Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Ripe pears join up with arugula and a toasted walnut vinaigrette in this classic salad. Blue cheese optional!
On a brisk fall day in October, I gathered vegetables, fruits, herbs, oils, and vinegars and headed down to the Rose Kennedy Greenway for the Boston Local Food Festival. My role was to conduct a “Do It Yourself” demo, and my goal was to show people how easy it is to whisk up homemade vinaigrette.
I made a few different salads featuring local autumn produce and New England flavors. The first was a butternut squash salad with roasted rosemary onions and dried cranberries with a maple dijon vinaigrette (video). The second was a classic salad of arugula, red pears, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese with a walnut vinaigrette, shown below.
Video caveat. I must begin by reminding you, dear readers, that in this current phase of development, my videos are of the quality that time and money allow. In this case, as it was filmed live as part of an hour-long presentation, it was necessary to cut it down substantially. I actually enjoyed the editing (somewhat), but I can only work so many miracles on an overcast day outside with no additional lighting. Still kinda fun, though, with the live band in back? Kinda like Emeril and his band, right?
(Not at all.)
Additional Cooking and Nutrition Notes
First, as I always say: make it your own! If you hate arugula, use spinach, or some other hearty green. Hate blue cheese? Try regular chèvre, or leave it off altogether and go vegan. Loathe pears? Try a crisp red apple. Not a walnut fan? Try pecans or pine nuts, perhaps. Sure, it’s no longer a pear, walnut, and blue cheese salad, but it will still feature wonderful autumn flavors and star your homemade vinaigrette. (Here’s some more thoughts on how to make a salad a meal, and why it’s so frequently my dinner.)
Second, for this vinaigrette you should add walnut oil, if you have it. I didn’t use it here because it didn’t fit the theme of the festival, but adding a few tablespoons to a base of olive or canola (or whatever) adds a mellow nuttiness. I still encourage adding some toasted walnuts and letting it sit.
(Yes, I did just say “mellow nuttiness,” and I stand by it.)
Third, I used maple syrup here for a touch of sweetness but honey, agave, or a bit of sugar will work, too. Or leave it out altogether. My everyday vinaigrette never includes sugar, as balsamic is already sweet, but a wine vinegar as used here often benefits from a touch of sweetness.
Finally, you’ll note that I don’t peel the pears. I’m generally anti-peeling of anything: why throw out perfectly good food? Less food waste and more nutrition, that’s what I say. Do wash your produce well (water is just fine); buying organic if you’re able will further reduce your pesticide exposure, but even if not I still come out on the side of keeping the peels. The skins have all kinds of good stuff in there, including powerful phytonutrients (the health-promoting pigments that make the pretty colors of produce), vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And the gorgeous red skins of the pears is part of what makes this salad such a show stopper.
So, as we sail towards Thanksgiving and into the holiday season, don’t forget about your salad. While this dish isn’t as original as the others you’ll see here at The Nutrition Doctor (check out my recipe page), it’s an elegant salad that never goes out of style.
And your homemade walnut vinaigrette will definitely impress your guests.
Learn more about food personality and health expert Dr. PK Newby here, or her experience as a nutrition scientist, professor, and consultant here. Or click here if you just want to ogle food porn featuring plant-based, globally inspired cooking.