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Spring has finally sprung up here in my own private tundra, also known as southern Minnesota. We don’t call it the midwest – no! – it’s the Lower Mid-North. My grass is the most luscious, practically edible shade of green and the trees have started to burst out all over the place. In other news, I’ve started my FIRST EVAR! herb/tomato garden, in some planters on our sunny little deck. I’ve got two happy little tomaters (one regular, one “cherry”) and a whole bunch-o-herbs a-growin’ out there (if you must know, we chose mint, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, basil, and thyme). I gotta say, I’m a happy little plant mama so far. I seem to have inherited my mom’s brown-thumb when it comes to houseplants. I won’t even tell you how many lovely little potted flowers and spider plants and ferns and shrubbies I’ve brutally murdered in the course of my lifetime. It’s a sad tale. But I’m hoping that I also got my mom’s veggie-garden GREEN thumb!
Growing up in California, we had this randomly huge plot of land in the back of our suburban house (a double or triple lot, I think) which was turned into a gorgeous vegetable garden every summer by my mom. Of course at the time I thought nothing of it. I might have even resented it at times for taking away valuable play-space and supplying yet more dreaded vegetables for our dinner table. But my memories of it are vivid and strong (sometime I’ll tell you the infamous story of the “fuzzy zucchini”), and I’m trying my darndest to channel them as I coo to my little herbs and tomato runts.
My grandfather, who passed away early this year at the sh*t-kickin’ age of 93, was a mean old bird, but he grew one HELL of a tomato. Tomatoes of legend, they were. So juicy and flavorful, I was tempted to eat them right off the vine. Sadly, at times I’ve thought that his tomatoes are one of the very few things he really did right in his life (other than spawn my dad, of course). But I’m thinking happy thoughts of him every time I pass by the proto-tomatoes, hoping desperately that somewhere down the genetic line his tomato-growing gene may have passed on to me. Only time will tell… I’ll keep ya posted.
So ever since the weather finally started to turn, I’ve found myself (predictably) craving all sorts of lush, leafy green things. Salads, which I scoffed at in the sub-zero winter months, are now invading my foodie mind. In the grocery store I find myself passing by the delicious parsnips (love!) that I couldn’t get enough of a few short months ago, in favor greener, leafier pastures.
A month or so ago I came up with a salad recipe that was SO DAMN GOOD (!) that we haven’t been able to stop eating it ever since. So much so that we simply call it “THE Salad” – no fancy titles, no foo-foo names, it’s just THE Salad, as in the only salad I want to eat because it is full of my favorite things! At first look, you may think the combination of avacado, strawberries, and walnuts to be an odd one… but trust me on this one. It works. The sweetness of the strawberries is mellowed by the lush, buttery avocado, which in turn is sharpened by the musty, soft crunch of toasted walnuts, all wrapped up in baby greens, dressed with a sweet and sharp balsamic vinaigrette. Heaven, I’m telling you. Pure heaven. And you can pair it with all kinds of proteins! Though we often have this as a side-salad, if you want to make an entree out of it you could top it with shrimp (which we did here in these pictures), or grilled chicken… or even a seared jumbo scallop if you’re feeling decadent.
So please, do yourself a favor and make this salad for yourself this summer. I know I will…
- 1 bag-o-baby greens
- 1 package of strawberries, washed and sliced
- 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper
- 3-5 scallions, depending on size and to taste, sliced fine
- 1 avocado, halved, deprived of its pit, and cut into chunks
- 1 cup (approx) walnuts, lightly toasted if you have the time
- optional herb additions: torn basil leaves, torn mint leaves, or both!
Put the greens in a big ol’ bowl. Top with everything else in whatever order your little heart desires. Freshy ground black pepper over the top of it all is a very good idea. The fresh herbs like basil or mint are optional, but every time I’ve added them to THE Salad it’s been marvelous.
Serve with THE Dressing:
- apricot spread (the no-sugar jam type stuff, like “simply fruit”) – couple of big spoonfuls
- balsamic vinegar, the best you can get – maybe 1/4 cup? I don’t measure
- olive oil, extra virgin if possible, good quality works best – 3 tablespoons or so
- orange juice – a splash!
- pomegranate molasses or syrup – a spoonful
- Dijon mustard – a spoonful
- Salt n’ Pepa – to taste
Zap the apricot spread in the microwave for 10-15 seconds or so, until it is soft enough to stir easily with the other ingredients. (I like to do this all in a big pyrex measuring cup, because when it is done, it can be easily poured on to the salad from there.) Add all the other ingredients and whisk until smooth and delicious. The mustard should help sort of emulsify the oil & vinegar together, making the dressing less likely to break into its base components.
TOP WITH ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT AND EAT IT ALL! As a side salad, this can serve 4-6 ; as a main course, 2-3.