When I was 20 years old and in college, I spent my summer at home in Tennessee working as a restaurant server. It was one of those sort-of-upscale-Southern-cuisine places that featured reinvented items like fried green tomatoes served over grits with tasso gravy.
Every meal came with a choice of salad, one of them being a spinach-strawberry salad (which was quite novel at the time). Now it seems like this salad graces the pages of almost every lunch menu in America, and rightfully so....it’s delicious. I’ve seen every kind of variation, including the addition of feta, balsamic vinaigrette, and even avocado.
I will never forget how popular this salad was with our customers. I can't remember a single person who didn't finish their plate and rave about the combination of flavors. I would have to agree. There is something about the mix of sweet strawberries, pungent gorgonzola cheese, and crunchy pecans that just works….but the true star of this dish is the sweet vinaigrette.
One thing I’ve learned as a cook as that a little sugar goes a long way. Exhibit A: a tray of homemade cookies cures almost anything. Exhibit B: this dressing. Typically red wine vinaigrettes have Dijon mustard and just a tad of honey, giving it plenty of zip, but not enough sweetness to counterbalance the flavors. Between the red wine vinegar and fresh garlic cloves, this dressing needs no added “tang,” and the sugar really helps to round out the flavor. People always rave about this salad, but I believe what they really love is the dressing.
The addition of grilled chicken makes this the perfect warm-weather meal, or serve it without the chicken as a side salad. Enjoy!
Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken and Sweet Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
Chicken, about 4-6 oz per person, any boneless cut
1 small package baby spinach leaves (about 6 oz)
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup candied pecans
Sweet vinaigrette, as needed, recipe follows
- Preheat a grill to medium heat.
- Spray the top side of chicken with nonstick cooking spray. Season with salt & pepper.
- When grill is hot and ready, lay chicken on grill, seasoned side down first. Cook with lid closed for about 5-7 minutes on each side, or until internal temperature registers 165 degrees F on a cooking thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken. Remove and let rest.
- Arrange spinach on plates, then add the strawberries, pecans, and gorgonzola.
- Slice the chicken and add to salad.
- Drizzle with sweet vinaigrette just before serving.
Yields: about 1 cup (more than enough for 4 people)
Special Equipment Needed: Food Processor or Blender
1/4 cup good quality red wine vinegar (seriously don't even bother with generic brands- the dressing will turn out white)
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch salt & pepper
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
- Add garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper to work bowl of food processor (or blender). Turn on until garlic is finely minced.
- Add red wine vinegar and blend until incorporated.
- Leave the processor running, and SLOWLY drizzle in all of the oil (see tip below).
- The dressing should be pink and creamy. If you add the oil too fast, it will break and the dressing will be thin and watery, and it will taste one-dimensional…you will taste the vinegar and the oil as if they were never blended.
- You can store the dressing in the refrigerator for about 1 week. If it separates in the fridge, just give it a shake before serving again.
- Most food processors come with the pusher at the top that have a little hole in the bottom. This is perfect for drizzling in the oil when making the dressing. If yours doesn't, just drizzle the oil in VERY slowly, or create your own makeshift funnel with a tiny hole using aluminum foil.
- I’m obsessed with olive oil, but this vinaigrette is one place olive oil should not be. The flavor is just too overwhelming. Use canola or vegetable oil instead which is virtually flavor-less.