Fall and winter always seem to bring on a craving for slow cooked comfort foods, including soups, stews, casseroles, and other similar hearty fare. But even in the chilly months, the fresh taste and crunch of a simple, seasonal salad is a welcome change of pace.
This recipe, which provides a vegetarian option, pairs the classic flavor combination of fresh pears, blue cheese, lightly caramelized walnuts, and bacon with greens from my own fall garden in a mustard vinaigrette. I love the way these contrasting flavors — the sweetness of the fruit, the mellow depth of the cheese, the crispness of the nuts, the smokiness of the bacon, the slight bitterness of the greens, and the zesty dressing — come together here. Please note that this recipe can easily be scaled up to become a main course salad by adding sliced leftover chicken or beef.
For the vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain prepared mustard
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
2 teaspoons finely minced green onions (white and light green parts only)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the walnuts:
1 cup walnut halves
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
A dash of cayenne or hot smoked paprika
For the salad:
1/2 pound arugula (I prefer its peppery flavor for this salad), mesclun, romaine, mache (corn salad), or spinach, according to your preference
3 very firm Bartlett pears (not peeled), cored and sliced into very thin wedges
4 ounces blue cheese, gorgonzola, or Stilton, crumbled
(Optional) 2 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and well drained
(Optional) 1/2 – 1 pound cooked sliced chicken (or beef)
- Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients until well blended. Set aside.
- In a small frying pan set on a medium heat burner, melt the butter, stir in the maple syrup or honey, and then stir in the walnuts. Continue to heat the walnuts, stirring continuously, for approximately 2-3 minutes, or until they are fragrant, caramelized, and lightly browned. Remove from the burner and set aside.
- Place the greens in a large salad bowl or, if individual servings are preferred, distribute them equally among 6 salad plates. Sprinkle on, in order, the pears, optional bacon (if used), blue cheese, and walnuts. Drizzle on the salad dressing and toss the salad. If preparing this as a main course salad, position sliced, cooked chicken or beef along the side of the salad. Serves 6 as a side salad or 4 as a main course salad.