Strawberry Spinach Salad

I don’t know if I have mentioned before that the company I work for was founded by an Indian American and although we are very diverse, many employees are Indian and consequently a pretty high percentage of us are vegetarian (although I’m the only vegan I know of). What this means is I can generally eat a surprisingly high number of dishes at potlucks and other gatherings.

Today was our annual Thanksgiving potluck and once again I was instructed to bring a salad. When I found my week packed with extracurricular activities, though, including a late night the day before the potluck, I was alarmed. How was I going to put together something stunning – it’s important to me to take any chance I can get to make vegan food that appeals to omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians – that either required no time to prepare or would keep for a couple of days?

So earlier this week, I entered some panicky search terms into google and one of the first things that came back was this Strawberry Spinach Salad, which seemed quite promising. There was little prep work and I could do it all in advance except the final assembly. Tuesday night when I had a little extra time, I went shopping and bought the ingredients, then sliced the strawberries, candied the pecans, and pre-measured the dry ingredients for the dressing. Wednesday night I made the dressing in all of a minute, found a serving bowl, and set everything aside to remember in the morning. And this morning, I packed everything up in reusable grocery bag, stuck the strawberries in the fridge at work, and 5 minutes before I needed to, tossed the salad.

So here it is: my take on Strawberry Spinach Salad: a pretty, crowd-pleasing side dish that can be almost completely made in advance and in minimal time. I was told to scale this for 10 people, however, you could cut this in half for a single family.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

1 lb baby spinach
2 lbs strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups candied pecans (recipe follows)

Dressing:
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 – 2 Tbsp white sugar (depending on the type of vinegar you use; use less for sweet balsamics)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar – I used a fig balsamic, but regular balsamic would be fantastic, as would any wine vinegar. This is the salad for those fancy vinegars you never know what to do with!

For the candied pecans:
3 cups pecans
1/2 cup white sugar
oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of salt

First candy the pecans: Heat some oil in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat, then add the rest of the ingredients and push them around for a while, until the sugar has caramelized and the nuts are crunchy and delicious. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. You may want to make extra of these because they are addictive. I made a ton and almost didn’t have enough to take to work because someone – whose name rhymes with “Mark” – ate them all.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together until emulsified. Let the flavors blend for at least an hour; store in the refrigerator if it will be longer than that.

Lastly, to assemble the salad, just toss everything together. Most of the commenters on the original recipe said it will get soggy, so don’t add the dressing until the very last minute. I served the dressing on the side.

All my advanced preparation nearly backfired when our power was out for 15 hours on Wednesday, but fortunately my refrigerated items all seem to have survived. Try mandarin orange slices if strawberries are out of season. I’m horrible locavore in the winter, and was lucky to find pretty delicious strawberries at Wegmans.

This got rave reviews from my co-workers, including from the CEO. Everyone was calling it “Renae’s Special Salad”, but really it’s just something I found on the internet and copied. Yes, I’m one of those crazy cooks who makes untested recipes for dinner parties and potlucks. But come on, how could I possibly go wrong with this recipe? It’s spinach, strawberries, candied pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette – how is that not a perfect salad? Mark said he usually hates fruit in salads but he really liked this.

I’m incredibly shy, even though I’ve worked at the same place for 6 years and everyone is super friendly, but I can be lured from the safety of my cubicle for Indian food, of which there is always an abundance at our potlucks, much of it vegetarian. I raved so much about the rasam – one of my all-time favorite soups – a co-worker brought in that he gave me all the leftovers! Yay!! Even the Indian food-wary Smark loves rasam! It’s delicious!

Torticia liked it too!

And finally, we’re heading to LA on Thanksgiving. I know there are a gazillion vegan options there, but what should I definitely not miss? What bookstores do I need to go to? Thrift stores? Any other attractions?! It’ll be my first time there and although I’m going to miss these kittens something terrible, I can’t wait. Did I mention I’m seeing both Grinderman AND Einst├╝rzende Neubauten while I’m there? Oh, and my dear Fortinbras. And the vibrant V. I’m so excited I can barely contain myself!

6 Comments »

  1. Josiane Said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    I, too, have been known to choose to make untested recipes when having people over or bringing stuff to a potluck… You are absolutely right about that salad: there was no way it could have been disappointing! By the way, your picture of it is as gorgeous as I imagine the salad is delicious.

    Have a wonderful trip to LA! It already sounds like you’ll have a great time – enjoy!

  2. Cyn Said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

    You should go to the museum of jurassic technology! It is a strange little museum where half the exhibits are fake. Also go to Flore in Silverlake, and while you are there check out Secret Headquarters (if you like comics) and the Giant Robot store, and Reform School, and I think there is also a new awesome spice store around there. There’s also two Penzey’s Spice stores in the LA area, if you don’t have them by you.

  3. renae Said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 11:29 am

    Thanks, Josiane!

    Cyn, the Museum of Jurassic Technology sounds right up our alley. And we love comics, so we’ll definitely hit up Secret Headquarters. I’m fortunate to have a Penzey’s nearby, but I do love a good spice store. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  4. Ty (Meccabell) Said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

    As I tried to say before (just under the wrong post) your salad looks great.

  5. Tiana Said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    How exciting you’re coming to LA! You absolutely have to check out Pure Luck and try the “Carnitas” Torta. It’s amazing how awesome they make jackfruit taste.

    Have a safe trip!

  6. Jennifer Said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 12:15 am

    The salad looks great. I just wanted to tell you that I have been reading your blog since the summer, and tonight I finished reading through all the entries I missed. You are extremely entertaining, and your food always looks amazing! I enjoy reading this blog.

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