I love a good salad. For dinner, for lunch, as a side. But as much as I love a scrumptious bed of perfectly dressed greens, I despise a dressing-drenched pile of tasteless lettuce. And, I equally despise bottled salad dressing with all of its preservatives and stabilizers- ingredients listed on the back of the bottle that I cannot even begin to utter aloud as I have no idea how to pronounce them correctly.
Typically, our salads take a side role for our weekend lunch and nightly dinners. And, as a suitable side, our salads are simple and usually consist of arugula, goat cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of Kosher salt, and, if we are feeling fancy, a splash of fresh lemon juice and a smattering of dried cranberries. I like our simple salad.
In the warmer months, which means July through October in this strange land of the Pacific Northwest where we find ourselves living, we make a large salad on the weekend that we eat throughout the week for our work lunch. Since this salad is our main dish at lunch, we add to it protein and flavorful savory bursts of summer's produce bounty. Most weeks the salad consists of baby kale and arugula topped with oily roasted tomatoes, lentils, salty feta cheese, briny olives, roasted potatoes, and garlicky sautéed turnip and collard greens. I skip on the dressing as all of the vegetables come with their own oily, flavorful punch and it works on its own to provide a lovely earthy flavor that keeps us interested for months.
A main dish salad for dinner is quite a different undertaking. Salads can make you think wimpy or sensible and that is not how I like to think of my dinner. I might be a dietitian, but I also enjoy good food. Food that is wholesome, yet also sultry and sexy. Flavorful food that elicits an audible "mmm."
I'm from the South where flavors are big and unhealthy is commonplace. And, while my palate has been primed with fried catfish, pulled pork, ham hock flavored collard greens, and sickeningly sweet coconut cake, I cook and create food to marry big tastes with wholesome ingredients. I love to make a good southern recipe just the slightest bit healthier by adding local foods and less saturated fat, to add fiber to a biscuit by using whole grain flour instead of bleached all-purpose white, yet to preserve the flavor so as to remind the eater that the South creates things that are both bigger AND better.
the plate on the right is Jack's deconstructed salad, although he insisted on one "just like" ours with greens and with more dressing
All of this to say that this salad, inspired by the blog Canelle et Vanille, is on repeat at our house. It is a sexy salad, far from chaste. It elicits an audible "mmm" from my husband and a "Mama, this apple dressing is delicious" from Jack. It is packed with many of my favorite flavors. I love the bitterness of the micro greens (the small shoots of edible plants that are harvested just as the plant peeks above the soil) and arugula, the saltiness and chew of the prosciutto, the earthiness of the lentils and beets, and the crunch and tang of the green apple. And, the dressing, well, it is probably the best dressing that I have ever had. Seriously. It's good. You will have more dressing than you need for your family's salad dinner, but you won't mind the leftovers. It will beckon you to make and eat more salad or call you to dip your finger in the pitcher for just one more taste.
Salad of Beets, Lentils, and Prosciutto with Apple Shallot Vinaigrette
5 small red beets (I buy mine already roasted and ready to serve. I usually buy them at Trader Joe's but they are in the produce section of many grocery stores.)
1 cup cooked French lentils
1 Granny Smith apple, finely diced (1/4-inch dice)
1 shallot, finely minced
2 teaspoons coarse ground mustard
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cups bitter greens (I use a mixture of arugula and the micro greens from Trader Joe's which contains mizuna, tatsoi, red mustard, purple kohlrabi, red cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards, celery, arugula, beet tops, amaranth)
4 thin slices of prosciutto
3 heaping tablespoons of feta cheese
1. If you need to cook your beets, preheat oven to 400F. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and bake for 40-60 minutes or until you can easily insert the tip of a knife all the way through. Let them cool in the foil for a few minutes. Then peel and slice and set aside. (Or, take the easy route, and buy pre-cooked beets.)
2. Place the lentils in a pot and cover them cold water (3 inches over the top of the lentils). Cover the pot and heat over medium high heat. Bring the water to a boil and reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain them and rinse in cold water. (Or, buy the pre-cooked French lentils from Trader Joe's that have only salt added and can also be found in the produce section of the store. Seriously, what would I do without Trader Joe's?! I wonder, and then I worry...)
3. Make the vinaigrette. In a medium bowler or pitcher, whisk together the apple, shallot, mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Assemble the salad. Arrange the bitter greens, top with sliced beets, lentils, prosciutto and feta cheese, then drizzle with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat all of the ingredients.