Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon Vinegarette

(Sorry, my vegan friends...this one isn't for you.)

So as a child I lived in the Southeast for several years in Kentucky, close to where my American grandmother lived (and still resides).  And although my mother did not have much money and we often had no food in our house, I could always count on a satisfying and much-needed plate of food from a reliable source, Granny's kitchen.  One of my favorite things that she made was a wilted lettuce salad, which came in many forms.  The best one was a 7-layer salad that sat in the fridge over night with the dressing nestled between the different layers of lettuce, veggies, bacon, and eggs.  By morning, the veggies would be a little soft, and the lettuce would be slightly wilted.  I enjoyed this salad as much as most kids my age enjoyed eating pizza.  Another type of wilted salad she made would require a hot vinegar-based dressed that was poured over the top of the salad, just barely 'cooking' the lettuce.  Through the years, I've experimented with making hot dressings and even throwing my greens for a few seconds in the saute pan.  (I LOVE cooked greens, any way you serve them up!)  The best one I've made to date is a wilted spinach salad, which has received a variety of accompanying veggies and toppings.  Although it's not a salad that is low in fat, it is still packed with good-for-you-greens, and you actually need a little fat to help transport those nutrients from the vegetables to the blood stream.  Here's the one I made tonight.  I did not measure anything out, so I'm just giving you the best estimate I can on this.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon Vinegarette (serves 1 or 2, if you're willing to share)
2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves, washed and rinsed
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3-4 asparagus spears, woody ends cut off and the rest of the spear chopped into 1 inch pieces
3-4 pieces of onion, thinly sliced (red tastes best!)
1 handful sliced mushrooms
3 pieces of bacon (I use uncured and nitrate-free)*
1 egg, hard-boiled and chopped
1/4 C. green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 C. chickpeas (garbanzo beans, I just used canned and rinsed really well)
4-5 small tomatoes, like cherry, cut into quarters (I used a gourmet variety of cherries, different colors)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (or white if that's what you have on hand)
1 Tbsp. white sugar, or sweetener of choice (I used xylitol)
Salt and Black Pepper, for taste
First get your spinach and half the green onions tossed together on a large plate.

Heat a saute/frying pan to just below medium heat with the olive oil.  Once heated well, throw in the asparagus, onions, and mushrooms.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Saute until just cooked, about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.  (You can also just cover the mixture and turn the heat down if you need to do other things.  Your veggies will need to cook a little longer and will get a little softer due to the steam.)

Remove veggies from pan and place in a bowl, covering to keep warm.
Next, place the bacon strips in the same pan, over medium heat, and cook until close to being crispy, flipping over halfway through cooking time.

Remove bacon from pan and place on a plate lined with napkins. Once the bacon has cooled a bit, you can simply crumble it with your fingers to use as garnish for the salad.
Turn the heat down to low and place the garlic in the reserved bacon fat.  Saute the garlic for about a minute, just enough to soften and render out the flavor.  Then toss in both vinegars and the sugar.  Stir together and keep on the low heat for another minute. You can also throw in a pinch of salt and pepper for taste.
Immediately pour this mixture over the top of the spinach and green onions.  Then top with the asparagus/onion/mushroom mixture, then the tomatoes, the chickpeas, and finally garnish with the chopped eggs, crispy bacon pieces, and the remaining green onions.  Finally, before eating, I like to toss everything together to make sure the dressing coats everything well and softens the spinach leaves.  You can add additional salt and pepper if you like.
Enjoy!
*A quick note on bacon...
While we do not eat pork in our home, I do occasionally enjoy a bacon slice or two on a sandwich and in certain dishes where it's almost required for taste.  So with that being said, I am always sure to purchase natural bacon that is uncured and nitrate-free, and try to make sure it comes from a farm where the pigs were fed proper diets (NOT animal by-products which is common practice on commercial farms) and allowed to roam.  If you are restricted totally from eating pork due to religious beliefs, then turkey or beef bacon would be another option.  Turkey bacon is very common here, but not beef.  I did, however, find it at a local Trader Joe's, and the price was reasonable and it was uncured/nitrate-free.  You can also ask around your local farms to see if they make any on site.

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