Weekly Winner:  Just a Dang Good Salad that Satisfies

I guess I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that not all blog titles can be alliteratively clever.  Try as I might I could not come up with one for this salad.  But this salad does not need any gimmicks or clever nicknames.  Its fabulous all on its own.  It is pretty, it tastes good and it is surprisingly filling!  This is not the type of salad that you have for lunch and then an hour later feel like you need a snack — this one stays with you.  And the leftovers keep for a few days due to the hearty arugula and the relatively small amount of tangy, lemony dressing.   It’s also a salad that moves well into fall — thanks to the roasted cauliflower, it doesn’t feel too “summery” as the days start to (thankfully) cool off a bit.

I’m always amazed by people who can create these types of salad recipes.  Every component in the salad is vital and the dish would not be as good if you were to take out even one of the ingredients.  There’s really not much more to say about this dish except make it…soon.

I got the recipe from Fine Cooking.  Seriously, don’t change a thing!

Roasted Cauliflower and Arugula Salad with Sumac Dressing

Serves 4 as main course

Ingredients:

1 large head cauliflower (about 2-1/4 lb) trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets

5 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground cumin

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, minced

2 tsp sumac

1 14.5 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

5 oz (5 cups) baby arugula

3 oz crumbled feta (1/2 cup)

1/3 cup dried currants

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Procedure:

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 450°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Toss the cauliflower with 2 Tbs. of the oil, the cumin, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper on the baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Roast until browned on the edges, stirring once halfway through cooking, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice, garlic, sumac, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Slowly whisk in the remaining 3 Tbs. oil. Add the cauliflower, chickpeas, arugula, feta, currants, and pine nuts and toss to combine.



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Weekly Winner: Treading Ever So Cautiously into Fall

Spinach Sweet Potato SaladThe weather here in Chicago is schizophrenic this time of year.  Mostly it continues to be summer… hot and humid.  But every fourth or fifth day you get a glorious day that is clear, dry, breezy and in the low 70s.  Cool enough to turn off the air conditioning and open up.  On those days it even smells like fall outside.  Then the heat returns and once again the windows get closed and the air cranks back up.

So it is still salads that I turn to most often for lunch.  But with the occasional glimpses of things to come weather-wise I am starting to crave autumnal foods.  Soups, stews, root vegetables…. it’s just still too dang warm outside for that.  To bridge that gap I turn to a recipe I’ve had for years and which I dub this week’s winner : Spinach, Bacon and Sweet Potato Salad.  I adore this salad because, while it is still a salad at heart it is a bit warm (not hot) and has the feel of a heartier dish.  And, it has bacon in it!!  Yay, bacon!

The recipe, oddly enough, comes from Runner’s World Magazine.  Don’t get the wrong idea here.  I’m not the runner in the family, hubby is.  But he has pulled some great healthy recipes from the magazine over the years and this one is no exception.

Spinach, Bacon and Sweet Potato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 thick slices of bacon
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice from 1 orange
1 pound fresh spinach

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with two tablespoons of the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown outside and tender inside, about 30 minutes. Remove and keep on the pan until ready to use. While potatoes cook, put bacon in a stainless steel or other nonreactive skillet and turn heat to medium. Cook, turning once or twice, until crisp. Drain on paper towels and pour off fat, leaving darkened bits in the pan. Put back on medium heat; add remaining oil to the pan. When hot, add bell pepper, onion, and ginger to the pan. Cook, stirring once or twice until just softened, about five minutes; stir in cumin and bacon (broken into pieces). Stir in orange juice and turn off heat. (The recipe can be made up to an hour or so ahead to this point. Gently warm dressing again before proceeding.) Put spinach in a bowl large enough to comfortably toss the salad. Add the potatoes and warm dressing. Toss to combine.

Weekly Winner – Reigning Champ Since 2006

Who doesn’t like a good Chinese chicken salad?  I know I do.  This one’s name may sound like hype, but trust me – it’s true.  This honestly is the Best-Ever Chinese Chicken Salad!

I know I’ve loved this particular recipe and realize that I’ve been making it for quite some time.  I had no idea till I looked at the recipe that I had cut it out way back in 2006.  It is sensational and remains in very high rotation on my menus.  That is quite a feat in itself since I tend to tire of things and purge recipes that start looking a bit rough around the edges.  But I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of this one.  It is one of the few salads that I crave.  The recipe came from Sunset Magazine and I have made a few tweaks here and there which I have noted in the recipe.  My alterations make it a bit quicker and easier to prepare, and therefore a snap to whip up whenever the craving strikes… as it did this week.  Enjoy!

Best-Ever Chinese Chicken Salad

Serves 6-8

For the salad:

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

11 oz can mandarin oranges

6 cups pre-packaged cole slaw mix

2 cups cubed cooked chicken

Spicy soy-ginger dressing (recipe follows)

1 large avocado, cubed

4 green onions (including green tops), sliced diagonally

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Chow mein noodles

Spicy Soy-Ginger Dressing:

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1-1/2  tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Asian red chile sauce (such as Sriracha), and 1-1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup vegetable oil or grapeseed oil, whisking constantly. Season with salt to taste.

Preparation

  1. 1. In a 2- to 3-quart pan over high heat, bring about 1 quart water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, then plunge asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large serving bowl, toss the cabbage, chicken, and asparagus with the dressing. Top with avocado, oranges, and chow mein noodles, then garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.

The Salad Stands Alone

I made this salad for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it made me very happy.  My husband and I each took our first bite and sat back and said “Wow!  This is better than it should be!”  This was definitely a case of the final product being surprisingly better than the sum of its parts.  Now, understand… my husband is totally not a “salad” guy…. and the fact that we had a lovely grilled steak with this and he even noticed the salad speaks volumes.

The original recipe comes from Eating Well magazine and is designed to have the sliced steak served on top.  As I said, we did do that the first time, but this salad is definitely tasty enough to stand on its own.  As a matter of fact, I made the salad, sans steak, last weekend for Easter dinner with friends.

Spinach Blueberry Salad  – serves 4

1 cup fresh blueberries, divided

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

3 Tbsp fruity vinegar (I used a raspberry vinegar)

1 Tbsp minced shallot

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 Tbsp walnut oil or canola oil (I used walnut)

8 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Pulse 1/4 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup walnuts, vinegar, shallot, sugar and salt in a food processor to form a chunky paste.  With motor running, add oil until incorporated.  Transfer the dressing to a large bowl.

Add spinach to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Divide the spinach among the 4 plates.  Top the spinach with feta and remaining walnuts and blueberries.  Enjoy!