Herculean Strength

Wilted Spinach Salad

Salads aren’t usually the sort of thing men flock to in general, but I’ll beg your indulgence on this one. It has bacon, toasted nuts, sliced shallot (or onion), and pairs very nicely with a steak. It’s warm, classy, and (dare I say it?) a bit masculine-looking on a plate.

If appealing to your emotions won’t work, I’ll appeal to nutrition. Spinach is a fantastic source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, B-vitamins, manganese, and magnesium. I know all of you supplement magnesium, but nothing beats the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals in your food. For those of you who have been hitting the pre-workouts, protein powders, dairy, and meat hard, a pile of green things once in a while will help with regularity of digestion and, well, elimination.

This recipe makes a great, easy side dish for any meal; I haven’t found that it “clashes” with any dish yet. I’ll also give some notes for substitutions and variations below. The recipe is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Vegetables Illustrated.

Wilted Spinach Salad (Serves 4-6 for a meal)

Prepare to serve this immediately upon pouring the dressing onto the spinach. A lightly wilted spinach salad is divine; a soggy spinach salad is vile. The recipe is very simple, but the goal is balance–not too much dressing, just the right temperature. Prep all ingredients prior to assembling the salad, and only make what you plan to eat that meal; the leftovers do not keep.

Ingredients

  • 5 tbsp white wine vinegar (not the standard Heinz white vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tsp sugar (This does serve a purpose. Don’t eliminate it.)
  • 1 shallot, halved and sliced thin. (Substitute a sweet white onion if you like.)
  • 6-8 slices bacon, diced while still uncooked
  • 1/3 c. pecans, chopped (See notes for variations.)
  • 12 c. baby spinach
  • 2 apples, cored, halved, and sliced thin. (See notes)

Equipment

No special equipment beyond standard kitchen implements needed.

Instructions

  1. Whisk vinegar, mustard, sugar, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a small microwave-safe bowl. Add the sliced shallot or onion, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and microwave until steaming, 30-60 seconds. Let cool 15 minutes.
  2. Cook the bacon and pecans in a 12″ skillet over medium-low heat until bacon is crisp and nuts are toasted. This will take 8-12 minutes. Don’t rush this or you’ll burn the nuts. Don’t drain the bacon grease; you’ll need it.
  3. Remove the pan from heat, stir in the shallot/vinegar mixture, and let it sit about 30-60 seconds.
  4. Gently toss the spinach with the warm dressing from the pan in a large bowl. (Use a bowl large enough that you have room for a good tossing, otherwise you’ll have escaping spinach leaves. You can be fancy and toss by hand, shaking the bowl chef-style, or use salad tongs.)
  5. Add the apple and toss gently again. Serve immediately.

Notes and Variations

    • The main base here is the bacon grease and the vinegar/shallot mixture. You can play around with other vinegars if you like. I do not recommend the regular cleaning-grade white vinegar. White wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, maybe even red wine vinegar are all nice choices. In my opinion, balsamic vinegar will come out too sweet here, but try it if you like and let me know what you think. The quality of vinegar is important; don’t cheap out on crappy vinegar. The same goes for the mustard–your standard American Heinz brand yellow mustard is too astringent. Find a nice German-style whole-seed mustard. You can adjust the mustard amount to taste. If your mustard is particularly strong, feel free to back off it a bit. It’s there to add a bite to the dressing.
    • The sugar helps give a very light caramelization to the onion/shallot. It’ll help keep the onion from tasting too strong in the salad.
    • Plenty of other kinds of nuts taste good in this as well. Almonds and walnuts are two of my favorite variations. If you have a nut allergy, substitute in some nice croutons to preserve the crunch and eliminate the nuts altogether.

Crunchy varieties of apples work best here, such as Granny Smith, Jazz, and Pink Lady. I do not recommend Fuji or Golden Delicious in this one. Gala apples are fine as well if they’re nice and crunchy.

  • Other fruits can be used in addition to or instead of the apples. Pears and walnuts work great together. You can also consider strawberries and almonds (pull back the mustard or eliminate completely in this one) or pomegranate seeds and pecans (definitely nix the mustard).
  • You can throw in some other mix-ins if you like, such as sprouts (alfalfa, wheat berry, broccoli), carrot shavings, or fresh spring peas.
  • The recipe above will give you a meal-sized salad for 4 people. If you want some extra protein, throw in some leftover rotisserie chicken. If you want to serve this as a side dish (or one of several), cut the recipe in half and serve either as a first course or with dinner in a separate small bowl.

Conclusion

Salads aren’t just for women. They’re a great way to get a variety of vegetables in your diet, they provide great nutritional value, and they’re generally low-calorie. If you’re cutting or trying to lose weight, this salad recipe is a relatively low-calorie dish that won’t leave you feeling like you’re a rabbit chewing on some grass outside. You’ll be surprised how satisfying this salad is.

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