Herba Salata, the name given to the very first salads back in the days of the Roman Empire.
Herba, meaning greens, or any vegetation that was foraged from the wild; and ‘salata’ … from the root word ‘sal’ …which is translated salt.
A fresh green leaf, a tomato, or a radish, sprinkled with a little bit of salt …
We have come a long way since then. But one thing remains – we still consider salads to be a ‘back to nature’ sort of thing. I pay reverent homage to the inventor of those first salads. In spite of my long list of ‘favourite’ foods, salads truly are my favourite food, both to enjoy and to create. And create is the operative word when it comes to salads – the salad bowl is basically an empty stage, ready to be filled with actors and supporting actors from all parts of the garden, the orchard, the ocean, and the forest. Auditions are open to all food groups (if I had been consulted, salads should be a food group all on their own). And salads can perform at any meal – sometimes they are the whole meal, and sometimes they just make the meal complete…
…and sometimes they taste like dessert.
Pear and Spinach Salad is an example of this.
Caramelized and peppered pears resting on a bed of fresh spinach and arugula that have been lightly dressed with a pear vinaigrette…
…candied pecans with sharp, salty feta sprinkled over top…
and then finished with a drizzle of balsamic glaze …
It doesn’t get much better than this.
The key dressing ingredient is pear vinegar. Of course, as the director of your own salad, you can substitute another vinegar – but it just isn’t the same, however. Balsamic glaze is a perfect finisher for this dish. You can buy a bottle (usually found near the vinegars at the grocery store), or it can be so easily made at home.
Spinach and Pear Salad
Prep Time: 15 minutes Number of Servings: 4
2 large, firm, ripe pears (Bosc, or Bartlett), peeled, cored, and sliced in half
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable or grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons (30 mL) brown sugar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
Coarsely ground black pepper
4-5 cups of loosely packed fresh spinach leaves
1-2 cups of loosely packed arugula leaves, or other favourite greens
3 tablespoons (45 mL) pear vinegar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) dijon mustard
1 teaspoon (5 mL) honey
½ cup (125 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup candied pecans*
1/3 cup (85 mL) crumbled feta cheese
Drizzle of balsamic glaze**
- Prepare pears: Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil and prepared pear halves, core side down. Saute for 4-5 minutes, or until golden. Flip to the other side and continue to saute for a few more minutes. The second side, because it is rounded, is a little more difficult to saute, but give it a few minutes on this side. Flip it back to the core side. Test with a sharp knife to ensure that the pears are tender.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar over all; add balsamic vinegar to de-glaze the pan. Remove from heat and gently turn the pears into a shallow bowl to cool. Sprinkle with salt and generous grinds of black pepper.
- When the pears have cooled, cut the 4 halves into a total of 16 wedges. If you can possibly leave the stem end in tact, you can fan the pear wedges out to make it a little more decorative.
- Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until a thick vinaigrette emerges. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble the salad: Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Gently fold in the vinaigrette. Divide the salad among 4 salad plates. Place 4 pear wedges on top of the greens on each plate. Sprinkle with candied pecans and crumbled feta. Drizzle a little balsamic glaze overall.
* Candied pecans: In a small bowl, coat ½ cup of whole pecans with a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a little salt; mix well, and toast in a skillet over low-medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Shake up the pecans in the pan often as they toast, being careful not to burn them.
** Balsamic Glaze: Pour about 1 cup of balsamic vinegar (you can use a plain, inexpensive variety for this purpose). Over medium-high heat, reduce the vinegar until it has a thick and syrupy consistency, and has reduced to about ½ cup. Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons corn syrup. Cool, and pour into a squeeze bottle.