Chef's Hat: Spinach and strawberries - a perfect summer combination
Make a salad with spinach spinach and liven up the flavors by adding a bit of mint and red onion. Throw on some strawberries and you’ll have a dish that is not only delicious, but is also festive and nutritious.
Need a healthy summer dish? Salads are a great way to fill that niche.
Salads are light and packed full of vitamins, and summer salads can feed just a couple of people or a whole crowd. Preparing a salad doesn’t even require a lot of complicated cooking skills.
The most time consuming part of “building” a salad is the effort it takes to chop the ingredients. And, unfortunately, many people find salads - or the dieters go-to - as quite boring.
Indeed, the starter dish of a bit of lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple wedges of cucumbers and a few croutons thrown on top is really nothing to brag about when it comes to a home prepared dish.
But ditch the iceberg lettuce for spinach, liven up the flavors by adding a bit of mint and red onion, and throw on some strawberries and you’ll have a dish that is not only delicious, but is also festive and nutritious. Even though this dish is filled with vitamins - including A, B, C and D - and tons of nutrients, there’s no reason to spoil the great taste by letting friends and family know this is a vitamin packed dish.
Now is the perfect time to start testing various strawberry recipes as the fruit is readily available in area stores. With a bit of rain and sun, the local strawberry patches will also soon be brimming with fresh fruits that are just begging to be tossed into a lively salad.
Strawberry-spinach salads can be topped with a variety of ingredients. Some recipes call for feta cheese; but after experimenting, I found chunks of Swiss or Gruyere cheese added more zing to the salad. A handful of walnuts, pecans or almonds adds a nice crunch to either of these salads.
As far as a dressing, a simple poppy seed dressing or balsamic vinaigrette is all that is needed to top off this salad.
It’s fairly easy to whip up balsamic vinaigrette. It can be prepared three to four days ahead of time. If prepared in advance, some ingredients will settle. So the vinaigrette will have to be shaken or mixed well just before serving with the salad.
Fruit adds a pop of color to plain, dull salads, and you can’t beat the taste of a plump, fresh strawberry. These refreshing salads go well with about anything and are a great complement to grilled meats. Liven up your evening meal with one of these simple, yet invigorating summer salads. Happy Eating!
Strawberry, Spinach, Cucumber Salad
- 1/2 pound strawberries, quartered
- 1 1/2 cups spinach, torn into bite-sized chunks
- 1 cup cucumbers, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
- ½ small red onion, chopped
- 4 ounces Swiss or Gruyere cheese, cut into chunks
- ¼ cup fresh mint, minced
- ½ to 1 cup poppy seed dressing
Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl and lightly toss.
Place onto individual serving plates and top with the dressing.
Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Pecans
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1 cup halved pecans
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 cups spinach leaves
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves
- ¼ cup diced red onion
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- ¼ cup Swiss cheese, cut into chunks
- Balsamic vinaigrette (homemade or store bought)
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and brown sugar, and stir so the nuts are coated. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to caramelize. This will take three to four minutes. Spread out the pecans on a wax paper lined baking sheet or lined large plate to cool. Let cool at least 15 minutes before using.
In a large bowl, place the spinach leaves, mint, onion, strawberries, cheese and pecans and lightly toss to mix. Place servings on individual plates and serve with the vinaigrette.
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
- 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon jarred garlic
Pour the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, Dijon mustard, dried thyme and garlic into a jar or measuring cup. Mix well. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Mix again. Taste. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.
If the vinaigrette is too bitter, add additional honey. Stir well after adding the honey and, if necessary, add additional salt and pepper in small amounts until the desired taste is reached.
Place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously to combine. Once the vinaigrette is smooth, quit shaking and taste. Then add more honey or salt and pepper to adjust the taste.
Donna Evans is an Echo Journal correspondent.