slices thick-cut bacon (gluten-free if needed)
6 large eggs
8 to 10 oz baby spinach
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes, optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the Dressing: In a small bowl, combine the Maple Vinegar and xanthan gum. Whisk briskly until thoroughly blended. Add the oil and whisk again until emulsified. Add a little salt and pepper, taste and add more to taste if needed. Set aside.
Prepare the Salad Ingredients: Peel and slice the onions and place in a small bowl. Cover with cool water, add several ice cubes and set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and slightly darker, about 5 minutes. Follow your note more than the timer. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cool water, using enough to cover by at least 1-inch. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave the eggs in the hot water for 15 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel and discard the shells. Pat dry and slice each egg lengthwise in half and then cut each half lengthwise into thirds. You will have six wedges from each egg.
While the eggs are cooling, cook the bacon. In a 12-inch skillet, cook bacon slices over medium heat until browned and crispy, turning occasionally with tongs. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. When cool crumble into small pieces. Set aside.
Place the spinach leaves in a bowl and fill with cold water. Gently move the spinach around in the water to loosen any dirt and grit that may be clinging to the leaves. Let the bowl sit for about 5 minutes. Using your hands with the fingers spread slightly apart, gently lift the spinach from the water and place on a clean kitchen towel. Pat dry, pinch off the stems and discard the stems. Feel each leaf to make sure there is no residual grit. If you find any that need additional cleaning, rinse them under cool running water and pat dry again.
Assemble the Salad: Transfer the spinach leaves to a large salad bowl, tearing any large leaves into bite-sized pieces. Drain the onions, pat dry lightly with paper towels and add to the spinach. Add in half the roasted pecans, half the crumbed bacon, sliced mushrooms, and tomatoes. Toss until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
Drizzle the dressing over the top of the spinach, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper (if desired), and toss again until leaves and all ingredients are evenly coated with the dressing.
Divide the salad onto four salad plates, and sprinkle the tops with remaining pecans and bacon. Arrange the egg wedges decoratively over the top of the salads and serve immediately.
Create a New Tradition Today!
Make sure you check out all of these remarkable recipes from my blogging friends!
Feed Me Phoebe: Healthy Creamed Spinach
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Za’atar Roasted Salmon with Greens
Blue Apron Blog: Saag Paneer at Home
Weelicious: Spinach Cake Muffins
Virtually Homemade: Creamy Spinach and Chicken Casserole
Haute Apple Pie: Parmesan Spinach, Broccoli and Chicken Bake
Red or Green: Spinach-Walnut Pesto on Bruschetta with Fried Egg
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Spinach with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes
The Sensitive Epicure: Spanakopita Minus the -Opita
Taste With The Eyes: Spinach and Chickpeas in a Bengali Mustard Sauce
Domesticate Me: Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette and a Fried Egg
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Crispy Spinach Latkes
Devour: How to Make Spinach Gnocchi
Dishin & Dishes: Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad with Arugula and Baby Spinach
FN Dish: Eat Your Spinach Sides
Disclosure: Boyajian sent me a sample bottle of the Maple Vinegar to test. I was not compensated for this article and, as always, my opinions are my own.
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