Monday, December 7, 2009

Maple Walnut Vinaigrette

I'm not sure how maple syrup got into fall and winter foods and flavors, since it's made in the spring, but I'm not going to complain about it. It goes well with winter squash, apples, cranberries, pecans and walnuts, and baked goods, like quick breads and cakes. It's also great with mustard, cider vinegar and walnut oil in a vinaigrette for an early winter green salad.

Our CSA, which offers a bi-weekly winter share of storage vegetables, also keeps their growing season going with greenhouses (or possibly with magic and miracles). That was how I got fresh spinach in December that was grown just a few miles away. I could have cooked it or blanched and frozen it, but it seemed most appropriate to celebrate its freshness with one last thumbing of my nose at the (rapidly) approaching winter, and eat it fresh in a salad. I could have gone with a Greek style salad with red onions and feta cheese, but I'm still buying some fantastic locally grown apples (most recently some sweet-tart-crisp Arabella apples that, to me, tasted as good as the local-favorite Honeycrisp). Thinly sliced apples atop a green salad with a maple-walnut vinaigrette are a seasonal must-have for me. Add some dried cranberries, blue cheese and walnuts (or pecans, which is what I happened to have), and it's instantly festive as well as delicious.

I'm not a huge fan of blue cheese, but I like the way it cuts through and contrasts with the sweetness and crunch of this salad and dressing. You could use something else with a bit of a sharp bite, like Parmesan, feta or goat cheese. You could also use whatever salad greens you happen to have. This vinaigrette is also good in other applications, like salads made with grains, such as wheat berries, rice or barley (I hope to post one of these soon). I bet it would also be good drizzled over roasted vegetables. It's sweet and nutty, and just right for the season, even if the syrup was tapped, boiled and bottled way back in the spring.

Maple Walnut Vinaigrette Recipe

Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

It's a good idea to taste a salad dressing before serving. Just dredge a leaf of your salad greens in it and taste, then adjust seasonings as needed.

2 tablespoons (30 ml) cider vinegar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) maple syrup
1 teaspoon (5 ml) Dijon mustard
pinch salt, or to taste
pinch pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons (30 ml) walnut oil

1. Combine vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.

2. Add the walnut oil and whisk until very well blended. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Dressing can be stored for at least a week in the refrigerator. Whisk or shake well in a sealed container to combine a separated dressing.

Makes about 1/3 cup or enough for 4 servings of the salad below.

Spinach Salad with Apples and Maple Walnut Vinaigrette Recipe
You can use whatever greens, dried fruit, or cheese you like in this salad.

1 recipe Maple Walnut Vinaigrette
6 cups torn fresh spinach
1 medium apple, thinly sliced and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup blue cheese
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts (or pecans)

1. Divide the spinach evenly among four salad plates. Evenly distribute the sliced apple, dried cranberries, blue cheese and walnuts and arrange them over the spinach on each plate. Drizzle about 1/4 of the dressing over each salad.

Makes 4 servings.

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