I cook something big or small almost every day. My approach to cooking fluctuates with the seasons and with the business of the week. Some weeks I enjoy taking on three-hour- ong French endeavors, or one of Jamie Oliver’s beef and ale pies, or one of Ina’s “company appropriate” meals, a meal that serves 10, when I’m only cooking it for 2. But there are some weeks I’m looking for the quickest, simplest dinners I can throw together in fifteen minutes. Most weeks I don’t have time for ingredient lists a full cookbook page long, and some weeks I just don’t have the patience or desire to follow ten paragraphs of instructions. Some days, I’m hungry and I just want to eat. No cooking statement for myself necessary.
What I’ve found through my cooking fluctuations is that the simplest of recipes are the most rewarding. The meals I can throw together with ingredients I keep in my fridge and pantry on a regular basis and are on the table with minimal cooking and cleanup are the ones I love keeping in my rotation. The key I’ve found to keeping them on the table week after week is to dress them up or down a little different each time.
I shared my Fall Salad back in September: https://theinnerlady.com/2014/09/22/welome-fall-with-a-butternut-squash-and-spinach-salad/
Now this is the Wintry version of that salad. It has the same base and dressing as the Fall Salad, but a handful of ingredients give it a different taste. This time, the salad boasts roasted maple sweet potatoes, maple-crusted pecans, and pumpkin seeds.
Salads are mostly about assembling, but sometimes assembling salads can turn into the “blah” moment of the week. How many times do you want to chop up the same ingredients and toss them in a bowl? Sometimes just a few tweaks can turn your “blah” dinner into something a little more glamorous. This salad is glamorous. The cheese and nuts alone hint toward something special. And the beauty is the simplicity. It’s like that little black dress in your closet. It’s such a simple silhouette, but as soon as you slip it on, you know it’s going to be a special night. This salad is so simple with only a few ingredients, but the flavors are just beautiful mixed together. Separate they’re delicious, all together they’re rock stars. The maple-crusted pecans are unashamedly my favorite part of this salad, they’re sweet and salty and taste more like they belong in a bowl of ice cream instead of mixed in with the word salad, but it’s post holiday season now, so we all should be cruising in more of a healthy mode ( just save some of the nuts for your ice cream bowl over the weekend — you won’t regret it).
1 Sweet potato, peeled
2 teaspoons of maple syrup
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 6 oz package of organic fresh spinach leaves
3 oz of Cranberry Wensleydale cheese, crumbled (specialty cheese stores should have this — if you can’t find this, you can mix 2 tablespoons of cranberries and 3oz of Wensleydale cheese)
2 tablespoons of Pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup of maple-crusted pecans (Recipe to follow)
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar
2 chicken breasts ( simply seasoned with S&P, grilled or baked, whichever method you prefer/ or your preferable protein. Salmon fillets would also go nicely perched on top of this salad)
Make the pecans ahead of time. That way you will be busy while they’re cooling. Trust me on this one. You will want to be very busy while they’re cooling or they simply won’t make it into the salad.
I adapted this recipe from a dear friend of mine (Abi, you’re always showing me simple recipes that I make again and again) who made these nuts for a salad for us two summers ago. I’ve made them time and time again, and I really can’t get enough of them. You can add them to so many dishes…if they survive the cooling rack.
– 1 1/2 cups of pecans
– 2 tablespoons of butter
– 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup (you should never buy the fake maple syrups they sell in the supermarkets. Always, always, always only buy maple syrup that is 100% maple syrup. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and “natural” flavorings are imposters — that’s my rant against fake food…moving on)
– sprinkle of salt to taste
In a medium skillet, toast the pecans over medium heat for five minutes, until they are heated through and their oils are beginning to release. (You’ll know this by their smell). Toss frequently so they don’t burn.
When the nuts are toasted, add in the butter, maple syrup, and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the butter and syrup are fully melted and are beginning to thicken, stirring constantly. The “liquid” will bubble up and reduce quickly and coat the nuts. Once most of the “liquid” is soaked into the nuts, the mixture is done. It should take 5-7 minutes. Spread out onto parchment paper over a cooling rack. Sprinkle the nuts with a pinch of salt. They are very sticky, so don’t make the mistake I made once and lay them out on a paper towel, you won’t be eating that batch if you do. Let them cool completely. You can store these nuts in a sealed container in your pantry for a few days, or put them in the fridge if you need them to stay fresh longer.
Now for the salad.
Preheat oven to 450F.
Dice sweet potato into one inch cubes (doesn’t have to be precise). Drizzle the maple syrup and the olive over the sweet potato cubes, add a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and toss to combine onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 20- 25 minutes, tossing occasionally until tender and golden brown. Set aside.
Roughly chop the spinach leaves into smaller bite-sized pieces and add them to your favorite salad bowl, add the crumbled cheese, the maple-crusted pecans, the pumpkin seeds, and the baked sweet potato cubes. Add a drizzle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. Gently mix together.
Arrange salad on plate and add sliced chicken breast or salmon right on top.
Easy, simple, elegant, healthy, and absolutely delicious. Enjoy.