This is exactly the sort of thing I crave this time of year for a mid-week supper. It can be a relief to have a salad again when braised meats, hearty stews and all sorts of holiday baked goods seem to dominate the culinary landscape the month of December. But a bare bones salad that shines during summer months, with a light vinaigrette and flavorful seasonal veges that speak for themselves, just doesn’t cut it. Winter salads need to have depth and warmth if they have any chance of surviving in a repertoire. Sturdy greens like spinach, kale, romaine, escarole and endive are vehicles for bolder flavors and textures that compromise these cold weather creations.
A classic version of this is a warm spinach salad that usually features a bacon vinaigrette, caramelized onions, blue cheese and hard boiled eggs. It is decidedly rich and filling, and there is no question in my mind why it is such a beloved recipe. To add my own rendition, and make it into a more substantial meal, I decided this warm salad would be the bed for a nice fillet of blackened salmon. Heat from a spice rub is a good way to “warm up” an otherwise cool salad, and I opted for a chili lime rub that is both smoky and sweet in taste.
I had a large bunch of scallions on hand, and love the flavor of them when they are pan roasted. They stood in for the traditional caramelized red onions, and I omitted the eggs altogether since they didn’t make sense in the grand scheme of this salad. However, halved cherry tomatoes, the only suitable alternative to premium tomatoes this time of year, did make the cut as a compliment to the browned bacon and scallions. One final decision, to add spice roasted pumpkin seeds as a garnish, gave each bite of these satisfying greens an added crunch.
This salad was such a hit that we made it several times over the course of two weeks. Paired with a seasonal ale, and roaring fire in the fireplace, you have all the makings for a healthy, flavorful and cozy winter time meal.
3/4 lb salmon fillet, divided in half
2 Tbsp chili lime spice rub
5 C fresh baby spinach
2 bunches scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 C cherry tomatoes, halved
6 strips thick sliced bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp aged sherry vinegar
1/2 C shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
kosher salt & cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your broiler and place a rack on the upper level of your oven (but not directly beneath the broiler). Line a sheet pan with greased tin foil. Rub 1 tsp of the rub and 1 tsp of olive oil on each salmon fillet, then place them on the prepared baking sheet. Place them in the oven and broil just until the tops start to brown (about 10 minutes). Turn the oven to 400 degrees and continue to cook until the salmon are slightly firm and begin to turn white on the sides (about 10 more minutes).
Meanwhile, heat a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Brown the bacon until crispy, then remove the bacon from the pan and reserve it. Cook the scallions in the rendered bacon fat over medium/low heat until they start to brown. Add both vinegars and 2 Tbsp of olive oil then continue to cook over low heat for another five minutes. Add the crispy bacon back to the pot and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
Toss the pumpkin seeds with the cumin, smoked paprika, and 1 Tbsp of olive oil then spread them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Toast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Season them with salt and pepper.
To assemble the salad, toss the spinach with half of the warm vinaigrette then mound portions onto two plates or bowls. Scatter some of the tomatoes on top of each salad, then place a piece of salmon in the center of each pile of greens. Spoon additional vinaigrette on top of each salad then garnish with a sprinkle of spiced pumpkin seeds.