I am not a fan of salad. I almost never write about it. I rarely salivate over it. And I only make it in a perfunctory, begrudging manner, because it’s supposed to be good for me.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat salad regularly (I do), or that I don’t order it at restaurants (I do). But even when I eat salad that’s been gussied up with cheese or fruit or nuts, the heart of the dish is still unduly austere. My favorite dishes all involve a certain amount of excess and theatricality, things not normally found in a sound salad.
But I just might have to change my tune, because I am absolutely in love with the salad I made for dinner this weekend. Like, in love. Like, I love it so much I want to marry it.
The salad was originally made as a contrivance. A joke. It was a way to use up food that had been sitting in the fridge too long. I had a couple of onions that were nearing the use-it-or-lose-it stage, so I decided to caramelize them and throw them on some salad greens I had lying around. I also had a pint of cherry tomatoes that were a little, shall we say, past their prime, so I roasted them in the oven and threw them in. I topped the salad with chunks of goat cheese and dressed the lot with my standard salad dressing, made with mustard and balsamic vinegar.
Its origins may have been humble – it may have been borne of my desire to comply with Wonk the Plank’s tyrannical laws about wasting food – but the end result was divine. It was a salad that I could proudly say that I loved.
All the flavors clicked – the tart vinegar, tangy goat cheese, and bitter greens balanced against the sweet tomatoes and mellow, earthy onions. The mix of textures added to its appeal – the smooth goat cheese and soft onions contrasted against the bed of crunchy greens. But I think it was the different temperatures that really pushed this salad into the greatness category: the warm onions and tomatoes melted the goat cheese ever-so slightly, and everything became coated in the smooth, tangy cheese. This was the salad of my dreams – sensuous, indulgent, deeply flavorful. It was perfection in a bowl.
So maybe I do like salad. I just need my salad tarted up.
Note: This weekend I made the salad with sweet baby lettuce, but I like it even more with arugula – the spicy, tangy flavor is an excellent background for the toppings. Either way, you’ll like this salad. You just may like it more with the arugula.
3 small to medium onions
2 tbs butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 oz goat cheese
I tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp mustard
6 oz lettuce, arugula, or other salad greens
Extra olive oil and salt and pepper, for seasoning
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Peel the skin off each of your onions, cut into halves, cut off the tips, and slice as thinly as possible. Heat butter or olive oil in a frying pan over very low heat, until the butter is melted or the olive oil is warm. Add the onions and the pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are sweet and tender – approximately one hour. Resist the attempt to cook the onions on higher heat – the beautiful glory of the slow cooking process is that the onions will become as soft as butter with a sweet, complex, earthy flavor. If the onions stick to the pan at all, you can deglaze it with a little water or wine (my preference).
Meanwhile, place the tomatoes on a baking sheet. Lightly coat the tomatoes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast until shrunken and brown on the bottom – around 25 minutes.
While the tomatoes and onions are cooking, assemble your dressing. Place olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard in a bowl. Whisk or beat with a fork vigorously until the mixture is emulsified. Taste it to see if it works for you – if it’s too oily, add a little vinegar, too acidic, add a little olive oil. If it’s too bland, up the mustard or add some salt. It’s all up to you.
Place your greens in salad bowls. If you want these to be dainty little salads, divide the greens among four bowls. If you want a big salad – worthy of a dinner entree – divide greens among two bowls. Add the onions, tomatoes, and lightly toss with the dressing. Place gobs of goat cheese on top of each individual salad and serve.
Enjoy. Believe me. You will.